What contracted out garbage means — and doesn’t mean

The Toronto Star’s Paul Moloney:

Starting next August, a private company will be collecting household garbage from 165,000 homes west of Yonge St. to the Humber River and from Lake Ontario to Steeles Ave.

The campaign promise of Mayor Rob Ford was fulfilled when city council voted 26-16 Monday to award the job to GFL Environmental East Corporation, of Pickering.

The company, which collects garbage in Hamilton and Oshawa-Whitby, beat out other competitors by offering to do the work for seven years at a $78.4 million saving, or about $11.2 million a year less than unionized city workers.

via City approves private garbage pickup | Toronto Star.

I don’t have a ton to write on this, as it is a relatively minor shift when compared to some of the other policy this administration has their collective eye on. But, given that the mayor is likely to highlight this “victory” in every speech he’ll make from now until the Leafs win the Stanley Cup, let’s spend a little bit of time talking about what contracted out garbage in District 2 means — and more importantly, doesn’t mean — to the city of Toronto.

  • It means risk: I wrote about this last week as well, but I don’t think council or staff did anywhere near their due diligence when it came time to vet this bid. It is such a suspiciously lowball bid that even GFL’s competitors were wondering how they managed to make their numbers work. And that’s where the risk comes in, because it’s entirely possible that the numbers won’t work, and the city will be left holding the bag — or bin — when GFL either goes bankrupt or simply decides they want out of the deal.
  • It doesn’t mean better service: Service quality is a bit of a question mark going forward. When he appeared with Josh Matlow on NewsTalk 1010, Public Works Chair Denzil Minnan-Wong would only commit to service bring provided at the same level as it is currently.
  • It doesn’t mean budgetary savings that can be used on things like libraries and transit: This is the point that will continuously get overlooked again and again, and it’s so critical. Waste collection falls under the city’s rate-based budget, which is separate from the operating budget. Homeowners cover their costs for trash collection through a user fee they pay on their City-issued utility bill. As a result, cheaper waste collection won’t ever mean that there extra funds for the city services that are currently being menaced by men with large knives. It also won’t mean lower property taxes, if that’s the kind of thing that makes you salivate. As far as the all-important taxpayer is concerned, the only fiscal impact as a result of this change might be a freeze or slight decrease in the annual cost of a garbage bin. A medium-sized bin costs less than $50 per year at current rates.

So what happens next? Hopefully very little of interest. Now that council has made this decision, I hope GFL does have a workable business plan that allows them to maintain current service levels at their proposed costs, and that, come next August, those west of Yonge Street don’t even realize that their waste is now being hauled away by people in different trucks, which I assume will be green in colour.

Ford often claims to have a mandate for various things stemming from his one-year-ago-yesterday mayoral win, and often I find such claims pretty damn dubious. On transit, for example — an issue that was shamefully kicked to the back of the bus during most debates so Ford and opponent George Smitherman could rant about waste — I find it hard to buy the notion that the mayor had a real mandate to immediately kill Transit City. But on this issue, his claim was more legitimate.

Setting aside ideology and academic notions about the role of public workers delivering public services, the 2009 garbage strike made a lot of voters really mad, and they channeled that anger into support for a mayoral candidate who continuously promised that his plan to contract out would help avoid future lapses in service.

He’s done that now, at least partially, and expressed a desire to continue with the other districts. We’ll see how it goes.

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