Garbage from Toronto is dumped at Republic Services Carleton Farms in Sumpter Township, Michigan. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
INDEPTH: MUNICIPALITIES » CITY STATES|
CBC News Online | July 31, 2004
Reporter: Christopher Grosskurth
Producers: Alan Guettel, Margaret Daly
LISTEN: Part one (Runs 12:44)
LISTEN: Part two (Runs 13:54)
When the nation's political system was created, garbage was something you threw down a hole out back. Trash was a purely local issue, for local government to deal with.
Now, garbage is both a big business and a big drain on property taxes. And it's a bilateral environmental and trade issue.
So now, garbage-bloated cities and people who live where these messes get dumped all want some leadership from higher levels of government.
"We have this suicide ballet of trucks," says Sarnia, Ont., Mayor Mike Bradley as he drives past them along Highway 402 on his way to the Blue Water Bridge to the U.S. The trucks he hates the most are the one's with the big red cabs that are hauling Toronto's garbage to Michigan.
"They don't bring any value to the community." And if the U.S. border is closed, even for a few days, for security reasons, he fears a lot of that garbage would find its way into landfills and dumps in towns like his. "There's no backup plan."
"Our biggest concern," he continues, is that "it's going to be forced on other municipalities that have planned for the future, and our capacity will be eaten up by the city of Toronto."
An hour up the highway toward Toronto, Sue Morrison is a retired nurse who lives next to the London, Ont., dump. She says it's already often unbearable on "Garbage Boulevard."
Her mayor, Anne Marie DeCicco, is one of the leaders of SWOT, the Southwestern Ontario Trash coalition, a group of cities launching pre-emptive strikes against Toronto's garbage. The tactic is to charge such high tipping fees for outside garbage that it wouldn't be an affordable option for Toronto.
In Toronto, the chair of the public works committee thinks the whole problem is too big to be left up to local politicians and overdrawn local budgets.
"I believe that the province needs to be at the plate with us," Jane Pitfield says, "Even the federal government. It is not only our emergency, but their emergency."
It's become a joke in the city: a small child asks 'where does garbage go?' The parents can honestly say, "It's gone to live on a farm."
That farm is Carleton Farms landfill site in Port Huron, Mich.
But Toronto's trash is not living such a happy life there. Michigan politicians are threatening to stop the convoys of trucks that roll in from Toronto.
Presidential candidate John Kerry has even said he supports the local protest. In an election year, that's something that will get Linette Guzman's vote.
She and her family moved out to the country eight years ago, to get some peace and quiet. Now she counts garbage trucks especially the Big Red Tornadoes, as she calls them, from Canada.
The Guzman kids can't play in the front yard, there's no quiet ever and she can't open her windows for the stench. Her neighbour was almost killed when one truck rear-ended her car and crashed her into the path of a Toronto truck coming the other way.
Guzman's state representative, Kathleen Law, ventured to Toronto with photos to show local lawmakers how well their garbage was doing down on the stinky old farm.
She says the most hateful thing her constituents have seen on Michigan TV news was video from a cocktail party of Toronto politicians. They were literally toasting the closing of Toronto's local landfill site. "That insulted everybody in Michigan," she says.
Michigan State University's Canadian studies department is frequently barraged with questions about garbage. But MSU's Mike Unsworth can simply point out regretfully that garbage is a "commodity." To trade regulators, it's no different than lumber, shoes or TV sets.
The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld that the garbage trade is a federal matter. And what's more, it's a free trade commodity, according to the terms of NAFTA. Unilaterally stopping the free flow of garbage across the border could tie up trade tribunals for decades.
To make her point, a hopeful Linette Guzman has invited Toronto mayor David Miller down to join her for tea on the porch. Her hope is that maybe then he'll see how important it is to get Canadian politicians to do the right thing, no matter what level of government they might come from.
Despite the invitation to tea, the garbage trade issue has not landed any Canadian politicians in hot water. It has, however, left Michigan holding the bag.
List of big city mayors, from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities:|
Vancouver: Larry Campbell
Surrey: Doug W. McCallum
Calgary: David Bronconnier
Edmonton: Bill Smith
Regina: Pat Fiacco
Saskatoon: Don Atchison
Winnipeg: Sam Katz
Brampton: Susan Fennell
Hamilton: Larry Dilanni
Kitchener: Carl Zehr
London: Anne Marie DeCicco
Mississauga: Hazel McCallion
Ottawa: Bob Chiarelli
Windsor: Eddie Francis
Toronto: David Miller
Gatineau: Yves Ducharme
Montr�al: G�rald Tremblay
Laval: Gilles Vaillancourt
Qu�bec: Jean-Paul L'Allier
Longueil: Jacques Olivier
Halifax: Peter J. Kelly
St. John's: Andy Wells