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Editorial: Reading between the lines of the transit scandal report

Mayor Brian Bigger ran on a transparency tickets and painted himself into a corner when it comes to the Sudbury Transit scandal
Mayor Brian Bigger addresses media during a press conference last week during which he released the findings of an independent report into the Sudbury Transit scandal. Photo: Matt Durnan

It’s not the result everyone was hoping for — perhaps Mayor Brian Bigger most of all.

Last week, the mayor unveiled the results of an independent report into the Sudbury Transit scandal.
The city paid $50,000 for the report by Investigative Solutions Network. Though heavily redacted in parts, the report writers said they found no evidence any city employee colluded with a numbered company owned by former local businessperson Tony Sharma to defraud the city of hundreds of thousands of dollars in transit ticket money.

The report did find staff was inexperienced and poorly managed — basically, they were somewhat incompetent, but not criminal.

That there is no one person to point the finger of blame at is unsatisfying to be sure — to us, as taxpayers, but it has to be disappointing for the mayor, as well.

When he was campaigning for the job, Bigger often alluded to getting to the bottom of things, to lifting the curtain at city hall. He ran on the transparency and accountability ticket, and he waved that ticket for all he was worth. 

It’s a big reason he won the election, by playing on people’s distrust of city hall.

So for Bigger to have to stand in front of us and say, basically, I can’t give you anyone's head on a platter, is disappointing for him politically.

It’s all the more disappointing given he vowed to release a forensic audit into the transit scandal only to discover said audit was never actually completed.

However, just because the ISN report didn’t point a finger at anyone person in particular, doesn’t mean there was no fallout from the report, even if no one expressly said so.

Because it seems conspicuous that two city managers parted ways with the city the week before the mayor released the redacted ISN report. The conspicuity of those departures is increased by the fact the city managers in question — transit director Roger Sauvé and transit operations manager Robert Gauthier — were both employed in the transit department.

The city wouldn’t say if either man was dismissed or had resigned, but the proximity of their departures to the release of a report that basically called their handling of the Sharma ticket debacle incompetent is telling.

It isn’t a smoking gun, mind you, but there is a distinct odour of cordite in the air.

If the end of Sauvé’s and Gauthier’s time is related to the transit scandal — that is to say if their departures were disciplinary in nature — we believe the municipality should come out and say so. As we reported three years ago, Ontario’s privacy laws don’t apply to disciplinary actions against employees. 

In 2013, we spoke to then privacy commissioner Dr. Ann Cavoukian. She told us in the Information and Protection of Privacy Act doesn’t cover “disciplinary measures that have been taken against individual employees.”

Of course, the city might have its own policies or contract provisions that prevent disclosure.

Either way though, the departure of Sauvé and Gauthier a week before the unveiling of the ISN report appears designed to send a message: We can’t tell you who’s to blame, but here’s two people who were in charge at the time, so put two and two together and stop bothering us about the Transit scandal.

We, as taxpayers, are out more than $500,000 ($550,000, if you include the cost of the INS report) because, as the report contends, city staff screwed up their handling of the file. We might still be out the money, but two of the people who were in charge of transit at the time are no longer with the city and the mayor says steps have been taken at the city to prevent such a similar screw-up from happening again.

Bigger says he won’t talk about the issue publicly anymore and suffered some criticism for taking that stance, maybe rightly so. But really, given how things have played out over the past two weeks, what else is there to say?