Saturday, September 23, 2006

Toronto's trash, new and improved with added imperialism

The very moment people pay for someone to haul away their garbage, it becomes a commodity subject to all the costs and opportunities of any other commodity in the market. Although this is a simple and irrefutable observation, it escapes general notice because the opportunities are mostly distributed by single monopolistic government purveyors who in turn hide the artifically elevated costs in taxes and exert tight regulatory powers over the negative externalities, imposing strict or often impossible restrictions on locations or methods of garbage disposal. As with any commodity that is so effectively dominated by government, commerce in garbage is become a political issue — which means that, far from being governed by rational policy, garbage is a political commodity traded in spurious debates, imaginary moral imperatives and populist clamourings. And whenever rational policy might threaten to intrude, political self-interest overwhelms it with an avalanche of hysteria.

For example, local media are this week steering the politicians' punches in "the first drama in the race to become London's next mayor" and selling its "stakes" as "high" — which would actually make it the second drama, coming only days after the Free Press manufacturing the other previous "key municipal election issue." But who's counting? Bounding right back up to the top of the ersatz populist stump, like trick ponies, London politicians and area MPPs are this time shouting outrage over the sale of the 130-hectare Green Lane landfill in Elgin County to the city of Toronto for rerouting its garbage from Michigan in 2011… an over-wrought demonstration of NIMBY-ism considering that the landfill isn't even within London's boundaries. Even Sarnia mayor Mike Bradley is calling for a regional conference among mayors opposed to Toronto's garbage — and Sarnia is counties away from either the landfill or the route between it and Toronto. The conceits of politicians are immeasurable even when they are doing nothing at all, but affecting some sort of moral ascendancy over the uncoerced commerce between two peripheral jurisdictions in the absence of the slightest jurisdictional, pecuniary or environmental self-interest is presumption that is simply beyond description. So what are they actually outraged about?

"The right thing to do would have been to call us and not let us find out through media reports," Mayor Anne Marie DeCicco-Best said.
"Us" means, of course, her and the municipal government at whose prow she figureheads… and which has no conceivable proprietary interest in the sale. Londoners themselves are expected to merely submit to the proposition that she cares… at least as much as her main rival Joe Fontana who is doing his busy best to out-care DeCicco. But indignation is cheap for politicians, especially when attention to matters of municipal taxes, spending, debt and crime for which they are accountable is so easily diverted. And Coun. Susan Eagle is particularly theatrical on behalf of her electoral interests when given unpaid advertising space in the Free Press:
"It's appalling disregard for local municipalities," Coun. Susan Eagle said. "They're our big neighbours simply asserting their power and will. It's very disappointing."

… "It's about our health, about our safety, about losing our autonomy so a larger municipality can use us as a dumping ground."
What autonomy? The rhetoric of the underdog oppressed by an imperialistic goliath is certainly evocative, but what is the city of Toronto actually doing to the city of London? Given that the Green Lane landfill had already been approved for expansion and was accepting contracts from other municipalities, what makes Toronto's trash different, let alone more imperialistic, than any other community's? But there's no place in the local newspaper for questioning political propositions — valuable newsprint is already dedicated to engineering an osmotic absorption by readers. Bloated reproaches from every area Liberal MPP, Controller Bud Polhill, Eagle and too many others — too numerous to quote, in fact — for a euphemistic "Made-in-Toronto" solution wilfilly deride the fact that Toronto is making its solution. The implication otherwise must be that Toronto is somehow morally compelled to dispose of its garbage in Toronto. But what is the moral imperative of keeping garbage close to home? I myself do not, and would not even if the city did not legally occupy my discretion on the subject. The town of Aylmer dumps its garbage in the Green Lane landfill — why are there no political demands for a "Made-in-Aylmer" solution? Neither buyer nor seller were legally coerced in a transaction for landfill space that meets the province's environmental standards and which isn't even located in the jurisdictions making the complaint.

