Five things we learned from last night’s garbage debate

Five things we learned from last night’s garbage debate

We attended last night's garbage debate

Newbie councillor Josh Matlow has spent the last six months very carefully straddling council’s middle, taking a calculated stance on issues from taxes to the TTC to garbage privatization. Last night, in an attempt to provide some clarity for the voters in his ward—and perhaps his own thoughts—he invited fellow councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong and left-wing economist (they exist!) Hugh MacKenzie to debate the pros and cons of the latter. Adding to the evening’s star power, Steve Paikin agreed to moderate the debate—in part because he lives in the area and in part because it seems he’s constitutionally required to preside over any such forum he happens to attend. Unfortunately, the turnout was poor and the drama was low. But we did learn a few things—five of them actually. More after the jump.

1. Privatization: it’s really not that big of a deal
According to Minnan-Wong, the brand of privatization at issue is an incremental step building on the already-privatized experience of Etobicoke. Moreover, he suggested that garbage collection itself isn’t that important—apparently, he doesn’t see it as an essential service along the lines of the police, the fire department and, um, the TTC.

2. Privatization: actually, it’s the worst thing ever
On the other hand, McKenzie argued that privatization has gone wrong before (see: the old city of York, which brought its private garbage collection back into the city’s hands and saved money doing so). He also pointed out that contracting outsourcing poses a bunch of problems for the city after the deal is signed: namely, the city will no longer have a direct line to management when something goes wrong.

3. CUPE still knows how to get the crowds out
During the inevitable question-and-answer period, it became clear that the city workers’ union was overrepresented in the room. Later, Matlow told The Informer: “I’m still not sure how much these views actually represented my ward.”

4. Some people care about process
This seriously cheers us up: a number of the questioners were deeply concerned about not just the goal of privatization, but the process the city is using to get there. One woman asked about the case of Geoff Rathbone, the city manager who has now landed a plum job in a private waste-hauling firm. Some asked whether council would be able to oversee the contract after it approves the privatization plan (currently: no).

5. Matlow is still on the fence
After the evening wrapped up, Matlow admitted he still hadn’t heard anything that convinced him to actually take a position. He told The Informer he thinks the contract should come back to council for approval instead of going to the bid committee, which is just about the only wrench the opposition can throw into the mayor’s plan. It’ll be interesting to see next week if Matlow brings any other councillors from the middle with him.