TTC boss Gary Webster fired for differences with Toronto's mayor
While I'm not close enough to Toronto politics to comment in detail on the firing of the general manager of the Toronto Transit Commission, Mr Gary Webster, it does lead to some reflections on differences between Toronto and Vancouver and the respective roles of politicians and staff.
Mayor Rob Ford was elected by a significant majority, nearly 100,000 votes. His political opponents have never forgiven him for winning.
A key piece of Ford's platform was to build subways not streetcars. As someone who recently touted the benefits of streetcars I won't go too far into that debate here, but I'm fascinated by the politics.
When Mayor Gregor Robertson appointed City Manager Penny Ballem, she threw the Vision platform onto the table in front of her corporate management team and said, here are your marching orders. Independent staff advice took a very back seat.
Is that bad? It depends on who you ask. I've been on the record continually about my concerns about politicizing staff at Vancouver City Hall. Even Ford's supporters are raising the alarm about staff politicization in Toronto.
At the time of the Woodwards redevelopment, staff advised that it should be no more than 10 storeys. Then City Councillor Jim Green overruled their advice and pushed the 40 storey project through. The results have been transformational for that community.
On the other hand, staff were not invited to give their opinion on STIR (short term incentives for rentals, a system of trade-offs to encourage lagging market rental development). They implemented Mayor Robertson's political solution with a polite smile and public shows of support. In the end STIR was an abject failure.
The COPE/Vision council of the day ignored the financial advice of staff regarding housing and the Olympic Village. We all know how that one ended.
One thing Vancouver staff, always professional, will never do is embarrass the politicians. So did the TTC's Mr. Webster cross that line?
What should he have done? To so publicly take on his elected Mayor on a key piece of his platform would seem to be a death wish. It certainly won't stop the carping by Ford's critics on this file, however. Rob Ford won the mayor's seat because he read the public mood on transportation. We'll see if that happens again when voters return to the polls in about two and a half years.
* See also City Hall firings not invented by Ford *
- post by Mike.