Contracting out garbage collection is poised to become an election issue next year, with the chair of the city’s public works committee and the mayor presenting duelling plans for outsourcing curbside pickup east of Yonge Street.
Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, a former ally of Mayor Rob Ford who says he is “seriously considering” running for mayor, held a lunchtime news conference on Monday to say he is asking staff to report by June on the merits of extending outsourcing of garbage collection to the eastern half of the city.
Mr. Minnan-Wong made the announcement while Mr. Ford looked on, the latest sign of the diminishing clout of the mayor since most of his authority was taken away by council following his admission he smoked crack cocaine and bought illegal drugs while in office.
When it was his turn to talk, Mr. Ford created confusion by announcing his own plan to seek council approval for a report in January, 2015. “We have to move on this immediately, friends,” he said, appearing to be unaware that his proposal would delay the staff report by six months until after the elecion.
While both men said they were “on the same page,” Mr. Minnan-Wong said he wants to see the report before deciding if outsourcing east of Yonge is the best option. But Mr. Ford said he already is convinced. “I will be very, very, very shocked if this report says that we should keep it in-house and we will save money. My mind is made up,“ he said.
Contracting out garbage in the west end was an early victory for Mr. Ford, gained during his first year when he still had considerable sway with council. Mr. Ford frequently lists the outsourcing deal as one of his major accomplishments and predicted Monday it will be an election issue. Mr. Minnan-Wong said depending on staff’s findings, he wants to see the issue debated before the October election. If Mr. Ford’s motion passes this week, the matter will be pushed back until the next election, he said. If it fails, he said the city clerk has told him his request for the June report can still go forward.
City staff have estimated the outsourcing deal is saving the city about $11-million annually.
Union officials questioned that savings, and called Monday’s announcements “disturbing.” CUPE Local 416 vice-president Dave Hewitt said the union had, since June, been working on an agreement with the city to find cost savings, including rerouting and changing shifts, and has so far come up with savings totalling $1-million. “We thought we’d at least have it go for a year and see what the real cost savings were for the residents of Toronto,” he said.
Both the mayor and Mr. Minnan-Wong said the union is free to bid on any garbage contract.
Councillor Doug Ford played down the difference between the two proposals. “I think that six-month difference – that’s always negotiable,” he said. “ I think the most important thing is that we move it forward.”