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Keeping costs in line

After last week’s e-blast, I received a number of insightful follow-up messages. One in particular encompassed everything in one email. I won't reveal the writer's name but they raised good points - let's take a look.

The reader asks:

"You mentioned that KPMG asked each department a number of questions about keeping costs in line. Are the departments asked if they entertain quotes from non-union suppliers in Toronto?

I recall when part of the city garbage collection was contracted out. When the possibility of expanding the area was being looked at, the city union(s) asked to be able to compete. What happened to that?

Does the city monitor the number of user licenses they pay for with the various software programs they use? Is the Repairs and Maintenance expense monitored for the Ambulance Services to make sure only necessary work is done? Does the city have control of who uses city credit cards?"

That's a lot to cover - I know many of you share these same questions, so let me break them down for you.

Non-union suppliers

In most departments of the City, there is a mix of non-union, union and management-level staff. Every department executes their capital budget work (state-of-good-repair work, expanding or building new facilities, purchasing vehicles) by tendering the work to contractors in the private sector. Not all of our contractors are required to use unionized employees but they do have to pay a fair wage based on a rate set by the City.

Toronto's paramedics are represented by municipal worker's union CUPE Local 416.

Contracted garbage pickup

Even before Green For Life (GFL) became the City’s contractor for curb-side garbage collection west of Yonge Street, a large part of Solid Waste Management Services had become non-union. This includes hauling garbage to landfills, state-of-good-repair work and some collection at high-rise buildings are contracted out.

Three years after GFL started collecting from homes west of Yonge Street, City staff studied waste collection across the City. What they found was that the cost was the same, on a per house basis, whether private or union employees did waste collection.

Staff recommended that we keep this 50/50 model because the dynamic tension between the two types of employees creates a motivation for savings and efficient service on both sides of Yonge St.

GFL is a contractor for solid waste collection west of Yonge Street.

The missing piece

I’ll combine the rest of the questions because they all pertain to City audits.

These questions all arise from reports from the Auditor General. The reality is that Toronto's public service is larger than most provinces - large governments need independent auditors and accountability officers to combat waste and breaches of integrity.

The resident’s question demonstrates one missing piece in our accountability system - our communication. When our Auditor General unearths something inappropriate, it makes headlines. What never makes the news are the actions taken after. We need to do a better job of communicating the good news to set your mind at ease.

Toronto's Auditor General sounded the alarm last April regarding the work forestry contractors do for the City.

What you don't hear about

When the Auditor General exposes wrongdoing, consequences such as dismissals, contract cancellations and even seeking damages in court happen regularly. Often, a quick resolution is contingent on both sides agreeing to confidentiality. Sometimes, when you see Council recessing its public meetings to go in camera, or in private, it is because we are receiving information about these consequences from our City Solicitor.

Always feel free to ask me about these matters. One thing I always make sure of when my colleagues and I are in these private meetings is to ask what exactly I can share with you - because you need and deserve that assurance from your representatives.


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