Councillors spar heatedly over trash privatization

The chair of Toronto's public works committee accused his predecessor of "hysteria" as the two engaged in a debate over plans to open curbside garbage collection to competitive bidding in all areas west of Yonge Street.

The chair of Toronto's public works and infrastructure committee accused his predecessor of "hysteria" as the two engaged in a heated debate over plans to open up curbside garbage collection to competitive bidding in all areas west of Yonge Street.

The exchange occurred Tuesday on CBC's Metro Morning, which hosted current chair Denzil Minnan-Wong and Glenn De Baeremaeker, who held that position under former mayor David Miller.

Minnan-Wong is one of the point people behind Mayor Rob Ford's plans to open up the city's garbage collection contract to competitive bidding, a move he says will save the city millions and protect the public from future work stoppages. The current contract with unionized workers expires at the end of 2011.

De Baeremaeker said Tuesday that he doesn't put much stock in those promises.

"Will privatization save taxpayers money? No, it will not. Will privatization stop strikes from happening? No it will not. Will privatization put Toronto taxpayers at risk? Yes, it will," he said.

Contracting out garbage doesn't necessarily eliminate the risk of work stoppages because half of the private sector workers are unionized anyway, he said. He also argued the city could be held hostage by a private bidder, who may initially offer a "sweetheart" bid to win a contract, then jack up rates in future negotiations.

"If anyone listening to the show thinks that their taxes are going to go down because of privatization, they are living in a fantasy world," he said. De Baeremaeker said he favours the hybrid public-private system currently in place — private workers already collect curbside garbage and recycling for most of the city's apartment buildings.

Garbage is also collected by private workers in Etobicoke.

'I didn't say taxes will go down'

He then repeatedly challenged Minnan-Wong over whether people's taxes would go down because of increased privatization.

Minnan-Wong said Monday he expects the move will save the city $8 million, but didn't say exactly how that money would be used.

"Glenn knows that I didn't say taxes will go down," Minnan-Wong said Tuesday, adding he expects the savings will be applied to the annual operating shortfall the city is faced with.

"There's a level of hysteria in the comments Glenn is making."

The city won't be held hostage by a private company, Minnan-Wong said, because the eastern portion of the city will still be served by public workers. The city also does not plan to sell transfer stations, he said.

While there isn't a major difference between private and public wage levels, he said, the city stands to save when it comes to benefit expenditures — public sector benefits are "far more generous" than those in the private sector.

'Jobs for life'  provision slammed

He also said the public is on the side of the Ford administration, which made privatizing garbage a major priority in last fall's election campaign.

"People are fed up, quite frankly Glenn, with the strikes, with the jobs for life that you couldn't deal with and the excessive costs. They want prudent fiscal management, they want good service and that's what we're trying to deliver."

The "jobs for life" comment is a reference to a job protection measure in the collective agreement that was first granted by former mayor Mel Lastman and then strengthened by Miller.

Under the provision, if garbage collection was contracted out to an external vendor, full-time garbage workers with 10 or more years of experience would still have to be employed in some other capacity by the city at the same rate of pay.

It is because of that measure that the city is only looking at contracting out garbage collection in western Toronto. There are about 300 temporary positions serving that part of the city that would be affected.

Toronto council is expected to vote on the matter in May.