Nov. 8, 2017
By Arianne Robinson
Toronto City Council voted on Wednesday to accept the auditor general’s recommendations to implement information distribution protocols, sparked by a 2016 briefing note about Scarborough transit that never made it to city councillors.
The item involved a three-hour debate over what the auditor general termed as a “comedy of errors” involving issues related internal communication protocols.
However, the issue, which felt a bit like a farce at times in council chambers, also seemed like a tragedy, as councillors’ tempers flared.
In the midst of the heated debate, TTC CEO Andy Byford didn’t realize his mic was on and was heard whispering to Councillor Mary Fragedakis. As Councillor Josh Matlow brought a point of privilege over whether his reputation had been “impugned” by a request for an apology from Byford regarding comments Matlow made on CBC’s Metro Morning last year, Byford’s whispering is heard at the same time:
“… because [City Manager] Peter Wallace complained about the radio interview. It’s the same radio interview I’m referring to. He apologized to [Peter] Notaro because the city manager complained. [Matlow] was also found guilty by the integrity commissioner,” Byford can be heard whispering.
The finding by the Integrity Commission did indeed find Matlow had contravened the code of conduct for statements he made in a radio interview about city staff, and concluded “the apology offered [by Matlow] was sincere and unequivocal” and recommended no further action.
Whispers from Byford came as Speaker Frances Nunziata accused Matlow of feeling “guilty” for his comments to the city’s former executive director of strategic and corporate policy Notaro, who died in July, saying she didn’t appreciate the repeated points of privilege on the same topic.
In the YouTube video, Matlow is seen looking upset after the remark, which prompts his neighbouring councillor to defend him. “Speaker, you intervened, not as the chair, but took a position on something and commented and it was completely inappropriate and not neutral. It was biased and you should withdraw that comment,” Councillor Janet Davis says.
The heated exchange between the councillors and speaker did not resolve during the item but Nunziata did apologize to Matlow at the end of the day. “I made comments which were inconsistent with my role as speaker. I withdraw my comments and express my regret to city council for making them.”
Byford did not get the apology he requested of council, and council voted unanimously to accept the auditor general’s recommendations.
Beyond the details of the briefing note and how it was communicated is the bigger question of the future of Scarborough transit. “I want to remind this council we have actually not approved the Scarborough subway,” Councillor Gord Perks said to council. “We have approved it in principle, and we have approved staff doing the work [and reporting back next year] before we go and actually start spending billions of public dollars.”
Mayor John Tory spoke to reporters about the continuous debating on issue on Friday. “We need the transit in Scarborough,” Tory said. “This transit is going to be part of a network transit plan that we have for the entire city and if we keep postponing and finding some reason to second guess and re-argue and re-debate these things we will never get the transit built and this city will strangle itself and I’m just not prepared to put up with that.”
By the end of the item on Wednesday some councillors were clear that a re-debate about the Scarborough subway is not out of the cards for a future day at city hall. “We should not mislead the public to believe that by making sanctimonious or any other types of tones of speeches today that we won’t ever discuss it again,” Councillor Shelley Carroll said. “We will discuss in each of the procedural opportunities it needs to be discussed, and every time a citizen raises a complaint.”