Who You Calling Incompetent?

Gary Webster

The latest battle between Toronto City Council and the City’s Mayor’s Office played out yesterday. And judging from the reaction the press has received (lead story in the national news?), my home town is starting to become a national embarrassment. And for those of you wags saying “starting?!”, I’ll demure and say “even more than usual.”

There is nothing fiscally responsible about the decision to can TTC General Manager Gary Webster. The early termination means that he will be sitting at home, collecting full pay, from now until February 2014. Had Ford and his allies kept their powder dry, Webster’s contract could have been allowed to lapse at the originally scheduled date of July 2013. The timing of the move, coming just a couple of weeks after city council’s decision to overrule mayor Ford and partially re-instate a fully-funded LRT expansion plan from the province, feels every inch like childish retaliation, no matter how much Ford and his allies want to talk about “new leadership” and “taking the TTC into the future.” Such was the haste in their drive to remove Gary Webster from his position that they neglected to check if the Chief Operating Officer could even be appointed to lead the commission on an interim basis. (Turns out he can’t, since he’s here on a work visa, and changing his job title leads to all sorts of bureaucratic headaches from Customs and Immigration)

I am heartened by the first dozen or so comments on this article in the Toronto Sun. It appears that even the Sun readership, who six months ago seemed to be reliably behind Ford, can’t believe what they’re seeing. Many are standing up for Webster’s record, or are at least complaining over the cost to taxpayers this move entails, and also the political optics. And I have to figure that if Mayor Ford loses the readership of the Sun, his hold on the city’s body politic is tenuous at best.

Though there is at least one Sun reporter who can be counted on to carry Ford’s water. Indeed, if what I heard twittered on Tuesday was accurate, she goes farther. In the scrum of media (who, like the citizens of Ankh-Morpork, can reliably show up when there’s street drama to be had), transit activists and concerned citizens interested in some return of sanity for Toronto, she alone (apparently) raised her hand when the question rang out, “do you believe Gary Webster should be fired?” And, according to Twitter sources (so take what was said with a grain of salt), muttered “he’s incompetent! Incompetent!” when others spoke up to defend Webster.

Incompetent? That’s a surprising turn of phrase. Indeed, were I Mr. Webster, or a city councillor, I’d be asking for some proof to back up this allegation. Because “incompetence” is a pretty strong term with legal ramifications. Incompetence can be documented, and it’s something you have to show if you want to fire somebody with cause. If you can’t show incompetence, I wonder if you set yourself up for a defamation suit by calling somebody incompetent.

More damning is the fact that Gary Webster was not removed from office due to incompetence. It says so explicitly in the motion to remove him: “without just cause”! And the five councillors who voted for Webster’s axing, and Ford himself, were quick to sing Webster’s praises after they turfed him from office (likely hoping to avoid a wrongful dismissal suit by keeping the bridges unburnt, even after they’ve been demolished). Gary Webster has had thirty-five years of service with the TTC, and has won praises from many an advocate and many a councillor. If you’re going to claim incompetence, at least have the decency to lay down some evidence. Until then, all I see is someone with an axe to grind.

blog comments powered by Disqus