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City council votes to privatize west end garbage collection

After seemingly months of heated debate, Toronto city council voted 32-13 to privatize residential garbage collection in the city’s west end Tuesday night.

The decision will affect an estimated 165,000 homes west of Yonge Street to the east border of Etobicoke.

An estimated 300 jobs will also be lost.

“I’m happy,” Mayor Rob Ford  – who has long been making the push for privatization – said after the vote.

“We campaigned on contracting out garbage and that’s exactly what we did today,” he added.

Earlier in the day, a major concession was made by the pro-privatization side. It said the seven-year, $200 million contract would have to go before council to be approved, as opposed to a committee alone, as was originally proposed.

“Today was a partial victory for us,” union leader Mark Ferguson said.

“The fact that the numbers have to come back to city council and that those numbers have to be independently verified is a very good thing for taxpayers,” Ferguson continued.

Earlier on Tuesday Ford said the garbage vote highlights the split in council between the “tax and spend socialists” and the fiscally-responsible.

“As everyone knows, I campaigned on contracting out garbage and that’s exactly what we’re doing today,” Ford said at the beginning of the council meeting.

“I think people said ‘enough is enough’ after they endured a 40-day garbage strike last year.  It hurt our city, it hurt tourism, and it hurt people’s livelihood. We cannot have any more strikes in this city,” Ford said.

Ford’s remarks were not without interruption – a claim that he brought mixed martial arts to the province was met with jeers and boos, and the heckling continued when he described one side of council as socialists.

“We’re going to have one side of council that is going to support high taxes, big spending, out of control union contracts. We’re going to have the other side of council that is going to demonstrate restraint in spending, respect for taxpayers’ money, that want to bring accountability to City Hall, that are sick and tired of the tax and spend socialism in this city,” he continued.

Ford and Minnan-Wong claim the move will save the city about $6 million a year – however, the math behind that number has been called into question.

“They were comparing Etobicoke to the downtown and the downtown is a whole different mix of housing types, traffic conditions, parked cars, and so on, that make it more expensive to collect,” councillor Gord Perks said Tuesday.

“If you compare Etobicoke to Scarborough, guess what – public delivery in Scarborough is cheaper than private delivery in Etobicoke,” Perks added.

Councillors who support the move also say it would remove the threat of garbage strikes like the one that stank up the city in 2009.

A recent public opinion poll suggests many Torontonians support the move. An Ipsos-Reid survey released Monday shows 61 per cent of those questioned support outsourcing waste collection. Thirty per cent were opposed.

But critics claim privatization won’t save money and will cost the city good union jobs.

A report released by the Toronto Environmental Alliance last week suggests contracting out garbage collection won’t save taxpayers as much money as city officials have suggested.

And the union representing garbage collectors, CUPE Local 416, claims the move isn’t just about saving money. Ferguson has called Ford’s plan “an ideological attack on the public service.”

With files from Avery Haines.