David Gunn was looking forward to a springtime business trip in Toronto - but that was last week.
Now the transit guru thinks his negative views on Mayor Rob Ford's plan to extend the Sheppard subway may kibosh his invitation to be an unpaid consultant to the Toronto Transit Commission.
"I think they're wedded to this Sheppard subway public-private partnership idea," said Mr. Gunn, who talked with Mr. Ford in January. "I'll tell them it's a dumb idea, but they won't want to hear that."
After being called upon by TTC chief general manager Gary Webster, Mr. Gunn had been expecting to travel from his Nova Scotia home later this month so he could pore over TTC finances and advise managers on how to deal with an imminent 2012 budget crunch.
"I love Toronto, I was looking forward to it, but I have a feeling it won't come to pass now," the no-nonsense former TTC head said in an interview Monday. "If city hall starts making noises that they don't want it [me to make the trip] which is what I think is happening, well …
Mr. Ford's spokesperson, Adrienne Batra, said Mr. Gunn's trip had nothing to do with the mayor's office. "This is wholly a TTC matter and Mr. Gunn's role is up to them," she said.
At the TTC, spokesman Brad Ross said: "Nothing is confirmed. Once it is - or isn't, as the case may be - TTC will speak further. If Mr. Gunn is able to provide some assistance, he'll come for a short stay. He and Gary continue to talk. No decisions have been made."
Mr. Ross's tune has changed from last week, when he told The Globe and Mail that while the fine details were being sorted out, Mr. Gunn was coming and his expenses - including flights, hotels and meals - were being paid by the TTC.
TTC chairwoman Karen Stintz was out of town at press time and vice-chairman Peter Milczyn's executive assistant said he was unavailable for an interview.
The outspoken Mr. Gunn, who ran the TTC from 1995 to 1999, is known for a willingness to battle politicians of any stripe. He rips former mayor David Miller and his left-leaning commission for "diverting the TTC from its businesslike ways."
Mr. Gunn, 73, retired to Cape Breton after being fired by the White House in 2005 as head of U.S. passenger rail carrier Amtrak. A former top executive of transit systems in New York, Washington and Boston, he speaks highly of Mr. Webster and talks to him frequently.
Mr. Webster appeared eager to have Mr. Gunn's help. "Dave brings a lot of credibility," he said last week. "He's one of the best transit managers in the world."
Mr. Webster was not available for comment on Tuesday.
As the TTC's boss, Mr. Gunn got into several scrapes with politicians before resigning in 1999. He emphasized "state of good repair" over system expansion and still feels commissioners should be experts rather than politicians.
Mr. Gunn is critical of Mr. Miller's regime for letting TTC operations slip from an 80-per-cent revenue-to-cost ratio to about 70 per cent today.
"The Miller crowd, not that they were all bad … they supported transit, god love 'em. But they seemed to think running the TTC in a businesslike way was immoral. Well they created a situation where they've damn near killed it. Now you've got a system that is not sustainable."
As for Mayor Ford, "I wish him luck," Mr. Gunn said. "But I'm afraid some people around him are locked into the idea that 'We'll privatize building this subway to Scarborough, so it won't cost a cent'," he says with a laugh. "And they believe it! Holy Toledo!
"If I do make it to Toronto, I'm probably not going to say much that I haven't just said to you. But a lot of people won't want to hear that."
Special to The Globe and Mail