Gary Webster

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More evidence of a new era at the TTC: cellphone service on subway platforms is in; maroon jackets are out

(Image: Markian Lozowchuk)

As soon as Andy Byford took the helm of the TTC in March, the changes began. He opted for a beefed up title—“CEO” rather than “general manager,” like those who held the position before him—to mark a symbolic change. He publicly chided staff for customer service embarrassments. He installed fancy hand dryers in station washrooms. Seven months into his tenure, the evolution continues. Here, three more signs that the TTC is moving into a new phase (we can only hope it’s a phase with less crowded streetcars).

Cellphone service is coming to subway stations
The old regime: Save for a few brief above-ground segments, subway riders operate in a digital blackhole.
The new regime: Officials estimate most stations will have service within two years. Some of the signals will likely bleed into the tunnels, making texting on the train a possibility, at least downtown where the stations are close together.
Is it a good thing? Though many will complain about feeling surrounded by loud talkers, it’ll be great to notify  friends or colleagues in the event of (inevitable) subway-induced tardiness. Of course, the TTC could just try to keep the trains on schedule.

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Read emails from Rob Ford’s office about several past civic dramas

The Globe and Mail recently published an inside look at Rob Ford’s communication approach based on memos obtained through freedom-of-information requests. Now, the paper has released several of the emails themselves, which provide talking points on hot-button topics such as the Jarvis Bike lanes, Gary Webster’s firing and Ford’s refusal to bow to Toronto Public Health’s request to hire two full-time nurses (the memo helpfully points out there’s no such thing as “free money”). [Globe and Mail]

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The weirdest mayoralty ever—the inside story of Rob Ford’s city hall

Loyal councillors have defied him. His approval ratings have plummeted. And his powerful Conservative backers are nervous. How did it all go so wrong? The strange story of Rob Ford’s city hall

The Incredible Shrinking Mayor

On Newstalk 1010, the sly strains of the Hollies hit “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” offered the first clue. Then morning host Jerry Agar burst on the air with a surprise announcement: Rob Ford and his councillor sibling Doug were taking over the station’s Sunday afternoon talk-fest, The City. For the once-staid CFRB, landing the boisterous brother act that Margaret Atwood had puckishly dubbed the “twin Ford mayors” was clearly a coup, but that didn’t answer the more obvious question: why on earth would the Fords want to spend two more hours a week in front of an open microphone when they were hardly suffering from a lack of media exposure?

Rob Ford, after all, ranks as one of the most compelling and exhaustively chronicled figures in Canadian politics, adored and despised with equal gusto. His every pronouncement seems to turn into front-page fodder, his every grimace and belly scratch catalogued by rapt photographers. And who could forget the YouTube footage of comedian Mary Walsh arriving in his driveway, decked out with a velvet breastplate and a plastic sword?

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Rob and Doug Ford gang up on Toronto’s chief medical officer

(Image: Christopher Drost)

Rob and Doug Ford may have gone too far in their war of words against the war on cars. On their radio show this week, the brothers targeted Dr. David McKeown, Toronto’s medical officer of health, who last week recommended a city-wide reduction of speed limits (the board of health has since suggested pilot projects to reduce speed limits, but only in neighbourhoods that want them). The mayor called McKeown’s $290,000 salary “an embarrassment” and something he’d look into, while Doug—doing some long-distance bullying from Florida, where his daughter is competing in a cheerleading competition—questioned why McKeown even had the job. That speechifying caught the attention of health board chair John Filion, who promised to see how the board can respond. Apparently it’s inappropriate to publicly criticize an independent staff member for giving fact-based recommendations (NOW Magazine even interpreted the Fords’ comments as a precursor to a Gary Webster–style firing). Though we don’t dispute the Fords’ love of zooming down the freeway, we’re hoping the brash talk is just an attempt to pep up a less than electrifying radio show and not a plan of action. [Toronto Star]

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The Moment: when Karen Stintz went rogue and defeated Rob Ford on the transit vote

The Moment: Stintz Goes Rogue

(Image: Christopher Wahl)

