Alok Mukherjee is leaving the Toronto Police Services Board, the prominent supervisory body he has chaired through multiple controversies over the last decade, a departure that hands Mayor John Tory tighter control of the embattled board.
The chair would not confirm or deny reports he's accepted a position at Ryerson University and offered "no comment" when asked to address assertions he's resigning over disagreements concerning the civilian oversight board's direction.
With Mr. Mukherjee, 69, moving on, vice-chair Andy Pringle, a friend and long-time political ally of the mayor, will take over as acting chair until the board elects a replacement. Since placing himself on the board shortly after last year's municipal election, Mr. Tory has held an outsized influence over key board votes. But Mr. Mukherjee's departure marks an important consolidation of power for a mayor who has vowed to return civility and decorum to the board's tense relationship with its chief of police.
On Thursday, the mayor dismissed reports that Mr. Pringle would become a long-term replacement for Mr. Mukherjee as "mostly fantasy."
"The fact of the matter is, we didn't know anything about chair Mukherjee's plans … until literally the last 24 hours," the mayor said.
Mr. Tory said he's spoken with Mr. Pringle directly, who indicated "his level of interest in being able to take this on, given his other business, is fairly low."
Board member Councillor Shelley Carroll added that the mayor would face considerable opposition if he made any attempt to prolong Mr. Pringle's time as chair. "[Mr. Pringle] has done some fine work on the board, yes, but council still makes their decision in a bigger, broader way, and they'll be looking at those bigger issues, such as is he too close to the mayor, or is he too much of the old order, having been a friend of the former chief, when we're trying to make a change with a new chief," Ms. Carroll said.
Mr. Pringle, who served as Mr. Tory's chief of staff at Queen's Park, came under fire in the fall of 2013 when councillor Doug Ford revealed Mr. Pringle had taken then-police chief Bill Blair on a road trip to New Brunswick the year before to go salmon fishing.
Whether Mr. Pringle is tapped as the next full-time chair or not, Mr. Tory has manoeuvred himself into a position to weigh in heavily on the board's selection. Unlike his predecessor, Rob Ford, Mayor Tory decided early on to install himself on the board, assuring a measure of direct control over the police budget – at $1.16-billion, the city's single biggest expense.
"He is very much hands on," Mr. Mukherjee has said of the mayor's involvement on the board. "He's not an ornament. He is very active member. He makes proposals."
And the mayor likely will have his onetime chief of staff, Mr. Pringle, by his side until the next municipal election. According to a source and paperwork filed with the city's civic appointments committee, Mr. Pringle is being considered for re-appointment to the board until Nov. 30, 2018.
All these factors are pushing the board toward another potentially disruptive horse-race mere months after a two-way contest to replace Mr. Blair.
The field of candidates for chair is limited. City-hall politicians are considered too busy to take on the $91,000-a-year post, leaving only the board's three remaining citizen members – provincial appointees Dhun Noria and Marie Moliner along with the city-appointed Mr. Pringle – as eligible replacements until the province can fill Mr. Mukherjee's vacancy.
The vote will happen only after Mr. Mukherjee steps down on July 31, according to the procedures laid out in the Police Services Act. Members of the board will nominate other members, and in the case of more than one nomination, the question will be put to a public vote.
Councillor Michael Thompson, who served as vice-chair of the board until he was replaced by Mr. Tory late last year, said he's spoken with Mr. Mukherjee and that he believes the outgoing chair is stepping down because he disagrees with the the board's direction.
"Dr. Mukherjee is an honourable man," Mr. Thompson said. "Dr. Mukherjee sees the board going in a totally different direction that, in my view, long-term will not be in the best interest of Torontonians, will not address many of the issues around budgeting, will not address many of the issues around the re-organizations of the service itself, will not address many of the concerns people have with respect to police relationships and the community."