Council says yes to privatized garbage

[attach]4270[/attach]A day after Toronto council voted to usher in a new era of privatized garbage collection, Town Crier caught up with councillors Josh Matlow (Ward 22), and Kristyn Wong-Tam (Ward 27) to get their take on one of the biggest votes of the new council term.

On May 17, council voted 32–13 in favour of putting out to tender a contract for the residential curbside garbage collection west of Yonge Street to Etobicoke’s border, and for the collection of litter on city streets and recycling in city parks.

Matlow and Wong-Tam’s midtown wards are effectively slivered by Yonge Street, so when privatized garbage collection hits the streets in 2013, their constituents east of Yonge will continue to receive city-run garbage pick-up, while constituents to the west will receive private service collection.

Cautiously optimistic about the decision, Matlow admitted he headed into the council session ready to hit the ‘no to outsourcing’ button.

A change of heart occurred, he says, after several motions giving council more oversight were passed.

These included an amendment that any successful bidder would abide by the city’s waste diversion targets, and that council members would have the opportunity to review the bid.

“When they were passed, I felt comfortable that I would be receiving the information that I needed to be able to make an informed decision,” said Matlow.

“The way that it was being done initially seemed political, seemed sort of hasty, that they just wanted us to vote yes or no.

“Now, staff are actually going to have to prove to us that we’re going to get the numbers that they’ve said,” he said of the projected $8 million in cost savings for the city.

Matlow, who hosted a debate on the pros and cons of garbage privatization just a week prior to the council vote, said he feared it was not the interests of saving money but frustration over the 2009 city workers’ strike that brought on the proposal.

“If this is about savings at a time when we have a dearth of funds in our operating budget, I recognize the importance of that,” he said. “If this is simply about being angry about the strike, that’s not good enough.”

Though Wong-Tam ultimately voted against outsourcing, she agreed the amendments were an improvement to the original proposal because it creates a framework that councillors can work within.

However, she said she ultimately voted against it because she felt the procedure of comparing financial cost figures to that of Etobicoke, already serviced by the private sector, was troublesome because midtown and Etobicoke are vastly different.

“The business case, to me, was not logical,” she said.

And there were other concerns apart from financial prospects to consider as well, Wong-Tam said during a break from meetings on May 18.

“I do think there is an appetite in the city to preserve public services,” she said.

Recalling a discussion at a recent community fair in Moore Park, Wong-Tam said one Rosedale resident told her they were concerned that private sector hiring practices that are not bound to the same rules and regulations the public sector adheres to.

Wong-Tam put forth a motion that would direct staff to include mandatory details of liability, health and safety requirements and adherence to the city’s fair wage and human rights and equity policies in the request for quotations.

Her amendment was defeated in a tie vote.