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Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, in red, coaches football at Don Bosco Catholic Secondary School in Toronto on Wednesday, September 12, 2012. (Matthew Sherwood for The Globe and Mai)
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, in red, coaches football at Don Bosco Catholic Secondary School in Toronto on Wednesday, September 12, 2012. (Matthew Sherwood for The Globe and Mai)

Playing the blame game after Toronto’s bus controversy Add to ...

Last Thursday afternoon, passengers were kicked off a Toronto Transit Commission bus and left on the sidewalk so that the bus could act as a private taxi service for Mayor Rob Ford’s football team. Who is to blame for this embarrassing episode? Apparently, no one.

Not I, says Mr. Ford. “I did absolutely nothing wrong. … It has nothing to do with me,” an agitated mayor told reporters on Monday. He blamed the coach of the opposing football squad for mixing it up with the referee, an altercation that brought an early end to the game and left his players out in the cold.

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Not us, says the TTC. They insist they were only responding to an urgent call from police for a “shelter bus.” They had no idea that the bus was to shuttle the mayor’s football players.

Not us, say the cops. They say they had good cause to order up a bus but give contradictory reasons for making the call.

The truth is that nobody looks good in this fiasco. It’s a mystery why police called for a bus in the first place. One police spokesman said officers on the scene were worried for the health of the football players on a cold, wet day. Another said they wanted to send Mr. Ford’s Don Bosco players home to keep the altercation at the game from escalating into a brawl.

Both reasons seem questionable. The police called for the bus at 3:46 p.m. The regular Don Bosco bus was to arrive at 4:30. Did the police really think that standing around for 45 minutes would jeopardize the health of rugged high-school football players? Couldn’t they have taken shelter in the school where the game was being played?

As for the threat of violence, the Catholic school board says the altercation on the scene was minor and there was no impending brawl. Mr. Ford himself says he had his players under control. Even if police were concerned about a dust-up, eight of them were there to handle it.

The TTC’s reaction is almost as puzzling. When police call for shelter buses, dispatchers try to fetch out-of-service or end-of-the-line vehicles. In this case, they hauled not just one but two buses off busy commuter routes at rush hour. One was full of people. They were ordered off and left by the side of the road. As chief executive Andy Byford laments, this is hardly the way to improve the TTC’s record of customer service.

When it comes to the mayor, well, what was he doing there in the first place? Remember that Mr. Ford slipped away from a city council meeting to coach his team that afternoon. Would the police have reacted the way they did if he had not been there? Would they have made an urgent call to ask the TTC to play taxi to any old high-school football team?

Let’s take Mr. Ford at his word that he didn’t ask police to call for a bus in the first place. “I’m clean as the days are long,” he said on Monday. (Mind you, the days are getting shorter.)

We know for certain that after one TTC bus lost its way and took longer than expected to arrive at the field, causing the TTC to dispatch a second one, Mr. Ford called Mr. Byford and left a voice-mail to ask him when the bus was coming. Think about that. The mayor of the city calls the head of the TTC – a busy man responsible for moving hundreds of thousands of people a day – to ask whether a bus is en route to pick up his high-school football team.

This is the mayor, remember, who called Mr. Byford after he had a dispute with a streetcar driver when he was driving in his car, who recruited city-paid staffers to help coach his team, whose top adviser approached Queen’s Park for money to renovate Don Bosco’s football facilities.

The whole sorry incident underlines the trouble Mr. Ford invites by mixing coaching and mayoring. It’s fine that he loves football and great that he serves as a volunteer coach, but when he does it on work time – our time – problems follow.

Follow on Twitter: @marcusbgee

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