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.]
While there’s no telling what an angry Ford, cornered badger-like by Council foes, might do to lash out, it seems to me that the streetcar replacement project is safe. Heck, the same Commission that just split bitterly over Webster’s sacking voted unanimously just a couple of weeks before to award a $200 million-plus contract for the LRV Maintenance and Storage Facility, and the vehicles themselves — albeit slightly reduced in number — were in the Ford-approved 2012 Capital Budget.
The mayor’s fantasy of a streetcar-free commute seems to be just that. Or am I wrong, Steve, and is there some nefarious plan to scrap the system I’m missing?
On the rapid transit file, clearly Eglinton in some form is safe and indeed well underway. However if the infighting between Council and the mayor proceeds much longer I certainly wouldn’t be surprised to see provincial funding for the other projects, on Finch and Sheppard, re-directed to Mississauga, for example. After all, if Ford is so confident the private sector and a modest parking levy are all that’s needed for continuous, large-scale subway construction, I don’t see why Dalton McGuinty wouldn’t be delighted to call his bluff.
Steve: All of this depends on the evolving balance of power on Council. Provided that Council can come to a decision on the Sheppard corridor, Toronto will have an “official” position on its rapid transit system. The problem then changes to how or if the Ford machinery will attempt to sabotage implementation of the new plan. Again, success or failure depends on Council having a strong voting block to rein in the Mayor by directing city staff to co-operate with the implementation of the approved plan. I think that comments from Queen’s Park are intended to urge Council to make up its mind rather than dithering.
As for the streetcar system, it is safe as long as Queen’s Park stays out of Tory hands and a Council majority keeps Ford in check, but I would not be surprised to hear more anti-streetcar rhetoric in an ongoing effort to discredit LRT plans.
Yes, it was a pretty dark day for abuse of power with a sad result. But on the upsides, it was a Large News Item, and most people can relate to having to challenge a boss and how unfair it is to be fired for doing your best and sticking to your principles and facts. So there’s long-term damage, and it may well help enhance the non-Ford numbers to more than 25 – Mr. Milczyn being the latest, though perhaps to be cynical, he knew he could afford to be on the side of the angels on this one.
The TTC Commission makeup is on that March meeting, and it’s not merely enough to get an email into your own Councillor, people should try to get other folks to email, and a key point is not merely to write a single councillor, but to appropriately copy at least one other. That said, Councillor Carroll indicated that they were getting swamped on this issue.
Pulling the plug on these five would be entirely appropriate, but we also want to have some mix of philosophies to replace them correct? The core is shut out from this set of Ommissioners Ms. Stintz being the most “core”; and there are scant women though women tend to be greater users of the TTC. Would having Mr. Mihevc return, having Gord Perks installed, Ms. McMahon from the Beach and Ms. Carroll from the east be a good slate?
I’ve caught a reference that now most ABCs are supposed to be at 11, so perhaps Ms. Lindsay Luby could be another one and Ms. Fragedakis too?
The February 8th council vote passed a number of motions involving the consultation of the Chief General Manager of the TTC.
For example, the CGM, as well as the City manager, were to be consulted on the feasibility of a Finch Subway. Now that Gary Webster is gone, would Andy Byford simply fulfill the tasks that Council had asked Webster to perform?
Interesting piece in the Globe today on the “Boris bus” as less practical but more politically-savvy than single-decker “bendy buses”. It’ll be worth watching the next election for mayor of London in May to see how it plays out, though personally I’d hope it will be fought on broader issues.
I don’t know if this is related, but how about the funding plan for The Big Move which was supposed to be finalized next year?
Is going back to Transit City (and presumably, Metrolinx’s “5-in-10 … ok, 12++” ) going to affect those funding plans in any major way?
Also, how possible is it to see better cooperation among public transport operators in the 905 region … for example, Burlington & Oakville (within Halton) and Mississauga & Brampton (within Peel) operate separate transit systems, but allow transfer transfers.
With those transfer transfers one could presumably get from Hamilton to Oshawa using local transit operators and only pay one fare.
Mississauga and Brampton are also cooperating on the Hurontario corridor, with express bus service (MiWay 103 & Brampton Zum 502) and are looking towards cooperation on the Hurontario LRT line.
Steve: The $8.4-billion is earmarked to come from revenues other than whatever might flow from the “investment strategy”. In theory anyhow.
As for “only paying one fare”, do we mean a truly integrated single fare across the region (like the TTC on steroids), or some combined fare for every two-bit transit system your trip crosses enroute? Presto advocates in Metrolinx love to talk about a single fare medium, but not about a single fare.
Steve any thoughts on the recent comments of Andy Byford to the Board of Trade and to the TTC via the Coupler as posted on Transit Toronto?
Ford is sure running with Andy’s “support of subways” without mentioning his top pick for next subway is the Downtown Relief Line (or Scarborough Express as some wags on Twitter have rebranded it).
It still irks how Ford talked of clean trains week after Webster was fired but no mention that the program had been started under Webster.
Andy seems to be calling for quite the shakeup of the old TTC management culture which could be a good thing for improved service in the future if done right. It looks like the bureaucracy is possibly going interesting to watch in the coming years.
From Russell G Hilder on Transit Toronto:
It is hard to know if this is just management speak but if he receives good support from TTC Commission might be some more good news for TTC besides new LRT lines.
Thanks again Steve for all your tireless advocacy for sensible transit in Toronto and for providing this forum to inform and raise the level of debate over transit for Toronto and the GTA.
Steve: I am waiting to see if the Commission stops accepting “we can’t do that” as an acceptable response and management stops advancing canards like “traffic congestion” as a one-size-fits-all explanation of why service cannot be better managed. As for the KPIs and other fine management words, I await their actual publication along with the indices they actually track. Far too many organizations figure out ways to game the system and make the KPIs look good while missing the larger goals.