May 11

Why don’t Etobicoke residents recycle?

One of the more common arguments brought up at yesterday’s council meeting against the mayor’s plan to contract out garbage collection was the idea that, apples to apples, public service may be cheaper. Councillor Gord Perks illustrated this point with numbers pulled from a recent report by accountant Al Rosen — commissioned, it must be noted, by the union — that show that, when you factor in revenues from recyclable goods, the net cost per tonne in contracted-out Etobicoke is actually higher than the cost in publicly-serviced Scarborough.

From the report, the relevant table:

District 4 (Scarborough, publicly serviced) is the fairest comparison to District 1 (Etobicoke, privately serviced), as the other two district contain vast stretches of the old city. (20% of homes in Districts 2 and 3 are detached single family homes, versus almost 40% in the other two districts.)

Etobicoke residents recycle far less than their counterparts in Scarborough, sending approximately 0.32 tonnes/household to the recycling plant versus 0.40 tonnes/household in the east end of the city. The report speculates that this could be because of “lower program compliance by District 1 residents, lower diversion rates by the private contractor, or diversion by the contractor of valuable materials.”

I guess it’s possible that Etobicoke residents just suck at putting things in the blue bin, but that seems a little simplistic. More likely is that something is happening after the blue box hits the curb that is resulting in much lower reported diversion rates.

Maintaining and increasing these diversion rates isn’t just an issue for tree-hugging environmentalists — it’s also a matter of dollars and cents. If the mayor’s plan to contract out garbage collection were to result in the city’s diversion rates for recyclable goods falling to the level we currently see in Etobicoke, this whole thing would become an unmitigated financial disaster. On a cost per tonne basis, the city would lose money.

Thankfully, Councillor Josh Matlow successfully passed an amendment last night requiring that “diversion targets [of bidders] must meet or exceed current City standards and may not be reduced from the present targets. If the City increases diversion rates east of Yonge Street then a private firm will be required to also meet the increased diversion rates west of Yonge Street.”

The mayor, of course, voted against.

May 11

Council moves to take out the trash after 32-13 vote

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/TOMayorFord/status/70644442498998274″]

The Toronto Star’s David Rider and Paul Moloney, whose article is accompanied by a great picture:

Mayor Rob Ford has won his biggest victory since storming into office, setting the stage for a new era of privatization with a garbage contract that slashes 300 unionized city jobs.

“We’re getting this city turned around,” Ford crowed Tuesday night after council voted 32-13 to start a bidding process that, if it unfolds as predicted, could see a private waste hauler collect garbage from 165,000 households between Yonge St. and Etobicoke’s eastern edge.

via Toronto votes to contract out garbage pickup – thestar.com.

Ford’s spinning this as a hard-won victory for his administration, but I’m not sure I buy it. What happened tonight was not a vote to contract out garbage collection, but rather a step towards receiving quotes from qualified bidders. Council will have another opportunity to review and debate before awarding the contract for private delivery of service sometime in 2012.

The proposed process was always my biggest problem with this item, so I’m happy to see that Ford and his allies made a concession on this one.

In addition to that, Team Ford were also on the losing end of six votes relating to amendments on the item, including:

  • A recommendation by Josh Matlow that would see the City manager provide annual progress reports relating to the contract
  • A recommendation by Matlow that staff not accept any bid from the private sector company that recently hired former General Manager of Solid Waste Management for the City of Toronto, Geoff Rathbone
  • A pair of recommendations by Matlow that that require any bidder to meet or exceed existing and future diversion targets for solid waste, and to essentially guarantee a minimum level of savings
  • A recommendation from Josh Colle that the City ask the Auditor General to perform a post-implementation audit on the awarded contract
  • A recommendation from Ana Bailão that will require the City manager to “conduct an independent review of both the bid/contract numbers and the cost for identical services provided by the City”

Council also ended up deadlocked, tied 22-22, on three other amendment votes. Ford’s whip proved to be less effective than ever tonight, which is certainly something that can be seen as a victory for his opponents.

Of course, the vote that mattered wasn’t even close. I feel that most councillors — especially suburban councillors — could not ignore the fact that contracting out garbage is a massively popular idea with many people in this city. In addition, now that the contract will return to council, there will be another chance to review the numbers and make a more informed decision. (I suspect this is why councillors like Shelley Carroll and Raymond Cho ended up voting in favour.)

So what happens next? Seemingly not a whole lot, at least for a while. The union will hope that the bids that come in don’t show savings at the level the mayor anticipates — and some of the amendments passed today will make savings challenging –, while Ford and his allies will continue to not really care about the numbers, because for them this is primarily about revenge.

