Josh Matlow City Hall Diary
While I struggled with the question of garbage privatization in the lead-up to last week’s council meeting, I thought of my friend and former Toronto Star editor, Alan Marshall, who passed away this month. Alan still guided me posthumously through a quote he was fond of, “When there is doubt, there is no doubt.”
Politicians aren’t elected to be experts. We rely on evidence and our own doubts to direct us in our research, in asking questions of bureaucrats and in seeking advice from outside professionals.
When I first read the staff report advocating for the mayor’s plan to privatize garbage west of Yonge St. it didn’t pass the smell test.
Evidence for the $8 million in annual savings the mayor claimed was based on a geographical comparison of two areas that weren’t comparable, didn’t include profits and somehow didn’t expect the private firms bidding on the contract to require trucks to haul our trash. Perhaps most importantly, the contracts were to be drawn up and awarded by staff without the final say of council.
I listened to all stakeholders, city staff, the mayor and several councillors including privatization opponents such a Gord Perks, and public works committee chair, Denzil Minnan-Wong, a leading proponent.
I even organized a public debate for my ward residents between Minnan-Wong and Hugh Mackenzie from the Centre for Policy Alternatives and moderated by TVO’s Steve Paikin.
The debate started under the lingering stench of controversy. Solid waste manager, and author of the privatization report, Geoff Rathbone had recently departed to the private sector and there was a news story that day suggesting the union was trying to stack my debate with its members posing as local residents.
The audience was thoughtful but some were emotional. At one point, when partisan fervour threatened to take over, Paikin diffused the tension with good humour by saying, “Don’t heckle unless you have something witty to say. Then you can heckle.”
While Minnan-Wong did a great job representing his perspective, the debate still left me and many residents with more questions than answers.
Recognizing, however, that the mayor had the majority of votes lined up, a few of my colleagues and I discussed some vital conditions that could be added to the privatization motion to earn our support.
By working thoughtfully to counter what seemed like a rushed push towards privatization, council was able to find compromises that reflected public sentiment while supporting checks and balances, the environment, public service and taxpayer protection if we chose to go down this path. Doug Holyday, the deputy mayor and staunch Ford supporter, moved the amendment that allowed council to vote on whether to accept the final bid.
There are still a lot of questions about whether garbage privatization is right for Toronto. But now, thanks to the amendments passed by council, the mayor and city staff will have to prove it beyond a shadow of a doubt.
Josh Matlow is the councillor for Ward 22, St. Paul’s.
To read this column at thestar.ca, please click here.