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Harsh words for TTC's Teflon man

Jun. 9, 2006. 01:00 AM

TTC chair Howard Moscoe’s a lot like the late Harold Ballard, the irascible, meddlesome owner of the beloved Toronto Maple Leafs who ran the city’s hockey team into the ground.

Moscoe says whatever comes to his mind, gets his hands in too many pots and, as he ages, stumbles from avuncular and amusing to buffoonish.

For Moscoe isn’t as funny as he used to be, primarily because his escapades have become dangerous to the civic health of 700,000 daily commuters.

“He has always meddled,” said Rick Ducharme, the latest victim of Moscoe’s manoeuvrings. “He’s like a little boy and the TTC is his sandbox … and it’s an expensive one.”

Moscoe runs roughshod over staff and meddles in management issues because he has the backing of Mayor David Miller, Ducharme says. That has cost the city before and could again. In fact, there have been some near misses, papered over by staff.

Miller and Moscoe claim that their political interventions have kept the buses and trains running, even as labour relations deteriorated to dangerous levels, prompting a one-day wildcat strike May 29.

But the man who did the heavy negotiations in the last contract tells a different story, which attributes why he’s leaving the Toronto Transit Commission to the “disease” created by Moscoe and political interference.

Ducharme, fired Wednesday after tendering his resignation dated for Nov. 30, says:

  • Media reports that had last-minute interventions from Moscoe and Miller averting a strike in 2005 told only a fraction of the story. In fact, Miller’s last-minute call to union leader Bob Kinnear infuriated Kinnear and almost scuttled the deal.

  • Regarding the issues that led to last month’s wildcat strike, Ducharme says Kinnear told him he had a special understanding with Miller. “If I have any problem, I can go directly to the mayor,” Ducharme said Kinnear told him. That made it nearly impossible to manage the system, he said.

  • Even when the transit commission signed off on issues � like the change of maintenance work to the night shift � Moscoe and his deputy, Adam Giambrone, met privately with Kinnear, invited him to a private hearing with the commission and undermined management.

    “You can’t pretend management is at fault if you’re going to intervene,” Ducharme said. “It’ll cost you big.”

  • Moscoe not only insisted on being part of the 2005 negotiation team, against Ducharme’s advice, he brought along then vice-chair Joe Mihevc, who said “he wanted to learn” how labour talks occur. Ducharme said he and Kinnear, unbeknownst to Moscoe, hid in a hotel room from 10 p.m. Friday to 6.30 a.m. Saturday to settle the 15 issues Kinnear wanted dealt with. Moscoe, Mihevc and other union executive hawks were kept in the dark.

  • Moscoe was left to deliver the only issue outside of Ducharme’s mandate, a $200 signing bonus that the union insisted on in lieu of a payment to its members’ pension fund.

    The game is always this: Staff do the work and the politicians come in and take the credit. “It’s a case of political egos at its best at work here,” he said.

  • Staff wanted to tender the contract and get the best offer on a $700 million subway car contract, but Moscoe secretly entered talks with Bombardier and got Miller’s backing to push a sole-sourced deal with the Montreal firm, saying he was saving Thunder Bay jobs.

You can tell where the blame rests by watching the political hacks and aides and spin doctors huddle and hop about and scheme and stickhandle their way around the obvious crisis.

Up and down the corridors of city hall these past weeks, one sees a slithering scrum of political aides � vice-chair Giambrone at times has two aides at his side � all in an attempt to manipulate the media. Miller dispatches a battery of them. They hover and circle, lest anyone get a whiff of the trail leading to the mayor.

But that’s exactly where this leads.

Some city councillors, a few brave ones, will try to get Moscoe removed as TTC chair. They will fail. Miller will see to that.

If some of these same political operatives could not get rid of Moscoe when he was creating similar havoc on the TTC while Mel Lastman was mayor (Miller was front and centre in helping Moscoe foil the bid to remove him as chair in 1999), they won’t succeed now.

Miller and Moscoe and now Giambrone (pegged to replace Moscoe right after the November election) all have one goal in mind: keep their union brothers and sisters happy. The tough talk about suing the union for the illegal strike gave the mayor the political win needed to establish his bona fides with the general public. Tossing Ducharme overboard wins back the disgruntled union vote. It’s a political win-win for the mayor.

But a messy fight over Moscoe is the wild card here.

An organized opposition at city hall � one we haven’t seen since Miller and the NDP councillors held that role � could expose the dangers of a continued Moscoe chairmanship. It’s tailor-made for mayoral candidate Jane Pitfield.

So far, she’s shown a stunning inability to take advantage of political gifts like this one.

Meanwhile, the hurting words of a good transit man � gone too soon, forced from the job he executed excellently � hang in the air, the clickety-clack of steel wheels on tracks ringing below his office window, atop the Davisville station yesterday.

“There are no limits to what Howard can do. I’ve been through his issues. He’s bulletproof,” Ducharme said.

“This notoriety is going to make sure he definitely gets re-elected. Is this frustrating? Of course it is. How can I say no? I wouldn’t be leaving if it wasn’t frustrating, I’d just keep putting up with his crap. I’m not sorry, I’m just sorry for staff because they’re going to suffer.”

Royson James usually appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Email: