Edward Keenan: The TTC’s Andy Byford has woven his own tangled web of confusion /Link
The plot twists, ever further: Andy Byford, the outgoing TTC CEO with one foot out the door to the bright lights of New York City, is upset that he has been smeared by suggestions his office was politicized in the Scarborough subway debate. So much so that he has complained to the integrity commissioner.
“I’ve got nothing to lose in any of this, except for my reputation, which I hold dear. As such, I will continue to protect it without fear or favour, and that’s why I submitted the complaint,” he told the Star, as reported Thursday by my colleagues Ben Spurr and Jennifer Pagliaro.
Clear enough. If the guy’s been smeared unfairly, he has the right to complain.
Now here’s where it gets weird. You see, the source of the smear in question is... duh Duh DUH… Andy Byford.
All this fascinating drama, like so much before it, centres around a briefing note prepared in 2016 that played an outsized role in a debate about the Scarborough subway debate.
Recently, I’ve been thinking that for most readers, the briefing note has begun to serve as a classic MacGuffin. In film, a MacGuffin is a kind of plot device: an object at the centre of the story whose definition and actual content are not necessarily all that interesting or clear to the audience, but one that serves the role of driving the conflict in the storyline and revealing things about the characters. The briefcase in Pulp Fiction is a famous example (we never even learn what’s in it). The jeweled statue in The Maltese Falcon is another.
Even the name “briefing note” seems to fit one famous prototype of a MacGuffin, that of obscure official documents — like the “letters of transit” in Casablanca or the “government secrets” in North by Northwest. So much action centres around these pieces of paperwork, and we come to understand the characters because of the things they do to get them or protect them or learn about them. But what’s in the documents isn’t all that interesting.
I imagine most Torontonians feel a similar disinterest in the policy advice in question here — though the drama it has inspired may be a different matter.
The briefing note has certainly been at the centre of plenty of conflict — already it’s been a prime force in a $3 billion-plus government decision, then the subject of reporting on factual inaccuracy and political misrepresentation, then became the topic of an auditor’s report, and now this, 18 months later.
And we have certainly learned some things about our characters along the way, too. Councillor Josh Matlow sometimes seems to have been possessed by it, like Charles Foster Kane mumbling about Rosebud, or like some subway Ahab hunting the great white elephant. Matlow’s discussion of the briefing note has almost come to seem a regular monthly feature of council business.
Which brings us back to this week’s plot twist. Byford has long insisted that the note was prepared on the TTC’s own initiative — indeed, the auditor backed this claim after an investigation. Councillor Josh Matlow has long questioned this, publicly suggesting the mayor’s office or the TTC chair may have had something to do with directing it. Byford is so annoyed with this Matlow questioning of him that he has filed a formal complaint.
Now Matlow shares with us that Byford himself, in a 2016 text message, was the one who told him it was politically directed.
“We have prepared a BN at the chair’s request for the mayor’s office,” the text begins. Seems pretty straightforward now where Matlow got the impression Byford had gotten political direction.
And it puts into context, a bit, Matlow’s obvious incredulity in an exchange before council last month, when Byford answered questions from the councillor by insisting that the TTC chair and mayor’s office had nothing to do with it, and that lack of involvement on their part had been “crystal clear from the start.”
Perhaps he had forgotten what he texted Matlow back at the start?
Or perhaps not. “Byford, at times reading from a prepared statement, didn’t refute that he had sent the text or dispute its contents, but claimed the message was ‘consistent’ with his earlier statements on the origin of the briefing note,” my Star colleagues reported Wednesday.
In the interview, my colleague Ben Spurr pushed to clarify. “You say the text is consistent with what you’ve said previously on this. Help me understand that, because just earlier this week you said specifically that the briefing note was prepared for you, and specifically not for the mayor. And in the text you said it was for the mayor,” Spurr asked.
“What I’m saying to you, is I’m crystal clear, and it’s clear from the evidence trail within the documentation that we gave to the auditor general, that it was my chief of staff who prepared it for me, in order that I was prepared for questions about this upcoming debate,” Byford replied.
But the question wasn’t about that and whether it was true. It was about this text he acknowledges sending to Matlow that says the opposite. The obvious innocent explanation is that he was mistaken when he sent the text to Matlow — that he’d been caught off-guard by the mayor’s office’s leak of the document, and that he’d made an incorrect assumption or clumsy wording in sending a text before he’d checked with his own staff to see what was what.
He does not offer that easy explanation. Instead, he gives us the gibberish that the text and his later public statements that directly contradict it are “consistent.”
Crystal clear. War is peace, black is white, up is down.
And of course, Matlow only shared this text because Byford, on his way out the door with “nothing to lose,” as he says, filed a formal complaint against him. For spreading what he sees as a smear, that it turns out Byford himself originated.
For a guy complaining about how accusations related to politicization have “wounded me terribly,” this tangled web of confusion seems almost, well, political.
All this unfair criticism and political accusation and maneuvering must have gotten to him. No wonder he’s leaving. His wounds can begin healing, presumably, in just weeks when he gets to start anew in the quiet, genteel, apolitical pastures of New York City transit.
Hey, it makes about as much sense as the rest of it. Crystal clear, right?
With files from Ben Spurr.
(@)Edward Keenan - Columnist
Published on 07 Dec 2017 at 11:35PM