New mayor has shown a push to privatize city services
(Column written Mar 4 for Town Crier.)
Mayor Rob Ford has been in office for more than 100 days now and one trend that’s emerging quite vividly is his preference for privatization and partnering with the private sector.
Exhibit A: the mayor campaigned on contracting out garbage in an effort to save money and avoid strikes.
On Feb. 7, the city announced it had given CUPE Local 416 a 90-day notice that it plans to privatize all recycling collection in city parks, half of the city’s litter collection, plus garbage pickup in 165,000 residential homes west of Yonge Street to the Etobicoke border.
City staff will report back on the issue in April and go to council for a vote in May.
So far, the city estimates it can save $8 million if this move succeeds. Interestingly, right-wing think tank C.D. Howe Institute and U of T released a report before the municipal election outlining how Toronto could save $49 million by privatizing garbage citywide. The Ontario Waste Management Association, made up mainly of reps from private sector waste haulers, gave $50,000 toward that study.
I’d like to see the upcoming city staff report explain potential savings in further detail, given some full-time city workers have a “jobs for life” provision in their contract that guarantees them city work if their positions are contracted out. And while the mayor is moving in this direction to avoid strikes, like the 39-day episode in the summer of 2009, there’s no guarantee a private sector contract will mean no strikes.Exhibit B: Ford has also touted the private sector to help the city finance his plan to build a Sheppard subway. The province has promised just over $8 billion, although deferred half of it to later years, to build light rapid transit for Eglinton, Sheppard, Finch and the Scarborough RT.
Ford campaigned on expanding the Sheppard subway line so it connects to Downsview subway station and the Scarborough RT, and turning the Scarborough RT itself into a subway. He also wants to turn the Eglinton streetcar plan into a fully underground light rail route.
On Feb. 17, the mayor held a reluctant three-minute-and-21-second media scrum where he squeezed in three topics: his recent bout with painful kidney stones, his brother Doug’s comment that the mayor should get veto power at council, and the mayor’s request that provincial agency Metrolinx allow the city to pursue a Sheppard subway with private sector funding.
While the mayor was short on details, the city would be looking for about $4 billion in private sector cash to build the new Sheppard subway, if provincial money is tied up in paying for a more expensive Eglinton LRT.
Exhibit C: Toronto Community Housing was embroiled in a scandal Feb. 25 after city auditor general Jeff Griffiths released two scathing reports detailing more than $100,000 in questionable employee expenses and how the city agency could have saved between $4 million and $10 million by sending out contracts for tender rather than awarding sole-source deals.
Since then, Ford made comments on a radio talk show that he’d consider privatizing Toronto Community Housing Corporation.
This is another complicated idea, as the province mandates the city provide the current level of social housing, so it’s unclear what is involved in the city having a third-party-run public housing agency.
Rest assured, this is not the last time Ford touts privatization as the answer to all the city’s woes, especially given that Toronto faces a $774-million budget shortfall to balance the 2012 budget. One of the ideas being touted by city staff is selling off city assets, including the money-making Toronto Parking Authority.
Is privatization the answer to reducing expenses, running departments more efficiently and avoiding problems such as spending scandals?
I’d like to know what you think.