If anyone has cause for complaint, it is the taxpayers of Toronto who have been forced for years to pay for expensive solutions to the panderings and opportunism of their own politicians that erected the impenetrable political barriers to more expedient and financially efficient garbage disposal methods and locations closer to home, and will continue to do so through a mortgage of at least $200 million for the property — and rumoured to be over $400 million, although the details were voted on in a closed-door session of Toronto city council and, significantly, will not be revealed until after the November election in Toronto. The long-running political gamesmanship in Toronto with electoral populism and the NIMBY-ism and pseudo-environmentalism of special interest groups has prevented rational policy-making and forced political interests to conclude extra-jurisdictional solutions without regard to prudence or sound judgment. By turning its garbage into a political football and lobbing it outside its borders, Toronto has precipitated a regional sport of politicking with Toronto's trash — with the same rules of bombast, irrationality and electoral diversion. There's simply no manufactured catchet in politicking with Aylmer's trash. The particular grievance of London mayor Anne Marie DeCicco is of course not with the garbage itself, for which she has no legitimate nor even contrived interest; it is that Toronto mayor David Miller has successfully tossed the football out of his grasp right into her lap right before an election. If she wanted to object to a legitimate injustice, she could point out that local taxpayers will be obliged to subsidize another politically-wrought financial mismanagement of Toronto through provincial bailouts — except that she's been building her career on lobbying the province and the federal government for bailouts for London's own financial mismanagement. In the meantime, one hopes that DeCicco, Eagle and the others have the foresight to save a few electoral diversions for themselves from the issues of taxes, spending and crime that are in their backyard for closer to the election in November.

By resisting the occasion to rise above cheap grandstanding, local politicians reinforce the doctrine of mystically transforming material commodities into political ones. Opportunities are wasted for political exigency, political costs are added to prices, and commerce is exchanged for cheapened and stultified political debate. This benefits no one, except perhaps unions and special interests. As for what could have been, Arthur Majoor, a candidate in the upcoming election for mayor of London, put it well in a private correspondance:
Decrying garbage as a problem is short-sighted […] Garbage consists of processed materials that can be extracted or exploited in various ways. Enterprising people could have, if given their own resources and free reign, discovered profitable ways to exploit this. In London, the money has been taxed out of their hands and spent on the Canada summer Games, JLC, Convention centre and so on instead, net drains on the taxpayer's wealth. In the meantime, the equivalent of a river of oil and minerals drive past London on a daily basis. Instead of a problem, this is actually another foregone opportunity.
Update: Arthur Majoor expands upon the local garbage issue here: Garbage or Wasted Opportunities?

Update 2: The London Free Press reports that Ontario Progressive Conservative leader John Tory and other local PCs are opportunistically piling onto the trash controversy to discredit the governing Liberals. Cheap and meaningless homilies about "better representation" aside, what is Tory criticizing the Liberals for? The provincial government by regulation must approve the sale but has no procedural reasons to block it except for fabricated political ones … and it is difficult to imagine Queens Park deferring to the parochial machinations of London-area politicians in favour of Toronto's. What John Tory and the PCs would do differently in the Liberals' place cannot be guessed at — nor is it meant to be, beyond a cursory indignation. Tory is doing nothing but trying to score a few political points during a time-out from the legitimate jurisdictional concerns of provincial governance.
Political fallout from the move was to be expected, political scientist Paul Nesbitt-Larking said. "There has been almost universal condemnation because the optics of this are so bad," said the professor at Huron University College.
Indeed, could it be because of anything else?

Publius at Gods of the Copybook Headings sums the whole mess up very nicely:
The division of political labour is determined by the extent of the market for political bafflegaffe. More than a century and a half ago, people conceded to the state the task of garbage disposal. About thirty years ago the job of environmental guardian was added to the laundry lists of government responsibilities. […] government involvement means politicization. Activities that most people would never have been aware or concerned about, become major issues because politicians need to put their faces in front of a television camera every so often.


comicbooklady said...

That is so right on! you nailed it with the free press' story from nothing routine, Mayor Bradleys' indignation, and Toronto's imperialism, not to mention local politicians'2 cents (quote me! quote me!) What hooey! I am definitely voting for Majoor! It is so refreshing to hear a rational voice in a sea of hysteria.

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