If you sneezed you might have missed it, but there's a whiff of change in the air at Toronto's police services board. With a low murmur and a nearly imperceptible show of hands, the historically cop-friendly monitoring group elected a new leader earlier this week. The unanimous vote at police headquarters on Tuesday, January 6, was an unofficial goodbye of sorts to the gun-toting ways of former chair Stormin' Norman Gardner, and hello to the days of... Alan Heisey? The crowning of the Lastman appointee came out of nowhere for most observers but seemed no surprise to city council's inner circle, since Heisey's was the only name in the hat. He is, after all, the only member sitting on the board for more than a month who was even interested in the $91,000 position.
With Gardner under investigation for accepting a gun from a manufacturer charged with stealing parts and reassembling weapons for sale, and former vice-chair Councillor Gloria Lindsay Luby and friends replaced by three Miller picks (lefty Pam McConnell, middle-of-the-roader John Fillion and - surprise, surprise - right-wing budget cruncher Case Ootes), the planning lawyer had already acted as temporary chair for the past month.
With blessings from the likes of Lastman and sidekick Ootes (who nominated Heisey), you'd hardly expect his appointment to be cause for fanfare on the left. Yet when NDP champ Olivia Chow got word of Heisey's new job, she was all praise. "Alan had been the only (progressive) voice in the last while prior to the new mayor coming in," says Chow. "He attempted to do all sorts of good things, but he couldn't get very far because he was under Lindsay Luby as vice-chair and Gardner as chair."
And while Heisey is a Tory, adds human rights lawyer Paul Copeland, he does wear red stripes. "He rides a bicycle (to work), he's an environmentalist, he's moving to the Island," says Copeland. As a lawyer, Heisey has long defended labour, community and environmental groups like Save the Rouge, only adding to his cred.
Still, onlookers seem to be making the most of limited ingredients. After all, says Copeland, "Who else is there? Nobody else other than Benson Lau (a Tory-appointed civilian) knows anything about what goes on down there." Even McConnell, who was made vice-chair when Tory appointee Ben Lau turned the job down, agrees.
Putting distance between himself and the board's past, Heisey said his first job is reform. Only minutes after his appointment, he stressed accountability, called for a review of the public complaint system and asked that the board be given two more members to tackle their massive agenda. McConnell was right there behind him, trumpeting the board's democratization and openness to the public after a years of hibernation. "There's a new tone in town," she exclaimed.
Whether that tone translates into true change rests on who the TPSB's seventh member will be. The board is waiting to discover who the province (which has four picks, while the city has three) will appoint to fill the seat of recently resigned Tory cronie Al Leach. As it stands, the balance of power still leans slightly to the right.
For now, this might be fine with reformers hoping that Mayor Miller has chosen not to exercise his will over the board just yet to avoid unduly aggravating Chief Fantino. The real fireworks will hit the skies when Miller takes his seat on the board a year from now, right after Heisey's term comes to an end, and when Fantino's contract is slated for review.