The hostility between Rob Ford and Waterfront Toronto is real and escalating, judging by the frank language contained in a letter from the mayor’s office to the agency that was obtained by The Globe and Mail.
Penned by the mayor’s chief of staff, Amir Remtulla, the missive accuses Waterfront Toronto chief executive officer John Campbell of “a very serious breach” of responsibility for comments that appeared in The Globe last week. It also states that the issue has been taken up with federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, suggesting the mayor’s office may be building consensus to remove Mr. Campbell from his post.
The Globe story came out on Sept. 9, three days after Mr. Ford endorsed a vast overhaul of Waterfront Toronto’s plan for 180 hectares of land at the mouth of the Don River – a vision that was more than a decade in the making. Highlighted by a Ferris wheel and megamall, the Ford-backed plan was largely seen as a public flogging of Waterfront Toronto, the three-government agency charged with cleaning up and developing the area – also known as the Port Lands – and much of the rest of Toronto’s largely dormant lakeshore.
The mayor’s brother, Councillor Doug Ford, championed the plan after meeting with the Westfield Group, an Australian mall developer.
In The Globe story, Mr. Campbell said that he often turns away such advances from international developers because, “We cannot do deals behind closed doors.” The story also pegged infrastructure costs for the Ford plan at $270-million.
The mayor’s office took it as both a personal and political affront that has weakened their already strained confidence in Mr. Campbell’s leadership.
“Your comments are a deliberate attack on the integrity and reputations of the Mayor and Councillor Ford,” wrote Mr. Remtulla in a letter to Mr. Campbell obtained by The Globe. “Your comments are a very serious breach of your duties and responsibilities as the CEO of an agency of which the City of Toronto is a one-third shareholder.”
Mr. Campbell’s comments were “particularly disappointing,” Mr. Remtulla continued, given that the two men had met at City Hall one day prior and struck a rapprochement, agreeing to co-operate so that “public rhetoric would be toned down on both sides.”
“Your comments in this article cannot be construed as anything other than a complete repudiation of that understanding and commitment to work together on the Portlands project.”
The letter concludes saying that the mayor’s office is “extremely disappointed and disturbed” by Mr. Campbell’s actions and that a copy of the memo would be sent to the office of Mr. Flaherty, Ottawa’s lead on Waterfront Toronto.
Mr. Flaherty’s press secretary said he had received the letter, but declined to get involved. “This is a matter for Waterfront Toronto and the City of Toronto to work out, and should be resolved through discussion,” Mary Ann Dewey-Plante said in an e-mail.
Reached by telephone on Tuesday, Mr. Campbell said he felt his comments had been misconstrued and that he remained committed to collaborating with the mayor.
“We never meant to comment on anyone else’s plans for the waterfront,” he said. “What we’ve been trying to do in recent weeks is tread the fine line of defending [Waterfront Toronto’s] plan without creating undue adversaries. We’re defending our work. We’re proud of what we’ve done. And we’re open to new ideas about how to get it done faster.”
Doug Ford said that he and the mayor want to work with Mr. Campbell rather than take him down. “They have some good ideas and we have some good ideas and we want to work together,” he said of Waterfront Toronto.
At the same time, he didn’t hide his irritation with some of Mr. Campbell’s actions. “Rob and I have never made deals behind closed doors and I take that as a personal insult,” Mr. Ford said. “I agree 100 per cent with Amir’s letter, it’s not up to the CEO of an agency to get into the political weeds and make those kind of comments.”