Councillor Josh Matlow

National Post: Getting down to the nitty gritty of privatized trash collection

With the backing of more than two-thirds of council, Mayor Rob Ford’s bid to dramatically expand private trash pick-up now gets down to the nitty gritty. Staff have the authority to seek quotes for curb-side pick-up west of Yonge Street, to the Etobicoke border, litter pick-up in parks, and sidewalk vacuuming services. And while city council will ultimately award the winning bid, Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong says he has a “high degree of optimism” that, come 2012, 165,000 more homes in Toronto will have their garbage picked up by private contractors. The Post’s Natalie Alcoba explains what’s next.


Terms of the deal

Using Etobicoke’s private contract as a template, city staff are preparing the terms of the three bids, estimated to be worth about $250-million combined. The contracts are between five and nine years long and would allow the city to slash about 300 jobs. Councillor Minnan-Wong, who has led the charge on this file, is hoping the terms will be written in the next 60 to 90 days, after which staff will issue it to market, get tenders back, and bring it to council for a final OK by the end of the year. Staff will have to follow a number of parameters imposed by council on Tuesday, including ensuring a minimum amount of savings, and that diversion targets meet or exceed current city standards. The city manager also has to produce an independent report that compares the bid costs to what it costs the city to pick up garbage. Council voted against a crop of other motions that would have required the contractors to impose penalties if they don’t follow things like health and safety standards. Councillor Minnan-Wong said many of those demands are already part of the template, and the administration opposed restricting staff “on the fly.”

“Poison pill” motions

As far as Councillor Minnan-Wong is concerned, so-called “poison pill” proposals won’t derail the administration’s privatizing efforts. A motion penned by Josh Matlow, for example, requires bidders to show they can save the city as much money as staff claim. “The reasons I moved that is because I was hearing all these different truths from all sorts of different sources, and when I asked staff to support their arguments I didn’t candidly find them convincing. So, this is the test,” said Mr. Matlow. “If you believe in the numbers you’re giving council, then you should have nothing to be concerned with.”

Staff calculate that, all told, the three contracts will save about $8-million a year. That’s $6-million on curb-side collection alone, including about $3-million the city would contribute to its equipment reserve fund. Much of the savings are fuelled by lower wages and benefits in the private sector. “Staff believe their estimates were conservative. In fact, we hope and expect the savings will be higher,” said Mr. Minnan-Wong.

Day in court?

One of the largest solid waste firms in North America is thinking about taking the city to court after council voted to exclude it from the bid. Progressive Waste Solutions Ltd. has recently hired the city’s general manager of waste management, and “in the interests of ensuring public confidence in the transparency and fairness of the bidding process” council voted to ban the company from the process. Geoff Rathbone had already said that he would not participate in any bid process. Chaya Cooperberg, a spokeswoman for Progressive Waste, said the firm was “to say the least, surprised,” by council’s decision. “We are reviewing our options right now, including legal avenues potentially,” said Ms. Cooperberg. She said Progressive Waste had been planning to vie for the contract. “We think it’s pretty disappointing that council would treat Geoff in this manner,” said Ms. Cooperberg, adding that Mr. Rathbone has conducted himself with integrity throughout his career. Mr. Minnan-Wong said he consulted with city solicitor Anna Kinastowski after Mr. Rathbone announced his departure and “we believe we’re in a fairly strong position if they decide to take legal action.”

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