Mayor Rob Ford and his brother Doug are trying to engineer the ouster of Toronto Transit Commission chief general manager Gary Webster because of his perceived opposition to the Sheppard subway project, according to several Commission sources with direct knowledge of the situation who spoke to The Globe and Mail.
The names being circulated as potential replacements include former councillor Case Ootes, who stepped in as interim managing director for the Toronto Community Housing Corp.; Gordon Chong, who now heads the agency's infrastructure development arm; and out-going Liberal MPP David Caplan, who, in the last two weeks, has visited TTC chair Karen Stintz and vice-chair Peter Milczyn.
Neither Mr. Chong, Mr. Ootes nor Mr. Caplan returned calls. Asked to respond, Adrienne Batra, spokesperson for Rob Ford, replied, "The Mayor's Office does not comment on personnel matters."
TTC spokesperson Brad Ross e-mailed a brief statement. "The TTC will not speculate on Mr. Webster's future. The Chief General Manager is working hard with staff on the 2012 budget, as well as ongoing customer service improvement initiatives. This is a large, complex organization. His continued leadership has never been more important."
Mr. Webster, an engineer who is highly respected in transit circles, has run the TTC since 2006, during which time he's been intimately involved with the construction of the Spadina subway extension into York Region.
The backroom push to find a new chief general manager comes at a moment when there are growing doubts about the viability of the mayor's goal of extending the Sheppard subway from Fairview Mall to the Scarborough Town Centre using a mix of private capital, development charges and other levies.
Indeed, Ms. Stintz told The Globe and Mail she now favours an alternate strategy - using the $330-million provided by Ottawa for the Sheppard LRT (which was part of the Transit City light-rail plan cancelled by Mr. Ford upon taking office) to extend the existing Sheppard subway line from the Don Mills Station, across Highway 404 to Victoria Park - instead of building a line all the way to Scarborough Town Centre.
She said the boring machines now digging the Spadina extension to Vaughan could be relocated when they complete their work next year.
"Until it's demonstrated that a public-private partnership can build the subway, we should move forward with the resources we have to extend the infrastructure that exists," Ms. Stintz said, adding that the council's time and effort would be better spent on an achievable solution.
The suggestion makes sense from a planning perspective, as a new station at Victoria Park and Sheppard would serve the large Consumers Road employment district. But Ms. Stintz's proposal represents a sharp break with the mayor's ambitious pledge to complete the Sheppard line by the end of the current term.
Ongoing speculation about Mr. Webster's future brought a sharp rebuke from former vice-chair Joe Mihevc (St. Paul's). "Gary is the best thing that has happened to the city and the TTC in a long time."
Mr. Mihevc noted that a high level of technical expertise is required to run a transit agency. He praised Mr. Webster for focusing on ensuring the safety of TTC employees and stressing the importance of maintaining existing assets in a state of good repair.
While Mr. Mihevc no longer sits on the Commission, several current commissioners praised Mr. Webster. "I understand that pressure is being brought to some members of the Commission to end Mr. Webster's employ," said Commissioner Maria Augimeri (York Centre), who is a left-leaning member of council. She added that she wouldn't support any move to remove Mr. Webster.
Some right-of-centre commissioners agreed.
"I think Gary is doing a good job," said Mr. Milczyn (Etobicoke Lakeshore), who added that Mr. Webster is working to change the engineering-driven culture of the agency, which handles almost half a billion riders each year.
John Parker (Don Valley West), who is a member of the Commission as well as deputy speaker, echoed Mr. Milczyn's comments: "I am comfortable with his leadership."
Special to the Globe and Mail