Toronto City Hall

Is there a morale problem at City Hall?

The following post was written by guest contributor Robert Mackenzie who is now retired after working at City Hall for 30 years.

Hello, let me introduce myself. I'm a piece of garbage. Or, maybe since I'm retired, maybe I'm just a tired old piece of garbage.

I'm one of those guys that, these days, everyone likes to hate: a City of Toronto employee. I worked in City Hall for more than 30 years until I retired in 2008. I've always been proud of what I did for a living. For me, joining the civic service was a privilege - knowing that my work made a positive difference - a small one perhaps, but a difference nonetheless -- in the lives of Torontonians. And, yeah, I enjoyed getting paid well for that privilege, too. Then, last week, Mayor Rob Ford told members of the Canadian Club that he intended to pursue his goal of privatizing garbage collection in Toronto, because "there's already plenty of garbage in City Hall".

Rookie Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, rightly caught the slur against City of Toronto employees. She moved during this week's Council meeting that Council asked the Mayor to apologize for his remarks. Council defeated her motion and the Mayor has refused to apologize.

For thirty years, I've cheerfully endured endless jokes about the laziness and ineptitude of government workers, whenever I met people and they asked me what I did for a living. Often, I introduce the jokes myself to try to defuse an awkward social situation and to get all the anti-government-worker foolishness out of the way early.

Lately, however, the vitriol against government workers and City workers in particular is increasing. The strike by members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees Locals 79 and 416 - the infamous "garbage strike" didn't help make people feel better about City workers. Maybe that's where the idea that the people who work for the City are garbage began, and now, the Mayor calls them "garbage".

Back in December, Toronto Sun columnist Sue Ann Levy, reporting on the first meeting of City Council, told her readers that "It didn't escape my attention, either, that there were far too many middle managers rubbing shoulders with the new councillors at the inauguration - as if that will make up for their seven years of undying devotion to the David Miller regime."

Levy understands full well, that "rubbing shoulders with the new councillors" is part of City managers jobs. It enables them to do what we pay them to do: to provide advice to council members, regardless of the Mayor and councillor's politics -- and theirs. They're just doing their jobs, and Levy would be the first person to announce to Sun readers whenever she found government workers who aren't doing what the taxpayers have paid them to do.

Yesterday I spoke with a former colleague who was leaving the office around 5:30 p.m. yesterday as I headed inside to take in a bit of the debate on ousting the board of the Toronto Community Housing Company. He told me he'd had a bad day, but, still his morale and the morale of other workers around him is at a low. It's hard to keep on working enthusiastically when your boss thinks that you're garbage.

The people of this City elected Mayor Ford for change. He's set an ambitious agenda for himself. He'll do himself and the people who voted for him an enormous favour by sharpening, instead of blunting, the best tools he has to finish the job - the members of the Toronto Public Service.

He can start by not treating them like garbage.

Photo by Cameron MacMaster on Flickr

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