When Toronto Mayor Rob Ford spent half an hour with Rahm Emanuel last week, they talked trash.
“We were just talking about recycling and garbage, about the way it’s done in Toronto, what we’re doing here, because we want some major reforms,” Emanuel said at the mayors’ joint news conference. “You’re smiling, but that’s something mayors do.”
Whenever Emanuel uses the word “reform,” union presidents grit their teeth.
Ford recently privatized Toronto’s garbage collection, to prevent another haulers’ strike like the one that allowed trash to pile up for 39 days in 2009. That was, in fact, one of the issues that got him elected. Emanuel has also talking about privatizing trash pick-up, saying “managed competition” will save the city money. He has already hired private haulers for curbside recycling.
Private haulers began collecting garbage on the west side of Toronto last month, a program Ford said would save the city $11 million a year. The Toronto weekly Now reported:
The results from day one of Toronto’s privatization experiment aren’t good. Some 500 households didn’t have their trash picked up, and hundreds more had theirs collected hours after the 5 pm deadline prescribed by the contract.
Total number of complaints received by the city on the first full day of privatized pickup in District 2: 163 – more than three times the number on a normal day.
(Keep in mind, though, that Ford rarely gets good press in Toronto. After the mayor returned from Chicago last week, his brother went on the radio to call the local newsies “pathological liars” and claim he’d been approached by American reporters who asked him, “What is wrong with your media? They’re embarrassing your city.” Which seems unlikely because a) there were no American reporters covering Ford’s visit, and b) American reporters don’t follow local Canadian news.)
What’s interesting about the relationship between Emanuel and Ford is that both have antagonized their cities’ labor unions by implementing what they call reform policies. Ford’s visit to Chicago coincided with the end of our first teachers’ strike in 25 years. Ford is a member of Canada’s Conservative Party, so there’s nothing surprising about his stance. But Emanuel is a Democrat, a member of this country’s pro-labor party. The center of American politics is so much further to the right than Canadian politics that there’s not much difference between a New Democrat and a Conservative. Religious and social issues are less significant in Canada than they are in the United States. And Canada's single-payer health system is a sancrosanct feature of its national identity, endorsed by all parties. Ford is not a supporter of gay marriage, but even he attended a City Hall event to mark International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. Try to imagine George W. Bush posing next to a rainbow flag in the Rose Garden.
The news we all missed last week is that Rahm Emanuel may have found a political soulmate: a conservative Canadian mayor.
This month, Ward Room blogger Edward McClelland’s Young Mr. Obama: Chicago and the Making of a Black President will be available on Kindle for $9.99. Tracing Obama’s career in Chicago from his arrival as a community organizer to his election to the U.S. Senate, Young Mr. Obama tells the story of how a callow, presumptuous young man became a master politician, and of why only Chicago could have produced our first black president.