“So are they all, all honourable men”

Rob Ford’s Gang of Five turned its knives today on Gary Webster, the much-respected Chief General Manager of the TTC.  At a special meeting called for the purpose of discussing “personnel matters”, the Commission thrashed out Webster’s future and, it is rumoured, that of other senior staff at the TTC.

After three hours in private session, the Commissioners emerged to confirm what had been decided, that Webster’s contract would be terminated in accordance with its “without cause” section.  Although we don’t know the details, this almost certainly means that Webster will earn not only his pay for the remainder of the contract, but a penalty payment for early termination.

The recently recruited Chief Operating Officer, Andy Byford, takes over as interim CGM, an utterly thankless task in the poisonous environment of City Hall.  Whether he will be chosen to replace Webster, or would even want to, remains to be seen.

The TTC will launch into a search for a new CGM, but no sane, let alone respectable senior manager from another transit agency will want a position whose primary role is to kiss the mayor’s ass.

Before the vote, some of the Commissioners spoke to the issue.  Maria Augimeri spoke passionately about the role of the Commission asking “who do you serve”.  Does the Commission exist as puppets of the mayor, or as a responsible body serving the citizens of Toronto?  John Parker spoke extremely briefly merely noting the words “without just cause”.  Both Augimeri and Parker would join Chair Karen Stintz and Vice-Chair Peter Milczyn in voting against the termination.

Ford’s minions — Frank Di Giorgio, Denzil Minnan-Wong, Norm Kelly, Vince Crisanti and Cesar Palacio — could have kept their mouths shut, but no politician can resist a chance for a sanctimonious speech.

Di Giorgio talked about the relationship between previous mayors and CGMs noting that both David Gunn and Rick Ducharme had left under strained relationships with past administrations.  What he neglected to mention was that Webster was threatened not by a professional disagreement, but by Mayor Ford’s mistaken belief that staff owe him a personal allegiance supporting whatever position he might take.  Di Giorgio actually said that excellence in a CGM means the ability to perform tasks set by the leader of the city, by the Mayor.

That’s not how professional staffs work in Canada, and indeed this concept violates both Council’s code of ethics (which provides that staff work for all members of Council without favour) and the Professional Engineer’s code that regards tailoring advice to suit the opinion of the hearer, rather than facts and the professional opinion of the engineer, as a form of misconduct.

Norm Kelly praised Webster, but tempered this by saying that his good deeds lay in the past, while the TTC needs someone to “lead us into the future”.  That will be a very dark future if this decision stands without a change in TTC governance.

In the best tradition of stories with black-hatted villains, there were boos, hissing and calls of “shame” from the public.  This is the most disgusting example of political manipulation, of abuse of power, that I have seen in 40 years of TTC and Council-watching.  Toronto is soiled by this action.

Council now faces the task of bringing Mayor Ford and his lackeys to heel, of driving home the basic fact that power rests with Council, not the Mayor no matter how delusional he or his toadies may be in thinking him Rob the First, The Great and Powerful.

The next opportunity will come at the Council Meeting of March 5-6 when a proposed change in the makeup of the Transit Commission, recently passed by the Ford-dominated Executive Committee, comes to Council for discussion.  The outcome may not be to Ford’s liking.  His actions, the moves of a spoiled child, a bully who cannot stand losing a fight, will only harden opposition to his reign.  Council can and should act to strip the TTC of Ford allies, especially the five responsible for Webster’s dismissal.  There will be no transit progress in Toronto while a tinpot potentate interferes with the execution of Council’s will, strangles the transit system for funding and service, while promising subways he and the City cannot possibly afford to build.

[The title of this article is from Marc Antony’s speech from Julius Ceasar, Act III, Scene 2, in which he mocks Caesar’s assassins and their dubious self-justification.]