Ten days ago, Gary Webster told city council that light rail was a better choice for Toronto. Today it seems the TTC is taking the first step toward firing him.
At last week’s city council meeting, councillors spent the morning questioning staff about the merits of various transit options for Toronto. Should we build light rail or subways? Should the Eglinton LRT go entirely underground or be built at street level in less congested areas?
Answering many of these questions was TTC Chief General Manager Gary Webster—and the mayor didn’t care much for what he had to say. The LRT plan was “better value for money,” he told council, in direct contravention of Ford’s subway aspirations. It would, he went on to explain, serve 135,000 more people. Webster also put the cost difference of a buried vs. unburied Eglinton LRT at $1.9 billion, and anticipated that, contra Ford’s wish, there would be no money left after building a completely buried Eglinton LRT for any other transit projects. And in case that left any room for doubt, then there was this line: “We don’t recommend spending money you don’t have on an asset you don’t need.”
The mayor and many of his allies have not taken kindly to that advice, it seems. This afternoon the TTC announced that a special meeting of the Toronto Transit Commission has been called for this upcoming Tuesday, February 21, to “consider a personnel matter, pursuant to a petition signed by a majority of Commissioners.” A few minutes later, one of those commissioners, Councillor Frank Di Giorgio (Ward 12, York South-Weston) told Star reporter Daniel Dale that the meeting is, in fact, about Webster. (The Star has more details on today’s move, and another article from earlier in Ford’s term exploring the tense relationship between Ford and Webster.) Putting those pieces together: a majority of the TTC’s commissions have decided, it looks like, to fire Webster for giving them advice they didn’t want to hear.
There was a time when public servants existed, in large part, to weather political changes and provide a continuity of insight and advice regardless of who was in office. That time, apparently, is not now.