A deepening garbage strike now entering its third week is sullying Toronto’s reputation as one of the world’s cleanest cities, with overflowing trash cans turning off tourists and residents alike.
“I definitely noticed all the rubbish around, it’s not what you think of when coming to Canada,” said Australian Cheryl Karey, who was on holiday in Toronto.
Karey was walking along Queen Street West, a busy retail street in Toronto, where local businesses are now witnessing mounds of smelly black bags strewn about on the sidewalks, which have piled up since the strike started on June 22.
“It’s disgusting, there’s garbage flying around everywhere, we have to sweep the patio every 30 minutes just to keep it presentable,” said Vicki Rivard, manager at David’s Tea on the street.
For more than 15 days now none of the garbage and recycling units that dot most street corners in Canada’s largest city have been emptied.
And it is the second time in seven years that garbage pick-up has been disrupted, with the last civic strike in 2002.
A block away, street vendor Anthony Vilanova says business is already being hit.
“The garbage is everywhere, I can’t even move to another corner,” he said, as he sat next to an overflowing trash can.
Two union groups, representing over 30,000 full and part-time city workers including garbage collectors and office staff, have gone on strike protesting proposed cuts in benefits and sick pay.
The key demand is for workers to keep 18 sick days per year, bankable until retirement.
An Angus Reid Poll conducted during the first week, 76 percent of 600 residents were opposed to the strike and 81 percent favored provincial back-to-work legislation. The poll had a four percent margin of error.
“I think what they’re doing is ridiculous, I have no sympathy for them in this economy, I never get paid for sick days, let alone being able to bank them,” Toronto resident Jeanette Janzen said.
Residents have been taking their garbage to 19 temporary sites in parks, parking lots and a hockey rink during the strike.
“I can’t tolerate it, I was going to take a picnic this afternoon nearby, but the smell is too much,” said Sandra Cripps, a resident who lives two blocks away from one of the temporary sites at Moss Park.
“It’s smelly and I hope it ends soon,” Renee Coutts said as she walked by the Moss Park site.
The strike has also shut down local swimming pools, day-care centers and golf courses. In addition to the overflowing garbage units on sidewalks, over 500,000 homes and 20,000 small businesses are not getting their weekly pickup of garbage or recyclable items such as paper and cans.
Two of the sites, at Christie Pits and York Mills arena, were closed at the weekend as they were filled to capacity. The site at Christie Pits had garbage stacked about 2m high and filled an entire outdoor hockey arena.