May 11

Trash of the Titans

Councillor Josh Matlow held a debate on the merits of garbage privatization last night, pitting Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong against economist Hugh MacKenzie. I liked both John Michael McGrath’s coverage at Toronto Life and Carly Conway’s piece praising moderator Steve Paikin above everything else at Torontoist.

The truth of the matter — and this is the reason I think the event was only lightly attended — is that council will essentially be considering two items related to garbage privatization next week: outcome and process. The question of outcome is boring. I suspect most councillors believe that their constituents favour the outsourcing of trash collection. That’ll be enough to push them toward supporting the idea.

The process, on the other hand, is the far more interesting — and complicated — question. Councillors need to really dig deep and consider whether city council should authorize staff to approve the winning bid without oversight. Should Toronto really award a very very rich private sector contract with no input from elected officials?

It seems, at least, that even privatization-booster Minnan-Wong isn’t so sure the staff-recommended process is a good one. From the Toronto Star’s David Rider:

Minnan-Wong (Ward 34, Don Valley East) also revealed that he’s “struggling” with a staff recommendation that council approve the bidding process but then let a staff committee award the final contract potentially worth $150 million.

He voted, along with three other public works members, in favour of that recommendation plus others put forward in a privatization report by senior works staff.

But asked about the clause, amid news that the manager who authored the report is moving to a private-sector firm expected to bid on the contract, Minnan-Wong voiced reservations.

Staff said the delay caused by taking the recommended bid to council will cost the city millions in possible savings, he noted, adding: “I’m struggling with this.”

The issue will be hashed out on the floor of council, he said.

via Gender rights a new wrinkle in trash debate – thestar.com.

It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out during the council meeting next week.

Apr 11

Trash talk: debate is about process, not outcome

Natalie Alcoba covers some of the reaction from councillors following last week’s executive committee meeting about the ongoing plan to privatize waste collection in the city. The meeting was marked by various theatrics. You probably read about them.

Councillor Josh Matlow does a good job of summing up the important parts of this ongoing debate:

“I can tell you that I need to be convinced that it would be a financially responsible move and it would see the savings that staff are suggesting,” said Councillor Josh Matlow, who represents the midtown ward of St. Paul’s.

“We’re hearing the different ideological perspectives but we’re all trying to get to the root of the question, which is are we moving in the direction of privatization because of remaining angst of the strike or is it a fiscally prudent decision that will support quality service or is it a bit of both?”

via Centrist councillors wary of trash proposal | Posted Toronto | National Post.

Privatized garbage pick-up became an inevitability the second Ford’s numbers came in on October 25. Of all the various things the mayor lays claim to have a mandate to do, this one is actually legit. People want this.

I get the ideological objection. I wish people would stop trying to tear union jobs down and instead try to build non-union jobs up. A race to the bottom on labour costs isn’t going to be good for anyone.

But privatized garbage collection doesn’t necessarily represent a titanic shift for this city. We can still be a good, progressive city, even with tendered trash.

Despite persistent needling from right-wingers like Sue-Ann Levy and Frances Nunziata, wading into a deep ideological debate about the modern role of the labour union and Toronto’s recent collective bargaining snafus will only serve to distract from the real issue: that this specific plan is starting to look like a shitty deal for this city.

The process is being rushed through at near-breakneck speed. Despite representing nearly a quarter billion dollars, the final contract won’t be approved by council before its signed. A bad deal signed now will only get worse when the contract comes up for renewal. By then, the city’s negotiating position will have been made weaker by the sale of trucks and collection equipment, making in-sourcing a more costly endeavour. As there are only a few vendors capable of servicing a large city like Toronto in the first place, competition will be limited.

If we are going to go down this road, let’s take the necessary care to do things the right way. Let’s examine our options with proper oversight. Let’s not let the spectre of an expiring labour contract force us into a deal that only looks good in the short-term.

Mar 11

Ideology and partisanship are okay

Josh Matlow used his space in the Toronto Star today to bang a drum he’s been banging for a while now. The beat goes like this: City Council is too ideologically divided and partisan and if we all worked together we could get more done:

Party politics are alive and well at city hall.

I don’t mean official parties — they’re banned in Ontario’s municipal governments. But aside from a small handful of moderate councillors, team sports and competing ideologies have divided council into two camps — the right and the left.

via City Hall Diary: While parties are banned, partisan politics thrive – thestar.com.

First, ideology shouldn’t be a dirty word. An ideology is a structured set of beliefs — everyone who isn’t a complete and total pragmatist is ideological in one way or another.

Second, partisanship is just another word for strategy. Sometimes it works, sometimes it sucks, but it’s always necessary. It’s easy to point to the bad stuff — some councillors just mashing a button based on a cheat sheet handed out by the mayor, or a councillor opposing the mayor just because he’s the mayor — but how much more disorganized would council be if all members just focused on their own agendas with no regard to the bigger picture?

