Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair says he's "optimistic" about the force under a new board, and is making plans for his own future after policing – saying he'd like to continue serving the public and is not ruling out the possibility of a career in politics.
Chief Blair made the comments in a year-end interview with The Globe and Mail, where he reflected on his handling of some of the year's biggest events – including the Rob Ford investigation – and described learning in July that the police board had decided not to renew his contract for a third term, revealing that he was given just one minute to prepare before it was announced publicly.
"I'm optimistic about the future," Chief Blair said on recent changes to the police board. After his election, Mayor John Tory appointed himself, along with city councillors Chin Lee and Shelley Carroll, to the seven-member board. That move was intended to address months of simmering tensions between the board, chief and union.
"I don't think it's appropriate for the chief of police to comment on the function or dysfunction of the board," the chief said Tuesday. "But I can tell you from my experience that good governance is a prerequisite to good policing."
He said that such governance will be necessary in the coming months – his last four months as chief – as the board is tasked with resolving three major issues facing the force: completing the police budget process, contract negotiations and finding a new chief.
As for his own future, the chief said his focus remains on the force, but acknowledged that he's begun "making plans" beyond April, when his contract runs out.
"I have spent my life in public service. I am going to try to find a way to continue to serve," the chief said Tuesday.
A Liberal Party source told The Globe that senior party strategists have discussed recruiting Chief Blair as a candidate for the coming federal election, though it is unclear whether the chief has been involved in or is aware of these discussions. A separate Liberal source said, "as far as I know, everyone wants Chief Blair."
Last year, when The Globe asked Chief Blair if he would consider a future in politics, he ruled out the possibility entirely. But when asked the same question on Tuesday, he said, "I'm considering a number of different things in the future, and I haven't made any specific plans."
He declined to say whether he has been approached by any of the major parties to run, repeating again that he's "considering a number of different things."
The chief also said Tuesday that even as he put in his request in late July for a third term, he knew there was a good chance he'd be told no.
"It was a political decision, and I was familiar with the political environment in which the decision would be made," Chief Blair said – a reference to tensions between several of the board members and the chief leading up to the decision.
He also shed new light on the manner in which the board's decision was made public, saying that when board chair Alok Mukherjee called to tell him, he gave the chief just one minute to prepare before announcing it publicly.
"I received a phone call from the chair advising me that they had a special meeting and made a decision, and they were going to release a press release in one minute stating that I was not going to be renewed," the chief said.
He quickly called his family to notify them.
When asked whether he was disappointed, he said: "I've learned to be very careful about the use of the word 'disappointed'" – a reference to criticism he received last year for telling reporters he was "disappointed" in relation to the Rob Ford crack video.
Police spokesman Mark Pugash, meanwhile, said Tuesday that Project Brazen 2 – the investigation targeting the former mayor – is ongoing.
The chief says he has no regrets in his handling of the Ford announcement, maintaining that his disappointment was at having to deliver the "upsetting" news, and not a judgment on the former mayor.
"It was an honest answer to a question that was put to me," he said. "I try to answer honestly to every question that's put to me."