Bully, Pulpit

We may be about to see several Toronto civil servants summarily dismissed. This could happen as soon as Tuesday. What is disturbing about this is the pattern of threats and bullying against those who, with their expertise and experience, have ideas that differ from the elected politicians.

I hereby make a confession. I once sent an eMail to then-Mayor Miller. In this eMail I urged him to start showing some leadership. (This was a gross error on my part.) Instead he took a page from the playbook of Stephen Harper, whereby important decisions are made in committees and those committees’ memberships are chosen by fiat of the leader. Members who disagree with, or embarrass, the leader, with their new ideas are simply pushed out. This leads to a form of leadership which approaches dictatorship. There is only one idea in the room, only one mind assumed to be functioning. It implies an intellectual arrogance of some magnitude.

While Stephen Harper is definitely an intelligent man, he is for sure not the smartest person in every room on every possible question.

In a problem-solving meeting, the most valuable person in the room is the one who, by asking a dumb question, going off on a weird tangent, expressing a novel approach – the one who, by doing something not in the agreed-on playbook, allows many others in the room to see another facet of the problem, and thus other roads and means to solution. The most important mind in the room moves from moment to moment. Good technical leaders generally know this; perhaps they come into their expertise solving less-political problems, where a new idea is just that: a new idea. Not a threat to a large accumulation of status-quo we-always-do-this decisions.

I have it from personal sources that when a certain mayor, not our current one, came into office he selectively cleaned out the civil service in the first week, costing our fair city something like eleven million dollars in severance settlements. This worked: it sent a powerful message to all civil servants that they had better work to be liked, not disliked, by this mayor.

One of the lessons of history is, those who do not follow it seem destined to repeat it. So, here we go. Rob Ford is trying to oust the TTC general manager, Gary Webster. This is a deduction, but articles in the Star clearly point out that five out of nine on a committee is enough to do this, and a certain five requested the meeting; one other committee member found out about the meeting through some back channel and will travel back in time on Tuesday, weather et cetera permitting.

Now it appears that other managers may also face the axe on Tuesday.

Gary Webster has quite a reputation as TTC general manager. He deserves better than this.

Apparently, being very good at your job is, once again, not good enough. You must also think like the leader, even if you have at your fingertips more facts than he does. Even if the mayor is pushing a plan that he apparently can’t fund, for some subways that apparently are not justified by current nor projected ridership, that short-changes Torontonians for what they could get from their (and Federal and Provincial) dollars – even in the face of one’s own conscience, one is supposed to agree with Mayor Rob Ford.

I am reminded of the Salem witch trials. You were supposed to go along with the church and the townspeople, and condemn your neighbours for being disagreeable and successful, or even just different. The church used its bully pulpit to solve conflict by removing unfortunates.

Rob Ford should make an effort to look much better, of much higher-mindedness, than this. I don’t expect this outcome, however. The War on the Car must continue.

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