February 8, 12:33 p.m. When Karen Stintz called for a special meeting of council to resuscitate the transit plan that Rob Ford had spent considerable political capital trying to scrap, she was risking career suicide. After seven years of being sidelined by David Miller’s administration, Stintz, as chair of the TTC, was finally in a position of power. Ford expected her to be his voice on the commission, and he wanted a subway—even though his plan would reach less of the city and cost about a billion dollars more than Stintz’s light-rail alternative. Remarkably, her motion passed, 25-18. The councillor gamely insisted that the plan would be a win for everyone, including the mayor. Nobody believed that last part. It was a humiliating defeat for Ford. The apoplectic mayor dismissed the vote as irrelevant (it wasn’t), accused Stintz of backstabbing and axed Gary Webster, the TTC’s chief general manager. “Here comes Mayor Stintz,” someone quipped as she approached the cameras outside council chambers. Stintz cracked a smile and launched into her talking points, basking in the prophecy.

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Some notables earning six-figures (or more!) from Ontario’s annual “sunshine list”

Dalton McGuinty made $208,974 last year (Image: Communitech Photos)

Once again, Ontario’s sunshine list has spotlighted the public servants who made $100,000 or more last year. A list of rich people is always a delight, and this year’s disclosure—released late last week—set the stage for today’s release of what will likely be an austere provincial budget, given Ontario’s troubling $16-billion deficit. The full group of six-figure earners is 79,000-strong, so we’ve compiled a cheat sheet of a few of the most high-profile.

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Meet Andy Byford, the TTC’s new French-speaking, trash-collecting, mediocrity-busting CEO

(Image: Twitpic, Jonathan Goldsbie)

The TTC has decided to skip the headhunt and just hire interim leader Andy Byford to remain on as CEO (at least until he starts praising LRTs). To mark the occasion, the Globe and Mails Marcus Gee explained why Byford will make a capable transit boss: he was quick to respond after a ticket collector was shot at Dupont station; he speaks fluent French; he carries around a plastic bag to pick up litter; and he doesn’t tolerate “mediocrity.” What’s more, Byford is so keen on tracking service disruptions that he carries a pager, because his BlackBerry doesn’t work below ground. Goodness, maybe Rob Ford wasn’t so far off when he suggested Byford was a superhero who turned the TTC around in a day. [Globe and Mail]

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Margaret Atwood gets in Twitter fight with Sue-Ann Levy over the TTC, of all things

Yesterday, the city’s never-ending transit saga sparked a bit of a Twitter tiff between Margaret Atwood and Toronto Sun columnist Sue-Ann Levy. It started with Atwood tweeting her dismay over last week’s sacking of TTC chief Gary Webster. Levy snarkily replied, “When was the last time you took the subway Ms. Megs? Now you’re an expert on the TTC?” Atwood, who knows her way around a verbal smackdown, responded with a terse set of instructions followed by a devastating emoticon: “Do your research, learn to read, address folks by their names, & cite sources for your insults. If you’re serious, that is. :)” It’s probably a fair bet that Atwood was about as chuffed about “Ms. Megs” as she was about “La Poodle” back in August.

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Rob Ford bores everybody with his campaign ad disguised as a radio show

Rob and Doug Ford’s radio program is painfully dull (Image: Christopher Drost)

At the outset of Rob Ford and brother Doug’s maiden voyage as hosts of CFRB 1010’s The City, Councillor Doug issued a warning to listeners: “Fasten your seatbelt, because we’re going for a ride.” We figured that ride would be loud, brash and, at the very least, entertaining, given we were dealing with the Brothers Ford—Rob even warned listeners that he wasn’t responsible for the crazy things Doug might do on air. Disappointingly, though, the show didn’t end up being any of those things. It felt more like a thinly veiled, two-hour-long ad campaign—and a boring one at that.

