Political Analyst and Observer, Bill Longworth's, Weekly "Eye on City Hall" Columns, as published in Oshawa, Ontario, Canada's Oshawa Central Newspaper

Monday, May 31, 2010

There are Strange Things Done Neath Facebook’s Political Sun

“Eye on City Hall”

A column of Information, Analysis, Comment, and unfiltered opinion
Bill Longworth, City Hall Reporter
May 31, 2010

You can tell when a politician is on the run. That’s when they start striking out and threatening and bullying. And in a sign of true weakness, after all of the bluster fails to work, when the opposition is unyielding, they retreat, with their tail between their legs.

Their character also shows when they attempt to dominate all the conversation…cause if you’re dominating the floor, no one gets a chance to question or dispute what is being said. As one very popular Oshawa City Politician advised many years ago, "If you don't know what you're talking about, talk loud!"

And when all this fails, a politician on the run threatens to sue to silence those communicating information they don’t want the public to know…even if the info seems innocuous on the surface. And so Oshawa's Councillor Brian Nicholson threatened to sue me last week for reminding him to document his employment record outside of politics on his resume…but more of that later!

We have had classic examples of all of this political theatre during the past week, with Councillor Brian Nicholson at center stage.

It started innocently enough. A concerned citizen, Ms. Jennifer Evelyn, decided that she’d get in the game and try to compile information about city council candidates for the illumination of her fellow voters. This is especially important now that we have the general vote which will produce such a giant ballot that it will be near impossible for voters to get to know the candidates.

As all city council candidates were seeking to be hired by the Oshawa voting public for the position of city council member, she figured it would be useful to start a facebook page to host resumes for the candidates. After all, they are all attempting to be hired by the voters, and a resume would be basic to help voters decide whom to “hire.”

As a Mayor Candidate, I quickly posted a resume with a list of credentials and accomplishments on Ms. Evelyn’s site. Councillor Louise Parkes said she’d pull one together and post it…although as of this writing, it has not been posted.

Sometimes politicians promise things that they have no intent on doing. They feel that the political capital comes from the promise and not from the follow-through. They figure the promise will be forgotten, but that they can pick up some valuable political capital in the process.

By way of apparently supporting the public agenda, some politicians will even offer suggestions to make the request stronger.

When Ms. Evelyn requested resumes, Councillor Brian Nicholson posted a host of additional items to be asked of resume respondents and, as is his habit, gave a myriad of Nicholsonian suggestions. When pressed for his own resume, he explained it was posted elsewhere without giving the location.

When pressed for further resume details, Nicholson pointed out that he had a BA in economics and political science, and then gave a lengthy list of City and Regional Economics, Finance, and Budget Committee Chairmanships he’d held.

His degree in economics certainly would have garnered him some votes for the chairmanship of these committees. After all with that economics major, he would look like a trained guru of economics to his fellow city and regional politicians.

Nicholson failed to provide information about the details of his university education and so he was asked some basic information---Which university?...And when? When this information was not forthcoming, I, and others, decided to check up on Nicholson's claim to that Trent University BA degree in economics and political science that he said he had.

During the process, and in response to all the resume advice Nicholson had provided on the site, I posted a remark that it was worthwhile to bring some “real world” experience to political office. I specifically mentioned that Nicholson should detail his work as a jail guard and as a life insurance trainee, the dates of those jobs, and why he left them. This is what got his ire up.

I thought asking why he left those jobs was a legitimate question any job interviewer would ask. Nicholson, however, responded to this simple question in an unusual way.

“If you have info you’d like to share about this, go ahead, because my lawyer needs the work, and the last guy who broached this subject lost a defamation lawsuit,” Nicholson wrote on the facebook site.

I couldn’t understand why such a simple question would strike such a hostile and sensitive nerve. Maybe there is something there the public should know…if only to know why a lawsuit is threatened with such a simple question regarding past employment history. I was floored by Nicholson’s aggressive response!

