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McGuinty on Toronto transit woes: ‘We’re running out of patience’ Add to ...

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty says the time for debating the future of Toronto transit is over and now a firm plan is required.

The Premier was reacting to a move earlier this month by city council that endorsed surface light rail lines on Finch Ave. West and the eastern portion of Eglinton and set up an expert panel to study the pros and cons of the mayor’s subway plans for Sheppard Ave. That decision runs counter to a deal struck last year between the Premier and Mayor Rob Ford to use $8.4-billion in provincial funding to bury the entire Eglinton line.

Mr. McGuinty said he is losing patience with the indecision of city politicians on the transit file. “There was a Plan A under Mayor Miller, and then there was a Plan B under Mayor Ford and now we’ve been asked to consider a Plan C, so I can say we’re running out of patience,” he told reporters at Queen’s Park Tuesday. “I think the people of Toronto are running out of patience.”

Mr. McGuinty said his government would like to “lend some certainty” to two other major projects, given that he has received a “pretty clear” direction from Toronto council.

“I think the time for talk is coming to an end,” he said. “I think the time has come for us to build public transit in a way that serves the people of Toronto.”

The Premier’s remarks come the same day as city councillors continue to wrestle over the direction of transit expansion, with the mayor and his allies still pushing for underground routes.

TTC chair Karen Stintz is bracing for her second major showdown with the mayor’s office over transit, as she is confronted by a majority of transit commissioners who are moving to oust TTC head Gary Webster.

This time, it’s unlikely she will win. The meeting was set up last week, while she was vacationing in Cuba, by five allies of Mayor Rob Ford. Ms. Stintz, considered a steadfast supporter of Mr. Webster, will be in the minority for this important vote, despite heading the nine-member board.

Ms. Stintz said she will press the commissioners who are eager to shake up leadership at the transit system to answer a crucial question: What’s next?

“At the end of the day it is the riders who will pay the price if we can’t bring some order to this chaos,” she said. “The TTC is supposed to be a professional organization, not a political organization. We need to bring stability to the situation.”

Ms. Stintz said she has spoken with Mr. Webster and his preference is to stay until his contract expires next year. “It’s no way to run a railway,” she said Tuesday morning. “The employees don’t need to see all of this stuff playing itself out.”

If Mr. Webster is removed from his post, recently appointed chief operating officer Andy Byford is a likely candidate to take his spot. Mr. Byford, who is second in command right now, arrived in Toronto from Australia in November.

Tuesday’s snap meeting to debate Mr. Webster’s fate comes two weeks after he outlined the virtues of light rail lines over subways, which Mayor Rob Ford champions, during a special council debate.

At the meeting, councillors rejected subways, choosing to follow Ms. Stintz’s plan to build above-ground light rail on Finch Avenue West and at the east end of the Eglinton Crosstown line and to consider options for Sheppard Avenue.

Even before that debate, however, members of the mayor’s team had openly questioned transit leadership, with his brother Councillor Doug Ford saying “the TTC needs a complete enema.”

The official purpose of Tuesday’s special TTC meeting is to discuss a personnel matter, but Frank Di Giorgio, one of the five calling for the meeting, has acknowledged it was prompted by tensions between Mr. Webster and the mayor.

That divide became even wider over the weekend when Mr. Di Giorgio suggested that Mr. Webster’s expected ousting could be one of many.

“My opinion is that it should be about more than one [manager],” Mr. Di Giorgio said Monday, declining to say how many jobs were on the line. “My own view is that whenever a mayor has a certain mandate, or platform that he was elected on, then I think people have to try to implement that particular sort of mandate.”

One of the commissioners who did not sign the request for a meeting, Maria Augimeri, said Mr. Webster is “irreplaceable.” She said the employment of bureaucrats shouldn’t depend on whether they agree with the mayor. “It’s dirty politics,” she said.

Discussions about employment will be held in camera but all decisions will be ratified publicly, said Denzil Minnan-Wong, a commissioner who signed the request for the meeting last week. He declined to discuss specifics of the meeting but other councillors said public deputations are expected more than an hour after the meeting begins at 2 p.m.

Ms. Stintz said whatever the outcome, she plans to remain as chair to ensure many of the changes she has helped usher in during the past 16 months continue. She also noted that under Mr. Webster’s leadership the TTC successfully met the mayor’s request for a 10-per-cent budget cut this year – a benchmark other boards and commissions such as the public library and police did not reach. Council later restored part of the cuts to transit funding.

“Somehow we need to work our way through this and keep shovels in the ground and keep our improvements to customer service,” Ms. Stintz said.

The mayor’s executive last week approved plans to change the makeup of the transit commission to include five citizen appointees and four councillors. That change, as well as any attempt to remove Ms. Stintz as transit chair, requires the approval of the entire city council.

Mr. Webster can be removed by a simple majority vote of the commission, but Ms. Stintz said it would require the city to buy out his contract, which does not end until March, 2013.

Asked who might replace the 35-year transit veteran, Ms. Stintz said that is a question the five commissioners who called the meeting need to answer. “I hope they have a plan,” she said.

Mr. Di Giorgio said a plan would be discussed at the meeting. “Obviously we have to consider what will happen in terms of replacing people, that’s part of the debate that we have to have,” he said, adding replacements could be from inside or outside the TTC.

The cost of buying out one or more contracts “has to be offset by the potential benefits in the future,” Mr. Di Giorgio said.

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