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With Gary Webster’s sacking, Ford’s allies somehow made a hero out of a civil servant

(Image: Cameron MacMaster from the Torontolife.com Flickr pool)

As expected, five transit commissioners voted yesterday to oust TTC chief general manager Gary Webster, whose penchant for “reasonable arguments” had become an unwelcome distraction from Rob Ford’s delightful transit fantasies subway expansion schemes. Every daily paper and television station in the city has covered the story from all angles, but the condensed version is as follows: Webster, a long-serving civil servant, was a known opponent of Ford’s proposed Sheppard subway extension—something that did not endear him to the mayor. After Webster spoke in favour of light rail transit at the special council meeting earlier this month—the one where Ford’s opponents won and the mayor was publicly embarrassed—Ford’s allies on the TTC board called a special meeting to fire him.

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Won’t the real Corey Mintz please stand up?

Corey Mintz and Andrew Byford—but which is which?

One of the more surreal moments in yesterday’s already-pretty-surreal termination proceedings of TTC chief general manager Gary Webster was the appearance of Andy Byford, Webster’s interim replacement. You see, Byford, who joined the TTC last November after running the transit in Sydney, happens to look pretty much exactly like Corey Mintz, the Toronto Star columnist and redoubtable dinner party host (Jonathan Goldsbie was the first to point this out on Twitter, calling him a “dead ringer”). Whether this means we’ll soon be seeing rillettes or musk ox cassoulet at Gateway Newsstands in the subway—well, that’s anyone’s guess.

(Images: Mintz, Paul Terefenko; Byford Twitpic, Jonathan Goldsbie)

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TTC honcho Gary Webster will probably be fired today, in yet another special meeting

Some time after 2 p.m. today, TTC chief general manager Gary Webster, who’s been in the transit business for about three decades, will probably be sacked in a special meeting of the city’s transit commissioners. The mayor’s office has been gunning for Webster since at least last summer, when news broke that the seasoned transit chief wasn’t sufficiently receptive to Rob Ford’s plans for the Sheppard subway. Now it looks like Webster’s recent defence of “numbers” and “facts” at Karen Stintz’s special council showdown meeting two weeks back was the final straw.

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Royson James on the political intrigue and backroom deals in the fight over Toronto transit

Toronto Star columnist Royson James writes the acrimonious transit spat the city is currently embroiled in is a mere squabble compared to a broader backroom plan to “emasculate” and “tame” the TTC. According to James—and his unnamed sources—Metrolinx, Queen’s Park, and the mayor’s office all want to oust TTC manager Gary Webster and to fire TTC chair Karen Stintz for failing to get rid of him (her recent campaign against Rob Ford’s transit proposal certainly couldn’t have helped her cause either). For some of the alleged co-conspirators, the end game is privatizing much of the transit commission, which they view as uncooperative, ineffective and generally impotent. James even offers that Metrolinx secretly prefers putting the Eglinton Crosstown underground, and that the regional agency is actually the one pushing that agenda forward behind the scenes. It seems, as James puts it, “while officials play nice in public, in private the knives come out.” Read the entire story [Toronto Star] »

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Rob Ford didn’t have the authority to cancel Transit City (lawyers say so)

(Image: Christopher Drost)

Apparently, it takes more than a mayoral “because I said so” for the city to kill an extensive public transit plan. Rob Ford may have unilaterally declared former Mayor David Miller’s Transit City dead on his first day in office, but Joe Mihevc recently obtained a legal opinion—which was released this morning (Torontoist has the full text)—that contends the mayor had no legal authority to cancel the project in favour of his own plan.

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Metrolinx teases commuters with a downtown transit relief; but the TTC isn’t into it

The province’s transit authority is considering expediting the creation of a new downtown subway or light-rail line (or at least, it’s considering expediting the conversation about it). Metrolinx CEO Bruce McQuaig says a relief line could be pushed into the public transit picture a quarter of a century before originally planned, which suggests that the transit is getting really, really crowded. It seems that as the downtown core increases in density, Union Station simply won’t be able to handle all the commuters. But TTC chief general manager Gary Webster isn’t so hot on the idea. Apparently, Webster believes the TTC and Metrolinx should “maximize the capacity of existing lines.” Of course, anyone who’s ridden the TTC downtown at rush hour would probably say transit is maximized already. Read the entire story [Toronto Star] »

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