All Nicholson’s sensitivity over my simple question started me wondering when this former jail guard/life insurance trainee got that degree. Why was he so hot? Did he get it on the taxpayer’s dime too? Did we pay for his degree just as we sucker taxpayer’s paid for April Cullen’s and James Anderson’s MBA’s?

When we requested details about Nicholson’s degree, where it was from, and the dates, he quickly pulled all references to it from the places where I’d seen it and had previously printed off a copy. Nicholson then removed all of the many comments/suggestions/information he had provided on Ms. Evelyn’s facebook page…a page and a topic that he seemingly enthusiastically endorsed earlier.

Now that’s funny. Why would he pull his comments and suggestions and threats of lawsuits and references to his university degree from the page? Something seemed rotten in the state of Denmark! Nicholson’s action to pull all of the stuff he had written on the page sent inquiring minds a flutter! Good thing I’d previously printed off all the pages with Nicholson’s advice, threats, credentials and comments!

We started to wonder whether Brian Nicholson had the degree that he claimed he had. After all, that economics training may have been influential in getting him those chairmanships in the Oshawa’s Economic Policy Committee, Durham Region Budget Committee, Durham Region Finance Committee, Oshawa Library Finance Chair, and the many other Finance/Economic Chairs that he noted he held in his time in elected office. He seemed like the finance/economics guru of Oshawa and Durham Region. And all these chairmanships probably stem from his claim of a university degree with a major in Economics and Political Science. And wouldn't he be called a fraud if he got all these important positions based on credentials he claimed he had, but didn't?

And so we called the registrar of Trent U and asked whether Brian Nicholson ever earned a Trent Degree. “Nope,” we were told, “Nobody by that name is a graduate of Trent.”

Maybe Nicholson was mistaken about his graduation from Trent University. Maybe he graduated from Queens, or U of T, or Harvard or some other university….or even some Southern online institution that will send you a diploma on anything you want…but I guess we’ll never know.

But the whole thing and sequence of events does lead to some serious questions. In the meantime, we’ll just have to believe Brian. He says he has a degree---we just don’t know where its from, what dates he attended, or indeed who paid for it. We just know that he doesn't have the Trent University Degree he claimed. And hopefully the taxpayers didn’t shell out a dime for Nicholson's education---that’s for sure! Maybe Oshawa City and Durham Regional Councillor Brian Nicholson will clear up all these mysteries for us.

In another Nicholson “play of the week,” discussions are sweeping the nation about politicians at all levels releasing detailed expense records. After all, it is our public money and we have a “right” to see how it is being spent, don’t we?

And so Brian Nicholson jumped on this horse.

At widespread public suggestion that politician expense records should be published in Oshawa, and following some council debate, Brian Nicholson moved a motion that detailed line-by-line records be released for all politicians for each year over the last four year term.

He undoubtedly knew that it didn’t have a hope in hell of passing, but it was opportunity for some good press and worthwhile political gamesmanship in this political year, boosting himself up while pushing opponents down into the sewer---perhaps where some of them would be if records of their expenses ever did become public.

He could once again appear the defender of the public purse, maybe all the while hoping like hell that his motion didn’t pass.

When the full-disclosure motion was defeated, Nicholson announced with some fanfare that he was going to "direct staff" to compile his record of expenses which he would then post, and he challenged all other council members to do the same. I have not yet seen Nicholson’s records posted but await their publication and will confirm in this column when I see them.

Hopefully, like the immediate political capital idea expressed earlier, this promise to post was not just more political bluster with Nicholson finding some excuse in future not to post, or conveniently forgetting the promise, feeling that all political benefits have already accrued with his announcement and challenge to his fellow councillors, and that the whole thing will now just go away.

I hope Nicholson’s full disclosure motion was more than just good political theatre knowing that it was not going to be passed. In the meantime, Nicholson can look like a hero to those who are concerned about political spending.

There are two problems with Nicholson’s blustering “DIRECTION TO STAFF” pronouncement to release his expense records.

