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E-BLAST: You Deserve Better Snow Clearing

In one of my E-Blasts last spring, I reported with a great sense of optimism that the City had redesigned its snow clearing contract system. I firmly believed that better winter service was on the way, both for Don Valley North and Toronto at large. After a few significant storms this season, it is clear that our new contracts are not meeting our expectations. We're a winter city, and we should not have to fight with snow after every storm. Today, I want to take a look at the issues our neighbourhoods are experiencing and think about what we can do going forward to ensure that our City services live up to the standards that you deserve.

My initial optimism about our new contracts stemmed from the presentation staff delivered to Council and the answers we received to our many questions last year. We learned that we would get a whole new set of contractors and that they would be organized in a completely different way: We would reduce the number of contracts and have each one assigned to a specific geographic location (usually two city wards), making it easier to follow up on issues and get consistent results. We also learned that there would be penalty and reward systems built into the contract to incentivize good service.

At the beginning of this winter season, I gave this new system the benefit of the doubt and instructed my team to do the same. We knew that there would likely be a slight adjustment period as the new contractors got used to our neighbourhoods. However, we are now well into the winter season and we continue to see a consistently unacceptable level of service. Most frustratingly, we're seeing some of the chronic issues that my team and I worked hard to resolve last season right back at square one.

The perfect example of this is Ravenscroft Circle. Last winter, my office took several calls from neighbours on Ravenscroft that their street had been missed after the January storm. After weeks of reporting and escalating with staff, nothing was done. It took me visiting the street in-person and putting out a video on social media to finally get that street cleared. Afterwards, I was assured that the street would be flagged both for the rest of the season and for next year. Lo and behold, Ravenscroft has been missed multiple times this winter. I know that this experience is not unique to Ravenscroft. It seems like none of the issues we flagged with staff last year have been identified to this year's contractors, leading to the same frustrating issues repeating again and again.

The video I made last year drawing attention to snow clearing issues on Ravenscroft Circle. In the wake of these issues cropping up across the city, an interesting conversation has emerged: whether or not we should bring winter maintenance services in-house. Our winter services have been contracted out since shortly after amalgamation. We've re-tendered the contracts a few times, but new models and new contracts are clearly not solving the issues. Torontonians' disappointment with the service continues to grow with each passing year.

Whenever another Councillor brings up the "new" idea of bringing snow clearing in-house, I love to remind them that we had that system in the legacy city of North York. Our sidewalks, roads, and windrows were done by our own City employees, and we had arguably the best snow operations in all of old Metro. I know from speaking with many of you that you miss the old days of North York snow clearing, as it was done to a much higher standard than what we're seeing now. What could our streets look like if we brought our snow clearing back in-house, and could ensure accountability across the city?

Unfortunately, we can't implement that system right now. We're at the beginning of a seven-year private contract, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't look to the future and imagine how we can do better as a city. When I talk to folks in the neighbourhood, I find that you understand and expected the City to use private contractors for one-time capital projects like road reconstruction and water main restorations. However, when it comes to recurring services like snow operations, you expect dependable service. I believe that bringing our winter operations back in-house would deliver that service you deserve.

I also want us to think hard about what we truly want and expect from our public services all year round. We're all focused on snow right now, but I know that there are other areas where we can do better. This past fall, I had the pleasure of chatting with many of you at your doors and hearing about the issues that matter to you most. What I heard again and again is that people feel like Toronto isn't quite living up to its potential. Folks want to see a clean, beautiful city. One where trees are trimmed, streets are swept, garbage bins in parks aren't constantly overflowing. We might not be able to make these things happen tomorrow, but let's start a conversation and start working towards the city we all want to live in. Let's identify where our services are falling short, and how we can bring them up to snuff.

I've long been an advocate of enhancing our public services and keeping them in-house, because that is the best way to hold our operators accountable. My fellow Councillors haven't always agreed with me, but I'm seeing more and more of my colleagues warm up to this idea as we work through yet another frustrating winter season.

For the rest of this winter, rest assured that I will be hard at work flagging issues in our neighbourhoods and getting staff to supervise the living daylights out of every contract. Keep contacting my office with your issues and concerns, as this is the best way for me to advocate for our neighbourhoods. And while you're staring out the window as more snow comes down this Friday, take the time to imagine what else you'd like to see improve in our city in the years ahead. We can do better, and create a city that we're all proud to call home.


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