Toronto city councillors are calling into question one of Mayor Rob Ford’s key accomplishments – and re-election promises – after the province downgraded the safety rating of the company tasked with garbage collection on the city’s west end.
Councillor Gord Perks made an urgent motion at council on Tuesday afternoon asking the city to take steps to address the downgrading of the rating of Green for Life Environmental Inc. (GFL) – which was awarded a $186.4-million, seven-year contract with the city in 2011 – from “satisfactory” to “conditional” in April.
The councillor questioned whether the downgrading puts GFL in danger of breaching its contract – which requires the company to make “every effort” to maintain its provincially set rating as “satisfactory” – even though the city’s general manager of solid waste management services, Jim Harnum, said it does not.
Mr. Perks, backed by Councillor Janet Davis, is asking the deputy city manager to prepare a report on the safety downgrading, and on what steps the city is taking to address it.
“This is about safety on the streets,” he said. “We have a contractor right now who’s not performing to provincial standard. Who’s getting into too many collisions, too many accidents, and too many charges laid against them for unsafe operation of their vehicles.”
Mr. Perks also questioned the mayor’s re-election vow to privatize garbage collection for the rest of the city, saying the same “satisfactory” condition would be required if GFL were to bid to work in the area east of Yonge Street as well.
But Mr. Harnum said he does not have specific concerns with GFL’s downgrading, and said the company is not in breach of its contract. “The contract states that they must make ‘every effort’ to maintain a satisfactory rating, and they have been doing that,” he said.
Mr. Harnum said 50 per cent of the violations that contributed to GFL’s downgrading happened in the first three months of its contract, while new drivers were getting used to unfamiliar routes. Since then, he said, there has been a marked improvement in the company’s performance, and he is confident that it will be able to restore its “satisfactory” rating in the coming months.
He also said the province recently changed its rating system to calculate violations as a percentage of kilometres travelled, as opposed to hours. Because garbage trucks travel only very short distances, he said, the entire waste industry is finding itself “unfairly penalized.”
The chair of the public works committee, Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, questioned Mr. Perks’s motives. “Councillor Perks has never been a fan of contracting out garbage, and I suspect that there may be a modest measure of an ulterior motive involved here,” he said.
Mr. Minnan-Wong noted that GFL operates trucks all over the province, and that the overall rating does not necessarily reflect the company’s performance in Toronto. “My preliminary discussions with staff have suggested there isn’t any significant, substantial or material difference in the number of incidents that are taking place either east of Yonge or west of Yonge,” he said.