As an individual member of council, he cannot direct staff to do anything. Direction to staff can only come from council and that requires 5 votes in addition to Nicholson’s. Even if Mary Anne Sholdra was absent yet again for another crucial vote, he’d still need six votes as tie votes are lost.

Interestingly, Mayor John Gray’s input into the discussion was a motion that full disclosure should be confirmed for the future only, allowing politicians to clean up their future spending “P’s & Q’s” while continuing to hide present and past spending indiscretions with the taxpayer’s dime.

Now, back to defending myself on that threatened lawsuit, Nicholson v Longworth.

EDITOR'S NOTE---When all candidates were asked to complete questionnaires for recent OTW Candidate Election Profiles, Brian Nicholson stated that he was only a high school graduate with some courses in Economics and Political Science....Guess he can't sue me now if I call him a liar and fraud for misrepresenting his academic credentials, can he?

Be sure to follow Bill’s radio broadcasts, “Eye on City Hall”,
every Monday, 6-9 pm EST, on http://www.ocentral.com/thewave/

Monday, May 24, 2010

The System is Broke and Needs to be Fixed

“Eye on City Hall”
A column of Information, Analysis, Comment, and unfiltered opinion
Bill Longworth, City Hall Reporter
May 24, 2010

Voices are being raised widely that the municipal election system being used in the Province of Ontario is broken and needs fixing. Factors such as career politicians, limited political turnover, election funding, voter turnout, ethnic diversity, giant advantages of incumbency, public cynicism, etc. have all been cited as contributing to low voter turnout. Provincial Legislation which sets the rules for these elections have been reviewed for revision but only minor tinkering has occurred.

None of the big issues that need fixing have been approached by the Provincial officials and their political bosses, probably due to the fact that a great number of provincial lawmakers have arisen from the municipal scene. These guys would hardly want to upset their municipal political brethren and friends, or indeed upset the apple cart that led to their own lengthy political careers, would they?

A group called “Better Ballots,” led by Toronto activist Dave Meslin, has been organized to bring “grass roots” awareness and interest to municipal elections and he was in town last week to address a Durham Chapter of Better Ballots organized by Bruce Wood, President of Oshawa Ratepayer’s Association.

Better Ballots Toronto has compiled a survey of 14 election ballot and voting possibilities and have been surveying citizens to establish what would make a difference to voter participation and turnout, and one of the local papers had an online poll of the survey .

A number of items on the “Better Ballots” survey have to do with making voting more convenient (weekend, online, and telephone voting), lowering the voting age, and extending the vote to permanent residents. These are “apple pie” changes and should be implemented without question.

Internet and telephone voting would undoubtedly increase voter turnout. Despite politicians publicly citing low voter turnout as a problem, privately they like low voter turnouts because that favours incumbents.

Online voting was voted on and defeated by Oshawa City Council as incumbents probably thought the general vote “incumbent advantage” would be reduced if voters could research their vote and then vote from their list. We certainly will be publishing lists to help voters with this task of choosing.

Council rationale for defeating internet voting revolved around security concerns, yet they collect taxes and allow for paying of parks and rec course fees, etc. on the net. And, of course, there are many jurisdictions in Ontario that already have internet voting…so those security concerns are council fantasy---or stretching at straws to support stuff they wanted to avoid! Forget the voting convenience, Oshawa!

Lowering the voting age is another “Better Ballots” good idea. Civics classes in high schools would certainly improve student’s knowledge of the candidates and habits started early often persist into the future. Start-em-young, I say!

Pre-election contribution disclosure is another “Better Ballots” good suggestion. While this may not increase voter turnout, it may affect voter selections. Mayor John Gray, for example, gets close to 80% of his campaign financing from the development industry. This may pre-dispose him to support zoning changes and subdivision approvals needed by developers and city infrastructure expenditures like water and sewage expansions helpful to the development industry but at great cost to the taxpayer.

Knowledge of campaign funding sources would be useful information prior to elections as it is certainly believed by many, that, “He who pays the piper calls the tune.”

