As TTC General Manager Gary Webster awaits his fate today, a look at a past power struggle over the TTC.
As he awaits his fate at today’s special meeting of the TTC’s commissioners, Gary Webster might ponder the fact that he isn’t the first General Manager to run afoul of political intrigue. Criticism of W.E.P. Duncan’s performance in 1959 came amid a power struggle between two larger-than-life personalities. The battle between TTC Commissioner Allan “Lampy” Lamport and Metro Toronto Chairman Frederick “Big Daddy” Gardiner turned into a three-ring circus that ran for two years and shared some parallels with our current debacle.
Like Rob Ford, Allan Lamport rarely made politics dull. As Toronto’s mayor in the early 1950s, he fought for Sunday sporting events. As a city councillor in the late 1960s, he insulted hippies. And as TTC Chairman from 1955, he styled himself as the voice of transit users by cutting through the often secretive practices of TTC management. He was always ready for a fight, even if it meant alienating former allies like Gardiner. The two fell out around 1957, soon after Gardiner initiated an operating subsidy from Metro Council to address rising TTC deficits. As Metro Toronto slowly increased its influence on the traditionally independent agency, Lamport believed that Gardiner was “drunk with power” and turning the other TTC commissioners into his lackeys. Gardiner questioned Lamport’s technical knowledge and felt he used his position as an ego booster.
Lamport also maintained poor relations with TTC General Manager Duncan. Like Webster, Duncan brought decades of experience when named to the post in 1952, having worked at the TTC since its founding in 1921. Lamport found Duncan arrogant and disrespectful toward his position, while Duncan, after one too many requests from Lamport about accounting practices, told the chairman that he was “sick and tired of your damn nonsense.”
During a special meeting on January 2, 1959, Lamport suddenly resigned as Chairman. A month earlier, the commissioners unanimously supported a plan to split the duties of General Manager: Duncan would supervise construction of the Bloor-Danforth and University subway lines, while someone else would oversee general operations. When the commissioners reconvened on December 29, 1958, two of them refused to approve the plan until Gardiner, out of courtesy, was consulted. Lamport believed their actions made his position untenable. He also cited concerns regarding financial inefficiencies, information that bypassed commissioners, and changes Duncan made to the contracts for the Yonge subway line, which resulted in overweight vehicles and electrical equipment of lower quality than used for the streetcar lines.
Just as current TTC chair Karen Stintz was vacationing when the petition for today’s meeting arose, Gardiner was holidaying in Jamaica when he was cabled by new TTC Chairman Charles Walton. Gardiner requested a delay on any shakeup until the new Metro Council executive met with the commissioners. Lamport, who remained a commissioner, called this “brazen political interference.” The battle was on.
Lamport delivered daily headline-grabbing charges against Duncan and Gardiner. Tempers flared at a TTC meeting on January 6, 1959 when Lamport spent over an hour reading letters intended to portray Duncan as a lousy manager. Toronto Star columnist Ron Haggart depicted Duncan’s reaction: “His astute, canny face rests in his hands as Allan Lamport shrills, pointing with a sheaf of papers: ‘He’s an employee here, and he’s got to learn it someday—he might as well learn it today!’ And the man at the end of the table, the iron ring of the engineer worn on his little finger, snaps ‘I am still a man, Mr. Lamport!’”
Foolishly, Lamport grasped anything that discredited his foes or suggested betrayals within the TTC. His belligerence and certainty about being right cost him support among commissioners just as Rob Ford’s stubbornness has among the current city council. Lamport wanted nothing less than a royal commission to investigate—when his fellow TTC commissioners gave Lamport a one-week deadline to put his charges in writing, he indicated he wouldn’t comply until Metro Council declared the TTC free from “dual loyalties.” Duncan dropped hints of legal action before Lamport finally delivered some of the charges at the end of January.
When Metro Council told Lamport to shut up in early February 1959, he bought radio air time. Claiming that “someone is determined to muffle me,” Lamport threatened to create more charges and criticized Gardiner for taking advantage of his work in creating the structure of Metro Toronto while mayor. He vowed that the only way to silence him was to remove him from his commissioner role. Meanwhile, Metro Council recommended that the TTC should handle any investigation into Lamport’s claims.
On March 18, 1959, a TTC report cleared Duncan of Lamport’s accusations, declaring he had done nothing to stain his reputation. The report was an approval by all of the commissioners including Lamport, which Gardiner found odd. “Lamport was the accuser—he became the crown prosecutor—he became the judge—he was one of the jury and signed the judgement exonerating Mr. Duncan from all of his charges,” Gardiner noted. “If it were not so serious it would be the comedy of the century.” The plan to split the General Manager position proceeded, but a call for Lamport’s resignation went unheeded.
Just over a year later, in June 1960, Lamport and a fellow commissioner discovered Duncan and other TTC advisers were secretly meeting with Gardiner regarding plans for a future subway line along Spadina (Lamport supported a Christie Avenue route that was approved, then reconsidered by the other commissioners) and to build a full Y to allow interlining of trains on the Bloor and University lines. Lamport disguised himself as a tourist, hung around Gardiner’s office, and berated Duncan when he exited. The absurdity continued during a heated meeting on September 21, 1960 when Gardiner and Lamport insulted each other’s dental work. Lamport claimed he never made a bad business decision for the TTC, but when Gardiner asked about financial problems, Lamport declared “too many armchair experts” were destroying the agency. Both men turned shades of purple and red as observers struggled to understand what they were saying.
Days later, Lamport announced his candidacy for Mayor of Toronto but held on to his commission seat. By mid-October, Metro Council sent a request to Queen’s Park to fire the TTC commissioners and appoint a restructured five-person commission whose members could be dismissed by three-quarters majority of council. Lamport soon tendered his resignation.
With Lamport gone, enthusiasm to revamp the commission among Metro politicians went with him. When the vacancy he left behind was filled in January 1961, Gardiner acknowledged that the province wouldn’t back the restructuring plan. That was fine by Gardiner, who now had a far more pliable set of commissioners. Lamport, who failed to regain the mayor’s chair, reacted bitterly. “He vowed to get me and that was the answer, and he has forced others to fall in line with his way of doing things…I thank Mr. Gardiner for his courageousness in keeping his boys in line and he alone will know the accomplishment.”
Perhaps the same will be said about Mayor Ford and the commissioners toeing his line.
Additional material from Big Daddy by Timothy J. Colton (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1980); the January 3, 1959, February 6, 1959, March 19, 1959, June 14, 1960, September 22, 1960, and January 28, 1961 editions of the Globe and Mail; and the January 5, 1959, January 7, 1959, January 20, 1959, March 18, 1959, and October 19, 1960 editions of the Toronto Star.