UPDATE By Marcus Gee, February 22, 2012
Turning a grey transit official into a popular hero is quite a trick, but that is just what the administration of Mayor Rob Ford has accomplished by firing Toronto Transit Commission chief general manager Gary Webster.
As Mr. Webster walked into a special TTC gathering on Tuesday to meet his fate, cheers broke out in the public gallery. Supporters were handing out “I (heart) Gary Webster” buttons. When the 5-4 vote to sack him was announced three hours later, the audience shouted “shame.” Even Bob Kinnear, the sharp-tongued transit-union leader, came to Mr. Webster’s defence.
By Marcus Gee, Globe and Mail, February 17, 2012
The TTC’s (Toronto Transit Commission) Gary Webster is the straightest of straight arrows, a dedicated career public servant who sees his job as giving the best possible advice to city council and the mayor about Toronto’s transit needs. Now he is on the verge of being fired for doing just that.
Mr. Webster’s apparent crime is failing to be the (Mayor Rob and Councillor Doug) Fords’ parrot and echo their transit refrain: “People want subways.” Instead of telling them what they want to hear, he told them what he, as a professional with 35 years of service at the TTC, thinks is right. So, off with his head.
Usually, we do not focus on municipal issues, even in the metropolitan areas like Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. However, here we have another of those right-wing neo-con politicians, in Mayor Rob Ford, himself an endorsee of the Harper government, in the last election, using the same tactics as those used by Harper and his gang, on a professional, ethical, and courageous civil servant. Mr. Webster advocates for light rail, in the lower density areas where underground subways are not cost effective. And this trend is bourne out by evidence from around the world. His Mayor wants subways, probably, if the truth were disclosed (which of course it will not be) as a legacy to his time in the Mayor's office. Subways have more political sex-appeal than above ground light rapid rail. They are also much more costly, for obvious reasons.
Ironically, in Toronto as in Ottawa, Harper-Ford both have embarked on "austerity" programs threatening the jobs of thousands in Ottawa, and hundreds, if not thousands in Toronto, yet they both want those big, sexy monuments to their political ego's....in Ottawa it's jets and warships, in Toronto its subways.
Both politicians exhibit a degree of the pugilistic bully, when they do not get their way...and dispose of those they see as obstructing their adamantine will. Recall the resignation from Statistics Canada upon the scrapping of the long form census, of its top statistician.
Such methods are neither respectable nor warranted in either arena. Both politicians are apparently so eager to demonstrate their political testosterone through mega-projects of questionable merit, given that the needs they are attempting to meet can easily be met with much less spending, and much less fanfare.
However, seizing on this "moment" and given that both politicians could likely suffer a defeat at the polls in their next elections (in three years in Toronto and in 2015 in Ottawa).
Nevertheless, both have seriously undermined the ability of their governments to hire top grade civil servants, who would clearly subscribe to the notion of bringing to their political masters the best professional advice available, without worrying about its political consequences.
However, the political consequences are the only thing these two men care about, and at the top of the their list of priorities is their re-election.
Unforunately, the voters consider such a goal far down the list of appropriate goals of either the federal/national leader, or the municipal Mayor.
Not only have they both hurt the prospects of hiring the best available professionals, they have also sent a shot across the bow of those already employed in their respective governments, that, should anyone in a position where they are expected to offer sensitive, courageous and visionary recommendations, with which their political masters might possibly disagree, they might withdraw such courageous, professional, ethical and visionary recommendations, if they would prefer to retain their position.
These are not cabinet members, or elected councillors who are being threatened with firing; these are civil servants, whose job description in any healthy government, would be, should be, must be...to offer the best, most honest, most courageous and most professional advice, and their masters ought to do nothing to discourage such a premise.
Unfortunately, the ego's of these two seem to be standing in the way of "good government", in both cities.