By Laura King
Oct. 19, 2015, Toronto – Politics. Like you, I'll be watching closely this evening, probably on CBC. But it's not Stephen Harper or Justin Trudeau I want to talk about – although I will note that there was barely a word from either of them, or Mr. Mulcair, during the 11-week campaign about public safety.
Rather, the politics of fire – more specifically, fire chiefs – is on my mind today.
Last week, the fire chief on Salt Spring Island, B.C., was let go; no reason was given. Two weeks ago the chief in Corner Brook, N.L., was told his job was redundant. Fire chiefs in Oakville, Caledon, Midland, Middlesex Centre, Norwich, Port Hope and Amherstberg, Ont., Prince George, B.C., and Prince Albert, Sask., have left their jobs. There are others – the chief and deputy in Chestermere, Alta., gone, a couple of weeks ago, and quietly, I might add.
Some have resigned rather than endure public humiliation.
So, what's up?
Politics. Perception. Personality clashes – with the mayor or council or the CAO. Labour versus management. Witch hunts. You name it.
There are, of course, two (or more) sides to every story but certainly, in some cases, the chiefs have taken the fall.
I'm not privy to the details of each circumstance (I do know the minutia of some situations, although I won't divulge here for obvious reasons) but it seems to me that there's a common factor in many of the departures – integrity: chiefs unwilling to cut corners, compromise safety for firefighters or taxpayers, bite their tongues when hostile community groups or firefighter associations hijack the agenda.
The Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs and labour lawyers have advised chief officers for years (since Richard Boyes left Oakville) to protect themselves – to negotiate exit packages before they take the job. That doesn’t help chiefs who have been around for a while (Neville Wheaton had been chief in Corner Brook since 2001 and Tom Bremner in Salt Spring since 2009), but it’s a solid recommendation.
Save your emails and your performance reviews, don't put anything in print you don't want to appear in the local paper, operate by the book . . . you all know this.
Most importantly, preserve your integrity.
Because, if you look around, many of these chiefs who have been fired or dismissed or let go or resigned are fire chiefs or big wigs somewhere else now, or they're being head hunted.
In Ontario, CAOs – particularly in smaller municipalities – seem to come and go. I have no idea if this happens in public works or parks and rec or planning departments. It doesn't matter. It's happening to fire chiefs.
So, as you vote today and watch the results this evening, think about politics and integrity – two words that perhaps shouldn't be juxtaposed in a sentence about the federal election but have become reality for the fire service.