Toronto Mayor Rob Ford says a major decision by City Council on public transit policy is “irrelevant” because he doesn’t like the result. He then sends his hit squad to fire the Toronto Transit Commission’s general manager because he doesn’t like advice that doesn’t correspond to his own views.
This is no way to run a city. The mayor has to work with City Council. The law says City Council, not the mayor, is supreme. And don’t believe the bluster about his mandate from the people – most voted for him as a reaction to the ways of the former council, not because they supported every last detail in his platform that he follows only when convenient.
Public transit is a vitally important issue for Toronto, and we’re wasting time while congestion builds on city streets. The Board of Trade has estimated that traffic congestion is costing the regional economy about $6-billion a year. We should be building transit lines right now to get more people out of cars and onto a transit system that’s efficient and effective.
Mr. Ford says he wants subways. Well, don’t we all? But there are less costly systems that can adequately meet our needs. This is the evidence that came in advice from TTC general manager Gary Webster, along with TTC chair Karen Stintz. Mr. Ford’s response to Mr. Webster: You’re out of here.
He couldn’t say the same to Ms. Stintz because of her status as councillor – but he would if he could. The people of Toronto will suffer because the mayor has yet to show enough sense to function as a co-operative leader rather than a dictatorial, confrontational bully.
I had the privilege of serving 11 years as mayor of Toronto. I learned very quickly that the job is to bring people together, not drive them apart. The mayor’s office ought to be a place where, on difficult issues, you bring in all the stakeholders – many with opposing views – and hammer out practical solutions, solutions that move the city forward.
The mayor has another responsibility, one that I and past mayors have taken very seriously: attracting and keeping high-calibre public servants to give us their best advice and expertise on how to make our city better. Why would good people with professional integrity want to work for a city where you either fall in line with what the mayor thinks or risk being fired?
One more comment. Much has been written about the world-class status of Toronto. There are many components to that reputation: the safety, cleanliness and livability of our city; the arts and cultural life, our education systems, our parks and ravines, our distinct neighbourhoods, how we treat the poor and other vulnerable citizens.
All these components are important for attracting investment and people coming to Toronto as tourists and new residents bringing new talents, ideas and creativity. We can’t afford to lose the synergy that comes from these characteristics. We can’t afford Toronto’s slipping into mediocrity.
We’re at risk of that happening unless some sanity returns to city hall.
Senator Art Eggleton served as mayor of Toronto from 1980 to 1991.
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