Michael Comstock: Strike proves overstaffed city should trim down

By Michael Comstock –

The Bulletin is Toronto’s only Downtown community paper and it seems to thrive against a generally stagnated number of daily newspaper readers. Torontonians can get their news from a variety of media which is one reason daily newspaper readership isn’t growing.

Another reason is that all these channels of news are broadly focused.That means the news they report is usually more about everywhere else.

So this little monthly ends up being a well-read piece of copy.

It is a problem to comment on the CUPE strike at the end of July knowing the voluminous coverage it has received and that it may be over and dissected by the time you read this article. Yet, I can’t resist because in such difficult times, many values and abilities are revealed.

Among the several outside news bits on the CUPE ambush was CNN, and the San Francisco Chronicle travel advisory; and of course, the Maclean’s Magazine’s cover of a banana peel hat-wearing mayor.

Everyone has been focused on garbage pick up as if were the only problem. Locally we know garbage pickup is a permanent problem in Toronto.

The San Francisco suggestion not to visit Toronto was just a self-serving media release.

It was motivated by our successful PRIDE celebration overcoming the strike, and the St. Lawrence Market being now as famous as that city’s Ferry Market.

Well at least people heard about Toronto. Some people say that just getting your name mentioned in the national media is invaluable and people forget if it was in a good or bad context. That is proven by our constant re-election of the incumbents.

Garbage is the big story because you can photograph it as great piles and messy streets.

It is much harder to communicate the loss of daycare services and the disruption to a family’s life that this creates, or to show how poor ambulance response may well have produced a deadly delay. Garbage can be easy; just ask the residents of Etobicoke where the winning bids of a company covers the task. Most condominiums and office towers are serviced by private-company contracts.

These towers are now hauling some of the garbage from our friends and relatives.

My visit to friends in Port Hope included a “do you mind a small bag of trash” along with what can we bring from the St. Lawrence Market. People are trying to get by and are encouraging clever cleanups all over town. Mayor Miller’s broom is even more symbolic in hindsight as George Mammoliti and George Smitherman break out their brooms.

We try hard to recycle and reduce trash in this city, even with Miller’s constantly changing the bins and dumpsites, and insisting on only CUPE garbage collection. Clean is what Toronto wants and it is a polarizing issue.

Mayor Miller’s first mistake was to pile the garbage up and not to keep sorting out the organics.

He could have carted it away from the local sites each night as Windsor had done for 101 days. He could have kept the waste stream separated along with the stink.

Secondly, the lack of an immediate injunction at the city drop-off sites to stop the delaying tactics of the picketers.

I am astounded that the Toronto Police allowed the delays and bag limits at these sites.

The police union itself knows that the picketers have only the right to stop a person crossing the picket line for a short and brief period to inform that person about the strike.

Mayor Miller’s injunction was to threaten the citizens with ticketing if they “illegally” left bags nearby.

Thirdly, if the reason for this hording of trash in our parks is so that the CUPEs can have an overtime paycheque feast cleaning up the hockey rinks of this garbage and pesticide, he will have lost my vote. I will try to remember in the fall elections of 2010.

Other withdrawn services produce much less of a visual problem and management staff have come to the rescue.

Hundreds of department heads and supervisors are working hands on and have been re-deployed where needed.

This part of “the great constipation” has been a learning curve for the managers. They are getting a first-hand idea of the work they supervise and meeting other managers to compare notes.

This is the group that should be selecting qualified companies to provide services and saving the city money and capital.

The management level of our city workers has done itself proud in keeping many serious situations from exploding.

The garbage pickup must be slowly shifted to several competing companies and overseen by the management level which we have seen can get the job done.

Daycare (and teachers) and health services should never again be allowed to strike. Let’s add them to fire, police and emergency services which are well-paid and secure jobs that cannot be allowed to strike.

Family problems are doubled when these services are lost. We are endangering ourselves and especially our children by allowing these essential public services to strike.