The mayor of trash

If he can get dump okayed, his bagman will be a happy fella

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There’s a ban at City Hall on high-priced lobbyists whispering in the ear of councillors to try to get their vote for that bizarre Adams Mine dump. But that hasn’t stopped a team of well-connected advocates for Rail Cycle North — the outfit that wants to ship our trash hundreds of kilometres and throw it in the Adams Mine — from working behind the scenes to get the garbage contract signed, sealed and delivered before election day.

Of course, the official line is that council doesn’t have a moment to spare, with the Harris Tories insisting that the Keele Valley dump close in 2002. That clears the way for a long-awaited payday for the premier’s acquaintance, RCN’s Gordon McGuinty. RCN’s cheque comes to just under $46 million a year for hauling 900,000 tons of Toronto’s garbage to Adams Mine.

The pressure’s on Mayor Mel to do the deal now or never. He has the votes, and there’s just too much at stake to risk having it all unravel in the hands of a smaller, possibly more progressive council come January.

“They would lose the vote if it went over to January,” asserts councillor Jack Layton.

Many suspect that the Mel camp has told faithful councillors who are facing tough re-election battles not to worry, assuring them the issue isn’t really registering with voters.

That’s the line Tory lobbyist and Mel bagman Jeff Lyons is sticking to anyway.

Lyons was hired on by RCN to give them “strategic advice” and help the consortium navigate the provincial Ministry of the Environment, which gave Adams Mine the go-ahead after what was widely seen as a too narrowly focused environmental assessment.

“It isn’t a big (election) issue,” says Lyons. “I know people working in campaigns, and they tell me they don’t hear it at the door.”

Lyons is being modest. Not only does he know people working in campaigns, but he’s also working on a few himself.

“I’m helping out councillors who ask for help,” he says, declining to name them.

A seasoned veteran of the municipal scene who has represented a number of powerful interests at City Hall and Queen’s Park, Lyons is irked by the lobbying ban around the garbage issue that stops him from talking directly with councillors. (The former Metro council invoked a similar rule to keep the waste industry at bay when it tackled the garbage issue a few years back.)

All correspondence from special interests on the Adams Mine contract has had to go through works department staff. Lyons says he’s looking at retaining counsel to launch a Charter challenge.

“You can’t have a ban on that,” he says. “It’s freedom of expression.”

Lyons has always been touchy when it comes to regulating the activities of lobbyists. He was one of several municipal lawyers who successfully pushed to have the old city of Toronto’s lobbyist disclosure bylaw quashed back in the early 90s.

But Lyons isn’t the only lobbyist on the RCN payroll. The consortium has also hired lawyer Ivan Fleischman, who has acted for developers in the past, to work the file.

Fleischman declined to comment for this story.

“I don’t make any comments about client matters,” he says.

And Liberal lobbyist Paul Pellegrini, a former aid to federal minister Art Eggleton, says he was recently hired on by RCN to arrange meetings and conversations with Fleischman and members of the Liberal GTA caucus.

“We wanted to make sure they had all the facts,” says Pellegrini.

Local Liberal MPs, including Tony Ianno and Carolyn Bennett, have lined up against the Adams Mine proposal.

And even if council does do the deal this week, the feds could end up putting a stop to the RCN contract if the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) recommends a full review to environment minister Dave Anderson.

The minister’s spokesperson, Johanne Beaulieu, says they hope to have a recommendation from the CEAA on whether to proceed by the end of the year.

Mayor Mel isn’t taking any chances, though. At press time, word was that he would put forward a motion this week that would cancel the Adams Mine contract if the CEAA goes ahead with a review.

But that hasn’t stopped the mayor and his staff from putting the screws to council this week as mine opponents began to turn up the heat.

Cold feet

At the beginning of the week, the mayor had an eight-vote cushion. But councillors who supported the plan in principle just a month ago are starting to get cold feet.

Tom Jakobek was noncommittal when NOW spoke to him Tuesday.

“I’m still waiting for a response (from staff) on this (dump) ‘leaks- like-sieve’ issue,” Jakobek says. “I’ve got to be convinced that it doesn’t.”

Councillor Mario Silva, a Liberal who was lined up behind the Adams Mine proposal, is also “becoming less and less comfortable with the whole thing.”

Silva adds, however, that the mayor, the consummate lobbyist, personally stressed to him the importance of securing a new site soon.

• Newmarket-based Canada Compost Inc. will soon be able to handle 180,000 tons of organic waste per year, producing compost and methane gas for power generation.

• An organics digestion facility like the one being proposed for study by the city in cooperation with Enwave District Energy Limited would generate biogas to heat downtown office buildings.

• Increase the amount of recyclables and yard waste the city collects (include milk cartons, empty aerosol cans, empty paint cans, polystyrene foam packaging, plastic food containers and plastic bags).

• Restore once-a-week recyclable and yard waste collection.

• Retrofit apartment buildings with automated chutes to allow for separate garbage, fibre and container disposal.

Source: Canada Compost Inc., Toronto works department

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