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Homeowners who haven't had to bag leaves in decades 'furious' as Toronto cuts service to save $2.3M

Vacuum leaf collection served 42,000 families from the 1960s until now
Nov. 20, 2023
Michael Smee

Residents in some of the city's leafier enclaves have gone decades without having to pick up fallen leaves thanks to a specialty collection service.

But now -- if they want the city to keep collecting -- they'll need to do more than just rake.

"People are furious," said Etobicoke Centre Coun. Stephen Holyday.

"They've relied on this service and valued this very good service for many, many decades and it abruptly comes to an end."

Since leaf burning was outlawed in the 1960s, residents in Etobicoke, York and Scarborough -- some of the city's most heavily-treed neighbourhoods --  have been expected only to rake their leaves into small piles by the side of the road.

From there, city crews would come and gather up the piles with backhoes and suction trucks or by hand. Meanwhile, all other households are expected to bag their leaves for pickup.

The city's mechanical vacuum leaf collection program was voted out of existence by city council during the 2023 budget debates. Axing the program, which services about 42,000 families, is only fair, city staff said in a statement.

"It will align service levels with all other city areas, providing an equitable level of service to all Toronto residents," the statement reads.

Holyday made a last ditch effort to save the program with a motion at last month's city council meeting. It failed to pass.

The city's withdrawal of a decades-old service is unfair and "quite a shock," said affected homeowner Kenneth Copeman of the Glen Agar Residents Association.

Copeman says the city's emphasis on providing equitable service is not a good reason to cut the service.

"You also have to look at some of the other stuff that the City of Toronto's doing," he said. "For instance, my property taxes help pay for sidewalk clearing but, in my neighbourhood, there's only a handful of streets that have sidewalks."

Holyday told CBC Toronto he's not about to drop the issue; however, it's unclear what his next steps will be.

"This is important to people," he said. "I'll continue to fight for it."

But city staff say the decision is final: "The Mechanical Vacuum Leaf Collection Program was reviewed by city council and was permanently discontinued as part of the 2023 budget process."

The city says cutting the program will save approximately $2.3 million a year.