In the rush to justify setting up a new municipal water board, the powers that be at City Hall are suddenly invoking the TTC. See, they say, there's nothing sinister about turning over the administration of a public service to a quasi-independent body. But if they thought a minute about the raucous history of governance at the TTC, they wouldn't be so quick to use its name.
On at least three separate occasions during a recent media briefing on the controversial proposal, CAO Shirley Hoy made comparisons something like this: "The city expects this board, as it does, for example, the Toronto Transit Commission, to develop the long-term plans, both capital and operating. It will award contracts within approved budgets. So once the budgets are approved -- the capital budget in particular -- it will streamline the decision-making process by having the board approve those tenders."
Unfortunately, likening the proposed water board to the TTC is a lot like comparing kiwi fruit to kumquats. Sure, the transit commission and the proposed water board would both have nine members. But the TTC is made up entirely of elected city politicians. The water board would be dominated by five political appointees.
There was a time when appointed citizens held the balance of power on the transit commission. But the old Metro council put an end to that more than 13 years ago.
As it happened, Jeff Lyons -- the lawyer, lobbyist and political bagman who's currently the subject of an OPP investigation into allegations of improper election campaign fundraising practices -- was the commission's chair at the time.
"The TTC was really out of control," said councillor Anne Johnston. As a member of the now defunct regional government, she played a key role in getting Lyons and two other appointees booted off what was then a five-member commission.
"We were fed up with the shenanigans that group of citizens were playing," added councillor Howard Moscoe, who was also a Metro politician at the time.
He recalled how the TTC actually went out and bought an airline without council's knowledge."They got into all kinds of ventures, and it was all secret," he said. "I had to file 40 inquiries at Metro council to find out that they'd purchased the airline a year and a half before. We finally decided we'd had enough of those so-called citizens."
One of Moscoe's strongest allies when it came to getting the appointees thrown off the TTC in 1989 was a young Metro councillor by the name of Chris Stockwell.
"These people were not elected and have no constituency," he said then. "They represent no one at all. Frankly, they represent themselves."
Today, Stockwell is Ontario environment minister and the man responsible for the Tory government's safe drinking water strategy. We'll have to see what he thinks of Toronto's post-Walkerton plan to turn over control of its water system to a bunch of appointed experts who'll each be paid $500 for every board meeting they attend.
Moscoe said he's worried the new water board will be just like the old TTC gang he and Stockwell railed against.
"Citizen appointees tend to be the friends of politicians and, in some cases, lobbyists who get their greasy hooks into a public body and promote it for their own particular purposes," he said. "With the TTC, we finally came to the realization that it was important to have elected representatives on these bodies who are there to represent the public and their constituents rather than individuals who may have specific self-interests."
As far as Moscoe is concerned, "the whole concept of citizen representatives has historically been abused by municipal councils.
"That included the TTC, until finally the politicians got tired of the abuses, seized control of the commission and took it back unto themselves and to the public who elected them to represent its interests," he said. "To fob our water off to a special body at an arm's-length remove from the politicians is fundamentally wrong. It's not going to solve any of the problems. In fact, it's going to create new problems for us to worry about."
With all this in mind, perhaps Shirley Hoy could propose some amendments to her water board model before it goes to council for approval next month. If the true goal is to streamline the budget approval process so more money can be spent to improve the utility's aging infrastructure faster than it's now being done, then make the water and waste-water treatment system an entity unto itself. Just like the TTC.
Instead of assigning water matters to an already overloaded works committee agenda, put together a water commission consisting of nine duly elected councillors. Let them take responsibility for recruiting a chief general manager who can hire the qualified expert staff. Just like the TTC.
And get rid of this notion that political appointees are a solution to administrative problems.
Just like the TTC.