I think there’s a nice spirit to what Matlow says about this stuff, but I worry both that there’s too much naiveté there and that he’s pulling too much toward a kind of blasé “the truth is in the middle” philosophy that just waters everything down. In some cases councillors must fight, not compromise, for that which they believe. We should demand nothing less.

Related: Matlow liveblogged his day on the job for 680news. Worth checking out.

Mar 11

Council’s middle gets organized

Robyn Doolittle at the Toronto Star obtained a copy of the Team Ford “cheat sheet” (or “recommended voting strategy” if you prefer) handed out on Wednesday morning. She produces only a low-resolution version in her article, but it’s clear that the strategy during this week’s regular meeting was to refer all items to committees to prevent the possibility of a filibuster strategy on the TCHC item.

MM5.1, a motion by Josh Matlow and seconded by Josh Colle regarding council salaries, was a recommended ‘No to waiving referral’ vote which is interesting only in the sense that Josh Colle has seemingly tried to play nice with the mayor’s office. (He ultimately voted in favour of dissolving the TCHC board on Wednesday night.)

Doolittle also indicates that some of the fence-sitting councillors are looking at forming their own voting bloc:

So far, this [middle] group has swung right, but that may be changing. These middle-of-the-road councillors have been organizing their own bloc, “the mighty middle,” in hopes of ending the voting pattern.

Right now Ford holds a majority. There are 15 on the hard left and 22 on the hard right. The mayor’s vote tips the scales. If the “mighty middle” comes together and even one of those Ford supporters drifts centre the bloc would be broken.

“Some of us are talking. Let’s just say we’re going to be more organized going forward,” said Councillor Josh Colle (Eglinton Lawrence).

via Ford hands out cheat sheet to his team – thestar.com.

Doolittle pegs the number of ‘middle’ councillors at seven, which I guess would be Colle, Matlow, Mary-Margaret McMahon, Ron Moeser, Ana Bailão, Chin Lee and Raymond Cho. I’d argue that Raymond Cho is pretty firmly on the opposition at this point.

Cho, Bailão & Matlow voted against the mayor on Wednesday night. Moeser was absent. The rest voted for.

Feb 11

Bus route cuts are a customer service issue

There’s a marathon TTC meeting going on today with a zillion deputations. Concurrent with this, Councillor Josh Matlow has published an open letter to the TTC Chair and Commissioners, questioning their ridership numbers and asking for a more in-depth study before routes are cut in his ward.

I liked this part a lot:

I recognize the importance of being thoughtful about how we dedicate tax dollars and am acutely aware of the very real budget constraints we have as a City today. However, I am also cognizant that the TTC is a public service. These local bus routes are the only transportation option for many seniors, students and workers.

via Councillor Matlow’s letter to the TTC re: Proposed reductions to bus service – Josh Matlow, Toronto City Councillor for Ward 22, St. Paul’s.

As I write this, Councillor Peter Milczyn has taken to his Twitter account to lament the delays to this “server reallocation” because it means fewer routes will see improved service in the spring. He’s also accusing the left of being ideological in their opposition to this move.

I have two points in response to this.

First, to pretend this isn’t a service cut is crazy. The TTC does have capacity issues on other routes that necessitate service improvements, yes, but the responsible thing to do would be to find a way to fund those necessary service improvements without removing service in other places. If the 10-cent fare increase had been presented as necessary to do this — and not presented instead as some kind of weird political game of peekaboo designed to make the mayor look like a hero — I would support the move.

Second, if all you’re doing is reallocating service, take some time to do a proper study of both routes losing service and routes gaining service. Present that data to the people. Let them see where the trade-offs are. This government continually hammers on about the importance of “customer service,” so let’s speak that language: it is crappy customer service to take away someone’s bus route and not even tell them what they’re getting in return.

Jan 11

“Mr. Ford varies from day to day”

Councillor Josh Matlow in the latest update to his (really very good) City Hall Diary:

To be candid, my opinion of Mr. Ford varies from day to day — he can come across as stubborn, bullying and intellectually dishonest. However, he can also be sincere, shy, caring and show an enlightened willingness to compromise.

via A chat with Ford’s arts guy – thestar.com.

I wonder if it’s Matlow’s opinions that change day-to-day or if it’s just that Ford is an erratic personality.

As far as arts funding and Jeff Melanson go, I’m definitely willing to give him a chance to prove himself, but the comment he left on Torontoist’s Nuit Blanche post wasn’t really a great way to kick things off.

What bothers me most is the assumed double standard surrounding the new mayor. When David Miller had a stupid opinion, people took him to task for it. He should know better. When Rob Ford has a stupid opinion, everyone just has to accept it and work around it.