Canada's big cities could save big bucks with privatized garbage pickup

Post by Erin Chutter in


Are cities like Toronto and Vancouver throwing money in the can by refusing to privatize garbage pickup?

Nothing like the stifling heat of summertime and a tenuous tourist season to encourage civic workers for a little garbage action.

And why not?

If you are going to have to walk a picket line, it might as well be in the sun. It seems to be keeping the Windsor city workers content as they complete their second month of job action.

Not surprisingly, public opinion has taken a decided turn for the worse. The National Post is even reporting that Windsor residents are taking it upon themselves to mow city lawns and figure out alternative service providers for garbage pick up.

Now with the City of Toronto dispute distracting the public sector union folks, perhaps the Windsor government will finally look at contracting out garbage services. When Winnipeg finally completed contracting out in 2006, a move which it did in two stages, it saved in excess of $5.7 million. Winnipeg has about 700,000 people.

Cities aren’t exactly comparable, but residents of Windsor and Toronto shouldn’t have to put up with garbage strikes (and other striking civic services) every five-seven years.

CUPE Local 416 must have a tin ear for the economic challenges facing many southern Ontario workers and striking over sick pay isn’t going to garner a lot of support from jobless in Windsor, the number of whom topped 12% in April 2009.

There is absolutely no reason for Windsor or Toronto to bend over backwards to settle. The CTF ( is suggesting legislating back to work and then examining contracting out certain civic services.

The union isn’t expecting a quick settlement and they shouldn’t. There is absolutely no political benefit for Windsor or Toronto politicians to a resolution that is completely out of line with current economic circumstances.

Erin Chutter serves as a board director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation



I think there are some important considerations that have been overlooked in your column. First, you have to show that Toronto (and not Winnipeg) would save money contracting out services. About 50% of Toronto's garbage pick-up is privately delivered and it is no more or less expensive than public sector pick-up (according to Councillor Joe Mihevc).

The CTF has, I believe, been supporters of accountable and transparent delivery of services. The problem with private delivery of public services is that typically they are less accountable and transparent (see David Zussman in Handbook of Canadian Public Administration)

Further, public services must address the public good. They are not meant to make profits or serve shareholders. They must serve all citizens. And finally, back to accountability, they must be responsive to the electorate.

In short, there needs to be evidence behind the CTF's assertion that privately-delivered is ipso facto better.

Lastly, unions are legal entities and are entitled to collective bargaining. What you and the CTF are suggesting is not only a breach of Ontario labour regulations it encroaches on the rights of unions to exist. Further, to suggest forcing locals 416 and 79 back to work before they've negotiated and then suggesting they be replaced with the private sector is a pernicious suggestion indeed. This becomes a debate less about evidence and more about the CTF's ideological opposition to unions.

And with respect to the "current economic conditions" may I ask who you think was a prime author of the recession? It certainly wasn't the unions. Indeed, hefty deregulation, something that the CTF has lobbied for for years, is certainly a primary culprit for these grim economic times.

In short, you need evidence to back up your assertions.


Do you not factor in to the "cost" of publicly delivered garbage pickup the fact that it is used as the main bargaining chip for wage negotiations with the City? To simply look at the cost of private vs public garbage pickup is missing out a key ingredient.

Without publicly run garbage pickup (and daycares), do you not think CUPE would be in a weaker position to negotiate healthy wage and benefit packages for their members?

If you remove the pressure that no garbage pickup places on the public during a strike, you'll likely see the "cost" of civic public sector agreements will go down over time. Wouldn't that reduce "cost" to taxpayers?

What special talents does the city bring to garbage collection? The city should stick to what it knows best and does best, municipal governance and planning, leaving this service to those that specialize the field.

Citizens have a right to uninterrupted garbage collection.

However, seeing as the current council is so close with the unions one wouldn't expect change on this front anytime soon.


You're making more assumptions here. First, it isn't just about wages (Locals 416 and 79 should be annoyed that Councillors gave themselves a 2.5% wage increase and gave increases to firefighters and police). Second, there's no assurance that private services are "cheaper". Besides, I don't want critical services, as many have deemed them, such as garbage collection and daycare, to go to the lowest bidder.

Let's not rely on heuristics here. If you have evidence that privately-delivered services are more cost-effective, accountable and transparent to citizens, offer good pay and benefits to their employees (let's not forget to measure the "cost" of poorly paid and overworked employees), I'd like to see it. But pulling out random variables without context or without understanding the full picture is akin to making stuff up.

Jimbo Van,

Umm, you just answered your question. Those city workers who pick up our garbage are experienced and do a great job. In fact, when they are doing their jobs, no one complains.

It seems that you and others like you, simply don't like unions or that they have bargaining power. Count yourself lucky that you have protections in place as an employee, many of those protections won by labour activists (do you like your 8 hour day? Weekends? Vacation days? Severance? Cannot be fired without cause?)

As far as calling garbage pick up a "right", that's a pretty expansive notion of rights and probably legally unsound. Having said that, I'm sure you will agree with me that other rights include: abortion, same-sex marriage, health care, housing, nutritious food, etc.

Wow, an NPA blog talking about garbage strikes.

I say privatize windsor garbage pickup,this should be an essential service,it becomes a health issue after a short time there are other towns near windsor that have privatized garbage collection and it works great,they pick up anything ,even on holidays,and if they break a bag or make a mess they clean it up before leaving,so lets go WINDSOR get up to speed and leave the c u p e workers at the CURB,and hire private firms that really want to work and do a great job...

Privatize garbage pickup is a nice idea in my opinion.we won't have health problems also then.With the economic challenges money can be saved.

Check out!

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