Monday's special council meeting brought the first report of the City's first service review, and members of Guelph's labour community were spoiling for a fight over privatization. The topic didn't come up too often in conversation around the horseshoe, but the president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 241 isn't letting his guard down.
"I think there were a lot of questions that they asked in the council meeting, they were great questions, so they’re on the right track, but I think council has to do a lot more investigating," said Paul Clulow in a new interview.
The questions Clulow referred to are about the Waste-Free Ontario Act, which was passed by the provincial legislature this past June, and how these changes to waste collection practices might affect Guelph. The new law includes the encouragement of more recyclable material in packaging, lower recycling costs, more access to convenient recycling options, and the creation of the Resource Productivity and Recovery Authority, a new oversight body with improved compliance and enforcement powers.
"I can only hope that they see that the public service is a great service, and that they continue and maintain that service in the City of Guelph and not sell off a great asset like the MRF (material resource facility), which could potentially be a lot more profitable for the City after the new regulations come out," Clulow added.
In the meantime, Clulow said that there are things the City, and council, needs to take into account to control costs. "When we sort garbage, we sort everything, and some of the comparables don’t sort everything. That’s why our diversion rate’s so high," he explained. "I believe that [the mayor] should look at some of the decisions that politicians have made in the past to bring other garbage in. Like Simcoe's garbage, what type of garbage it is? Guelph sorts differently from Simcoe, and we don’t believe a fair comparison’s been done in all the data collected."
Still, the CUPE president is concerned that some on council see good, if not better, opportunities by chasing privatization. "I guess the mayor has to really look at ‘what does the community want?’ Does the community want that stuff recycled, or do we want to increase tonnage to the landfill," Clulow said when asked about Cam Guthrie's comments that he will look at all options until final report comes back, and that "discounting one option is a disservice to government responsibilities."
"I do believe that this is going to be an election issue no matter what happens," Clulow added. "There’s nothing wrong with examining operations and seeing how to improve, but I think that by using employee input, you can get a lot from that without having to go out and hire consultants. I always believe that you can get the best information from the people who actually do that work."
Speaking of which, consultation with the workers at solid waste, Clulow said that process has been going well. "Absolutely, whenever the city has come up with their reports, those reports have been given to staff at the waste services division," he said. "They have gone out and informed people, and they’ve done a good job that way. Senior staff have kept everyone up to date on what is being presented to city council."
CUPE though is working on their own research, which they also intent to present to city council when the final report comes back on November 20. "We’ve got a lot of access to research on waste services across Canada, we deal with this issue a lot, and I believe we’ll also have answers ready in a briefing to council for the November 20 meeting," Clulow said. "I know we’re working on that now with our research department at CUPE."
Between now and then, Clulow and CUPE will also be taking their message to the people, rallying support for publicly-owned public services in the Royal City. "We’re going around and talking to community at different events," Clulow said. "People, when we're talking to them about the risk of selling off the sorting facility and removing that type of work from the public service, they were shocked."
So CUPE will be at the farmers market on Saturday, they will going around getting signatures on a petition, and they'll be demonstrating in front of City Hall again on November 20. They're reaching out to all their friends and allies in an effort to spread one message going into the fall. "I believe in the community, I believe there are a lot of people that need to get engaged, and right now the target is the MRF," Clulow said.