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Mark Ferguson, president of CUPE Local 416, responds to an announcement by Toronto Mayor Rob Ford of plans to privatize garbage collection at a news conference February 7, 2011. (Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail/Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail)
Mark Ferguson, president of CUPE Local 416, responds to an announcement by Toronto Mayor Rob Ford of plans to privatize garbage collection at a news conference February 7, 2011. (Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail/Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail)

Toronto committee votes in favour of privatizing garbage collection Add to ...

After a marathon 12-hour meeting, the committee in charge of Toronto's solid waste voted to contract out 300 garbage-collection jobs in a large portion of the city.

The 4-2 vote aligns with a major plank in Mayor Rob Ford's election campaign. The recommendation to privatize much of the city's garbage service will now go before a full council meeting next month.

"This is a good deal for the residents of the City of Toronto," said Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, chair of the public works and infrastructure committee, of a city staff plan that he expects will save $8-million a year. "It's going to reduce the cost and size of government and that's what this mayor was elected for."

More than 70 people registered to speak against the plan to replace 310 unionized city employees with private workers, dragging the meeting past 10 p.m.

One of those speakers was the union leader crusading against the plan, Mark Ferguson, who endured testy and sometimes melodramatic questioning from the mayor's allies on Tuesday as he accused the city of violating its collective agreement.

Mr. Ferguson, president of the Toronto Civic Employees Union, Local 416, spoke forcefully at the standing-room-only meeting.

In a three-prong attack, councillors Frances Nunziata, Giorgio Mammoliti and Mr. Minnan-Wong employed sarcasm, history lessons and even props to discredit the outside workers' union and its president, who represents 1,300 garbage workers across the city.

"Is providing good customer service going on strike for five weeks and having residents with garbage on their front lawns?" asked Ms. Nunziata, to hisses from an audience packed largely with those opposed to privatization.

Mr. Mammoliti continued along the same historical theme, skewering Mr. Ferguson for "union-orchestrated" waiting times at garbage-transfer stations during the 39-day garbage strike in 2009.

"I'm not sure whether this is a royal commission or we're talking about the contracting in and out of garbage," Mr. Ferguson retorted.

The union leader continually accused the city of violating its collective agreement by withholding key information underpinning the privatization plan, a charge Mr. Minnan-Wong was prepared for.

He heaved three bankers' boxes atop the committee table. "This is a copy of all the information that you've been provided," he said. "We've answered over 100 questions. We're done. … What more information do you want?"

The props didn't faze Mr. Ferguson. "I know how the collective agreement operates and what the past practices have been in the delivery of information," he said. "If you want to change those past practices I would suggest you do so at the bargaining table and not midway through a collective agreement."

The theatrics continued into the evening. Around 8:30 p.m., one garbage worker, Ben De Sousa, told the committee that privatization talks made him feel like a "piece of garbage." To prove his point, he stepped into a clear plastic garbage bag and asked Mr. Minnan-Wong to "come throw garbage with me, a 51-year-old disabled man."

The chair said meeting rules did not permit him to answer the question.

Many speakers pointed out that a number of other cities have recently found private garbage collection to be a more expensive option. They also opposed a provision that would punt signing authority over the private contract - which could run as high as $270-million over nine years - from the elected council to an appointed bid committee.

"We're going to throw 300 city workers out on the street and I have a hard time doing that for questionable savings and a contract we don't even get to see," said Councillor Janet Davis. "That is not good governance."

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