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In garbage collection, competition is rarely wasted

The city is planning to privatize garbage collection in the western half of downtown by August, 2012 under a new proposal that aligns seamlessly with Mayor Rob Ford's agenda and sets the stage for city-wide labour strife in coming months.

Worth at least $20-million over seven years, the private contract would yield $8-million in savings, according to a city staff report that some councillors quickly denounced as being based on speculative figures. The report also recommends that council be stripped of its mandated signing authority on deals of such magnitude.

The report was unveiled Monday amid accusations that it had been kept from some councillors, a foreshadowing of the outcry that will likely dog the privatization plan as it works through the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee next Tuesday and a full council meeting next month.

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"It's ridiculous that we're making such an important decision on behalf of the entire city based on a 10-page report that amounts to scribbles on a sheet," said Councillor Mike Layton, who sits on the committee but didn't see the report until committee chair Denzil Minnan-Wong released it to reporters during a morning press conference.

The plan calls on the city to hire a private contractor to take over curbside collection in District 2, the region bordered by Yonge Street to the east, the Humber River to the west, and Steeles Avenue to the north. Of 300 government garbage collectors now servicing the area, 240 permanent workers would be reassigned elsewhere in the city, while 70 temporary labourers would likely lose their jobs, according to city staff. The report says private service would cost the city 20 per cent less.

"We're just spending too much money and we have to find some savings," Mr. Minnan-Wong said.

Two councillors - Gord Perks and Shelley Carroll - briefly crashed a technical briefing at which city staff were elaborating on the plan to reporters.

"This is typical of the way this whole issue has been handled," said Mr. Perks, who sits on the Public Works Committee but was barred from the briefing along with all other councillors. "It's all hush-hush. Adequate information is not given to elected officials. They're giving the bum's rush to decent service in the city of Toronto."

City staff have recommended that council delegate the Bid Committee with final signing authority on the deal, contravening a bylaw that says council must review contracts over $20-million. The union representing public garbage workers is now mulling whether to challenge the point in court.

"I think it would be a great injustice if this council would be allowed to supersede bylaws so they can make decisions in the dark," said Mark Ferguson, president of the Toronto Civic Employees' Union, local 416.

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