‘Very serious’ allegations over Scarborough subway debate referred to auditor general
Complaint from residents, transit advocacy group is at ‘its core” about alleged wrongdoing of public service, watchdog says.
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A city watchdog is recommending referral of a complaint of alleged wrongdoing by staff in the controversial Scarborough subway debate to the auditor general’s office, calling the allegations it contains “very serious.”
In a letter dated Jan. 24, Ombudsman Susan Opler told a group of residents their complaint was best submitted to the auditor general, who is responsible for investigating alleged wrongdoing by the public service.
The residents, backed by the transit advocacy group Scarborough Transit Action, filed the complaint Jan. 19 following a Torstar News Service story over a misleading briefing note produced by the TTC in the midst of a controversial debate that saw council again approve a more than $3.2 billion one-stop subway extension over the alternative of light rail line fully paid for by the province.
Opler wrote that “at its core” the complaint appeared to be allegations against TTC CEO Andy Byford under the Toronto Public Service bylaw, according to the letter provided to Torstar by the complainants.
While she said her office did not come to any conclusions about the “validity” of the allegations, Opler said it’s her opinion the allegations fall under the definition of “wrongdoing” in the bylaw, which is described as “serious actions that are contrary to the public interest,” including fraud and waste but also “breach of public trust.”
The bylaw makes the auditor general responsible to investigate such alleged wrongdoing.
“Those are very serious accusations that are being made there and if in fact those things, occurred would be a very serious matter and it would certainly be very much contrary to the public interest,” she said.
Torstar has reported the briefing note — which was used by Tory’s office and allies to sway the vote — raised unanswered questions for which there were available answers.
It also importantly presented a revised cost of the LRT, which put it in the same range as a subway. In a response to questions from Councillor Josh Matlow on the floor of council, Byford said he was “asked to provide” that comparison “for the same finish date as a subway” — that would seem to have inflated the numbers arbitrarily.
Byford, who has said he stands by what was written in the two-page briefing note, earlier told Torstar he “cannot recall” who asked for that comparison.
The complainants wrote that with the commitment of billions to the subway project there has never been an “objective and complete comparison of costs, delivery dates and funding commitments from higher levels of government for the seven-stop LRT option.”
“At a time when there is increasingly limited funding allocated to basic services in Toronto, solid evidence-based decision-making must be used for all significant infrastructure spending.”
The public service bylaw came into force in December 2015.
Opler said she recognizes there is some confusion over the roles of the watchdog offices.
“I think many people think of the auditor general in the context of fraud and waste but the public service bylaw is very clear that council has also assigned to that office the responsibility for looking into wrongdoing,” she said, adding her office deals more with systems and processes of service to the public. “It’s not a question of giving anybody the runaround. We gave this complaint very serious consideration as to how it was appropriately and properly dealt with.”
She said referring the complaint in no way suggests the allegations are not worth investigating.
“In fact, it’s quite the contrary. Because these are very serious complaints that are being raised by members of the public, they need to be carefully and properly addressed.”
The group that made the complaint says they are still considering next steps after meeting with the ombudsman this week.
Auditor General Beverly Romeo-Beehler said in an email that she can’t speak to any specific complaint, but said legislation gives her the power to evaluate “the quality of stewardship over public funds.”
“This includes verifying that there is proper governance, management, care and control over the use of public funds.”
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