Garbage contract proposal has potential for scandal

[attach]4267[/attach]A proposal to negotiate a contract to collect garbage came to the public works committee last month. The contract would provide garbage pickup only west of Yonge Street but it concerns every Torontonian taxpayer.

The proposal suggests councillors abdicate their responsibility to provide oversight over your tax dollars. Works committee requests that a contract worth over $270 million be tendered behind the scenes, solely by staff, and then awarded without the successful offer ever coming back to works committee or to council. It requires council to amend its own purchasing bylaw.

Works committee includes capable veterans who’ve been on city council long enough to know the risks inherent in large contracts and the importance of their fine print. As recently as 2009, council followed all the steps set out in the Justice Bellamy inquiry when awarding a private contract for garbage haulage worth $132 million and still faced a very public smear campaign, complete with full-page media buys from the unsuccessful bidder. We were relieved to be able to demonstrate, with our own committee meeting minutes, strict adherence to rules.

The contract that led to Justice Bellamy’s 2004 inquiry, the MFP computer contract worth $80 million, exposed the city to allegations of city staff flying to Philadelphia for playoff games with lobbyists, and further accusations of cash drop-offs to a councillor in the city hall garage. That contract scandal ended in the exit of the chief financial officer and other senior city staff. The current works committee chair, Denzil Minnan-Wong and his vice-chair David Shiner were both in office back then to witness the hard fall of their colleague, Tom Jakobek.

On May 17, councillors must consider whether to support the public works committee decision to bend our own rules and let staff sign a $270 million contract without coming to council for a last look at the fine print. For me, this debate isn’t about garbage, unions or contracting out. It’s just about your quarter of a billion dollars, the potential for more scandal and reading the fine print.