Friday, January 19, 2007

Fantino whacks Woolley’s woolly comedy

“I intend to outlive all my detractors” Richard Nixon reportedly said. Unfortunately, that was not the fate of Mike Harris’s first transportation minister, Al Palladini. Al’s sudden death of a heart attack in March 2001 – and the subsequent election of Greg Sorbara to Al’s 905 seat – marked the beginning of the twilight months of the Harris regime (Harris announced his retirement in October 2001).

But it is noteworthy that one of Al’s detractors, OPP Sergeant Cam Woolley, has been silenced. New OPP Commissioner Julian Fantino (a constituent of Al’s) has shut down Woolley’s roadside comedy stylings, which were a feature of many long weekend newscasts and print media headlines.

I had the pleasure (and terror, and many other emotions) of working for Al during his time as transport minister. One of the files he inherited was a coroner’s inquest report into two deaths caused by flying truck wheels. The report made approximately 35 recommendations to improve truck safety, which Al set about implementing.

Bizarrely, Woolley chose Al’s tenure to make it known – publicly and repeatedly – that, no matter what it did, the new government was doing a less-than-adequate job on truck safety. Who knows, maybe he thought he was helping. One would think that Woolley’s immediate superiors would have told him that if he wanted to run for office, he should take a leave and do so, but for some reason Woolley was untouchable.

Woolley also distinguished himself by pronouncing that Highway 407 – then under construction – was going to be unsafe because it lacked a centre barrier. These warnings were torqued by the always reliable Toronto Star.

One school of thought inside the government was that the blame for any safety problems could be put at the feet of the NDP government that let the contract to build the 407. But Al was keenly aware that over a billion dollars of taxpayer money had been borrowed to build the highway, and it would be irresponsible for the government to essentially wash its hands of the project.

A safety review by an engineering firm found, not surprisingly, that the highway was likely to be just as safe as any other 400-series highway (and in use, its safety record has been exemplary). The engineers also found that a centre barrier would be a detriment to safety, as cars straying into the barrier would likely bounce back into traffic and hit other vehicles.

Given Woolley’s bleatings about road safety, it is at the very least odd that in recent years he has regularly provided amateur-night-style comedy routines to GTA-area TV and radio stations, centered around the unsafe drivers and vehicles caught in the net of the OPP’s highway blitzes. Budget-conscious media outlets quickly realized that Cam’s camera-ready lines provided them with useable tape without the bother of having to assign a reporter. But, as Fantino noted in his remarks to Canadian Press yesterday:

“There's nothing funny about unsafe motor vehicles or what people do out there to put the public in danger,” the commissioner said Thursday in an interview.

He said he doesn't want to hear any more “humorous stories about those who compromise public safety,” colourful anecdotes that he complained members of the media tend to focus on.

“I think it trivializes the carnage and the reality of the danger that's out there.”

Amen. And it can’t be good for the OPP to have one of its uniformed officers giving public auditions for “Last Comic Standing.” Happy trails, Sergeant Hollywood.

Postscript: True Blue, however, has a different take on this.


Joanne (True Blue) said...

Well, I wasn't aware of all the background info that you were obviously privy to..

Maybe it's not such a bad thing after all then. Thanks, Joan. I'm feeling better now!

Anonymous said...

The weekend blitz has been a lame method of enforcement. Regular and frequent enforcement (cameras?) is recognized as more effective. The problem has been resources. Sgt Cam is a joke. As much as I think Fantino is (has been) a bozo, he has my support.