When LRT grandstanders meet showboaters
Press conference goes off rails over competing voices and finger pointing
I didn’t think Coun. Terry Whitehead could top the LRT Kama Sutra joke he made at council this week but it paled by comparison to the buffoonery his transit news conference unleashed.
I’ll share his council gag in a bit, but first Thursday’s gong show in the foyer outside City Hall’s council chambers.
The only serious news from the media cattle call is Whitehead is “considering” asking Ontario’s auditor general to investigate the cost effectiveness of the $1-billion LRT project.
The Ward 8 councillor also intends to ask the city clerk if a simple majority vote can now be held on LRT since the province changed the project by killing the James Street North spur line in favour of planning a harbour-to-airport express bus route.
Beyond that, Whitehead, who’s been pro-LRT, anti-LRT and now some kind of hypercritical LRT assessor, complained that the province is making unilateral design decisions and reiterated his view that the route should go all the way to Eastgate Square as originally planned.
The circus proper began after Whitehead finished his remarks and was ready to scrum with reporters.
Up to the podium steps hard-line LRT supporter Coun. Matthew Green to present a counterview. Suddenly things go sideways.
Whitehead objects to the Ward 3 councillor interrupting his media event, says he should organize his own. Green persists. A chagrined Whitehead steps aside.
But just as Green is warming up, into the semicircle of reporters and cameras bursts Edward Graydon, who ran for mayor in 2010, placing 13th in a field of 15 candidates.
Suddenly, the hijacked news conference is hijacked again.
“If you don’t want LRT in this community, in 2018 vote for me, Edward Graydon, and I’ll make this city the best city you’ve ever seen,” he hollers.
“Get rid of this guy,” Graydon says, pointing to Green. “Bring this guy in,” he says, pointing to Whitehead. “Get rid of everyone. Vote for me and you’ll be the happiest damn city in the world.”
Graydon steps away, Green continues. Graydon returns, arms waving, folded antiLRT sign in hand. Green says he’s violating election campaign rules. Graydon says that’s not important. Green’s assistant tries to steer Graydon away.
Just as Green notes that nobody on council has ever moved a motion to give the $1 billion back to the province, Graydon springs back.
“Here’s a motion,” he says. “Get rid of Matthew Green. He’s a terrible politician. You’ve got to get rid of him. You’re only going to make the city great when I’m in.”
Green starts debating him, asks for security and then backs away from the podium, repeating Graydon is violating municipal campaign laws. Security leads Graydon away. I later asked Graydon why he did it. “I couldn’t resist,” he said. “I feel that Matthew Green didn’t give (Whitehead) the proper due and respect he needed.”
After it was over, I asked Coun. Doug Conley who was watching the fiasco from the sidelines what he thought about it all.
“Whatever the outcome is, we’ve got to do (LRT) properly and with some intelligence, not just grandstanding,” he said.
Grandstanding is the word for it. Showboating works too. Whitehead’s news conference was meagre and gratuitous. Green’s disruption was politically arrogant and immature. Graydon was their capering nemesis. At least, says Conley, it was comic relief. Speaking of which, it’s time for Whitehead’s council joke, the one topped only by Thursday’s tomfoolery.
Apparently, Mayor Fred Eisenberger recently accused Whitehead of having more positions on LRT than the Kama Sutra, an ancient Hindu text on love and sexual positions. Whitehead told councillors he didn’t know about the book.
“But when I did look into it,” he said, “I want to make it clear that I do have one position. And that position is … fiscal responsibility and ensuring that our taxpayers are not at risk.” It’s funny but it’s also a little worrisome. I mean, what if they’re suddenly sending in the clowns to distract us from an unfolding disaster?
The circus proper began after Whitehead finished his remarks …
Andrew Dreschel’s commentary appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. firstname.lastname@example.org 905-526-3495 @AndrewDreschel
Former mayoral candidate Edward Graydon interrupts Coun. Matthew Green as he speaks about LRT at City Hall.