Down with Webster: Ford to spend half-million dollars because transit GM disagrees with him

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Torontoist’s Hamutal Dotan:

Rob Ford either doesn’t understand the basic principles of good governance, or he doesn’t care to be guided by them. Neither do Norm Kelly, Cesar Palacio, Frank Di Giorgio, Denzil Minnan-Wong, or Vincent Crisanti—the councillors (and TTC commissioners) who signed a petition yesterday calling for a special meeting to oust TTC Chief General Manager Gary Webster.

via In Service to the Public Good, Not Mere Power | Torontoist.

At a special meeting of the TTC on Tuesday, those five councillors — in service to the mayor — will likely endorse spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to release Webster from his contract. The TTC will then presumably spend untold amounts of money and time conducting a search for a replacement.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars — respect-hungry taxpayer dollars! — flushed down the toilet all because Webster refuses to bend facts and figures to placate Rob Ford’s imaginary subway plan.

Webster’s great sin is providing evidence in support of a transit plan adopted by a strong majority of councillors earlier this month.

I’d never argue that Webster has been exemplary in his role as transit manager — the TTC is not without its problems — but he has presided over record ridership growth, new vehicle roll-outs, a vast expansion of new technologies like stop announcements and NextBus and design plans for the largest expansion of rail transit Toronto has seen in several decades. There’s a lot to be proud of.

Former GM David Gunn told the Toronto Star this weekend that Webster will be a hard person to replace:

At some transit agencies, Gunn said, senior management has been “rolled over and over” so many times for political reasons that only political people end up running the agencies, which he says require significant technical and operational expertise in addition to business or administrative acumen.

“They’re creating a situation where it is going to be difficult to have a very serious transit manager,” Gunn said. “Certainly they’re going to have difficulty replacing Gary, somebody of his quality.”

via TTC’s Gary Webster would be tough to replace: David Gunn | Toronto Star.

It’s clear, however, that Ford doesn’t necessarily care about qualifications. In fact, I’m not even sure that the mayor knows what he wants. Strategy coming out of the mayor’s office these days is mostly foolhardy, haphazard and ad-hoc. No one is thinking long-term. There’s no consideration of the three years ahead or the terrible precedents move like this set.

This decision appears to be entirely motivated by spite and cruelty, and not by any desire to improve management at the TTC.  Rob Ford realized he couldn’t fire Karen Stintz from her role as TTC Chair, so he’s firing someone else instead.

No Strategy

It’s hard to see this as part of a cunning plan by the Ford administration. What does the mayor expect to happen? Sure, he can oust Webster and a few other managers, but council can easily respond by dissolving the TTC board and reappointing councillors more agreeable to approved transit plans. Ford can’t expect to maintain any power or influence if he continues pissing everyone off.

If he actually wants to continue to have any influence on the transit file, Ford’s only real strategic move is to strike a conciliatory pose. He should turn back toward a compromise path. But he won’t do that. Even in the face of overwhelming reason, he won’t do that.

As it is, his latest move will serve only to further alienate allies like John Parker, Karen Stintz and maybe even Peter Milczyn. It will plunge council into another episode of procedural chaos where tensions run high and nothing gets done. And after all that, Ford will inevitably end up having little say in choosing Webster’s successor.

And none of this will impact the thing Ford’s really mad about. The light rail plan endorsed by council and accepted by the province will continue to move forward.

Who are the Ford Five on the TTC?

The TTC commission is currently made up of nine councillors. Five of them have signed the petition calling for a special meeting on Tuesday. Assuming that Maria Augimeri, John Parker, Chair Karen Stintz and Vice Chair Peter Milczyn vote against firing Webster, that makes for a 5-4 result.

Ford retains narrow control of the TTC only because these five councillors have seemingly dedicated themselves to following the mayor into the flames:

Vincent Crisanti is a first-term councillor who won his seat in Ward 1 by 509 votes, narrowly beating the incumbent by less than two percentage points. He’s voted with the mayor 97% of the time on major items, deviating only once on a matter relating to Community Environment Days.  Crisanti has distinguished himself by fighting tooth and nail against bringing higher order transit to his ward via the Finch West LRT.

The Finch West LRT has repeatedly been endorsed by the president of  Humber College. In 2008, the Emery Village BIA — located in the ward adjacent to Crisanti’s — indicated that “community response was unanimous in support of the LRT system.”

Frank Di Giorgio is a 90% Rob Ford supporter, though he’s been trending upwards in his support in recent months, while the rest of council has gone the other way. He won his seat, which he’s held on-and-off in various forms since 1985, by 422 votes or 3 percentage points. He voted in favour of Transit City at least seven times.

Di Giorgio has been most outspoken in the lead-up to the special TTC meeting. On Sunday, he told the Star’s Brendan Kennedy that it made sense to fire Webster because the mayor’s mandate matters, implying that the will of council is essentially irrelevant:

Di Giorgio said the responsibility of the city’s bureaucracy is to follow the will of the mayor and achieve the objectives set out by his mandate, which TTC managers have failed to do.

“We’re trying to eliminate some of the problems that surfaced over the last month that should not have surfaced and need not have surfaced.”

via TTC transit chief Gary Webster may not be only one to lose job: Di Giorgio | Toronto Star.

In 2008, the Toronto Environmental Alliance awarded Di Giorgio an A+ grade for his commitment to green initiatives, citing him as their “most improved” councillor. They noted his support for things like studying the teardown of the eastern section of the Gardiner Expressway, implementing the Land Transfer and Vehicle Registration Taxes and beefed up waste diversion targets.

Since then, Di Giorgio has become a Ford-backing councillor who has supported closing libraries, rescinding the ban on the sale of bottled water at city facilities, eliminating bike lanes, backing off on the city’s tree canopy goal and killing Community Environment Days.

Funny how things change.

Norm Kelly has been in various offices since the 1980s, once serving as a Parliamentary Secretary under Pierre Trudeau. Under David Miller, he voted in favour of Transit City at least seven times. He has since become a 100% supporter of Rob Ford. In the wake of council’s vote on transit, Kelly implied that the province would be justified in ignoring council’s decision and deferring to the mayor.

Denzil Minnan-Wong is another Rob Ford stalwart at 100%. However, he differs slightly from Norm Kelly in that he expressed a desire for the mayor to accept council’s transit decision. “Council spoke and you just move forward,” he told the the Toronto Sun’s Don Peat. It’s unclear how firing the general manager figures into moving forward on this issue. Minnan-Wong supported Transit City at least four times between 2006 and 2010. He was absent for the other recorded votes.

Cesar Palacio is a 95% Rob Ford supporter. He also voted in favour of Transit City at least seven times. He’s decided that the litany of issues that arose with the St. Clair right-of-way project are reason enough to oppose on-street LRT, apparently working from the assumption that all surface transit projects inevitably go over budget because of scope creep, NIMBYism and nuisance legal cases.

 

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