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James: Mixing up TTC board is better way

By Royson James
City columnist

Veteran city councillor Howard Moscoe launched a staunch defence of the TTC status quo Monday, claiming that if commuters and taxpayers don’t like what they see they can get rid of the transit bosses.

That’d be news to you, who’ve piled complaints upon grievances against the once “better way.”

When was the last time a city councillor got punished for doing a poor job managing the Toronto Transit Commission?

“We are accountable,” Moscoe said as he and the city’s executive committee dismissed a move to add non-politicians to the Toronto Transit Commission, the governing body of the transit system.

Last month, TTC chair Adam Giambrone called a news conference to apologize for the poor customer service plaguing the transit system. He admitted he had not been paying enough attention to customer service - distracted as he was by the unprecedented transit expansion of streetcar lines.

Did he lose his job? Get a pay cut? A reprimand, even? No. In fact, the mayor, who appointed him, praised his performance.

So, Moscoe’s claim that city councillors are best suited to be transit commissioners because they are elected and can be held accountable for the transit system’s failures is a spurious one.

“It’s disgusting,” said Councillor Paul Ainslie after the mayor’s executive committee buried his idea to change the composition of the transit body. “Politicians looking after politicians. It’s not accountable. It’s one of the worst examples of how a politician can screw up, and using name recognition, get right back into office.”

When did you, the voter, ever hold a transit commissioner accountable for raising transit fares, cutting service and running the system into the ground?

Never. How would you? You didn’t hire them or appoint them in the first place. You don’t or couldn’t fire them.

Except for the chair of the transit commission, we barely know who the faceless reps are most of the time. And when the current chair swam into unsavoury waters recently, did you have a vote on whether he should stay on as chair or as a member of the commission? No.

Ainslie informed the executive that having a mix of citizens and politicians on transit boards is common with many transit authorities.

Toronto follows this practice with the boards that govern the police, zoo, library, public housing, waterfront, Exhibition Place, public health and the like.

Moscoe dismissed such citizen participation with this deflection: “Friends of politicians, elected by no one.” The veteran councillor displays a keen grasp of how his business works.

Ainslie rightly says the TTC is the second-largest consumer of property tax dollars, next to the police. It wouldn’t hurt to have commissioners who are lifelong experts in finance, engineering and transit. Instead we have lifelong experts in politics.

To mollify concerns about lobbyist friends of the mayor running amok, council could treat the transit body like other city agencies: maintain a majority of councillors.

“In a free and democratic society, the key institutions should be governed by people who are elected,” says Councillor Joe Mihevc, TTC vice-chair.

That exclusive mindset has delivered us this commission: Councillors Maria Augimeri, Sandra Bussin, Suzan Hall, Peter Milczyn, Ron Moeser, Anthony Perruzza, Bill Saundercook, Giambrone and Mihevc.

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