While many of the Better Ballots ideas may improve the election voting process, I feel that there are major systemic problems with the entire election process that have to be addressed to effect real change in improved voter interest and turnout and a real change to the improvement of municipal governance.

I do believe that the "Better Ballots" proposal for term limits is crucial, and I was a guest panelist on the Dec. 8/09 TV Program, Goldhawk Live, arguing just that.

There is so little municipal turnover in the Province that, it has been reported, that only two incumbents out of Ontario’s largest cities were defeated in the last municipal election. So little turnover allows for inadequate room for council renewal and also sends the message to voters that the act of voting does not matter.

Election to council has become lifetime employment for many municipal politicians and prohibits new blood with new ideas and real world work experience from coming into the political fold.

This is certainly true of Oshawa City Council which has a number of members who have been on council for over 20 years and some with very limited or no other work experience.

Rather than legislating this change, the past Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing indicated term limits was a decision for individual councils to make. Of course the Minister that uttered this ludicrous suggestion had a vested interest as he resigned his MPP position shortly thereafter to attempt to return to his former job as Mayor of Ottawa. I would support petitioning the Minister to make term limits the Provincial Law as sitting council members are unlikely to vote to limit their lucrative council seats.

Many of the problems with municipal voting are systemic problems that have not been addressed by the “Fair Ballots” ideas although I applaud their efforts at suggesting reform.

I have SIX KEY SUGGESTIONS that I believe would lead to real reform leading to much better municipal governance and a growth in participation and voting:

ONE---For increased government accountability, municipal political parties (distinct from Provincial and Federal Parties) should be allowed. They are already legal in British Columbia and Quebec and should be here.

Oshawa’s general vote, for example, is impossible for voters without the use of local municipal parties that would simplify the huge ballot into various “teams” with the platform they promise to deliver.

Each political party would then go to the people with a platform.
The platform itself would provide the key choice for voters rather than the individuals involved.

The members of the party would be expected to implement the platform or run the risk of losing support in the next election.

At present, municipal politicians run as individuals and cannot make promises or be held accountable for council decisions as they have only one vote independent of all others on council.

Municipal parties would provide some obligation on the part of their associated politicians to support the group platform or risk losing group endorsement in the next election.

It is a more accountable process if you know what you are going to get before the vote and hold politicians to account to deliver on their promises.

Voting for a party with a platform would provide voters with a real sense of having a “say” in their governance and a crucial role in setting the direction for their municipality on all the key issues. It would also provide politicians with voter support for implementing the initiatives, especially big ticket initiatives, they had promised.

TWO---Campaign costs are “out of line” and eliminate many worthy candidates from participating. Michael Bloomberg, Mayor of New York City, for example, spent $100 million on his campaign. Costs are escalating in Oshawa, as well, where the upper limits for a Mayoral Campaign are $110,000, for a Regional Campaign about $90,000, and for a City Councillor Campaign about $80,000. These costs are outrageous and eliminate most citizens from considering political office.

I believe all political campaigns should be publicly funded. This would eliminate the risk of donor control of council members and their votes, and also, in recognition that different constituent groups bring different interests, skills and backgrounds to the council table, allow for inclusion of a broader spectrum of citizens to the political process.

Campaign variables such as print advertising, signs, political forums etc. would be highly regulated and publicly and minimally funded and supplied by the municipality using its tendering and bulk purchasing powers.

Many candidate forums would be organized and funded by the municipality, as would flyer production and delivery as responsibility to insure an informed electorate would rest with the city.

Every candidate would have identical opportunity to present themselves to the voting public thus presenting a level playing field to all.

Candidates would be required to post bonds of approximately $2000-$3000 to insure serious campaigns, and this would be refunded if they secured 25% of the winner’s vote tally.

This process would allow all serious candidates to run and would not put rich candidates at an advantage because of money or incumbents at an advantage because of their ability to raise donor funds from the development industry.

All city election costs would be recouped by the city through a reduction in the present excessive political salaries and expense budgets.

THREE---Voting is not only a right, but a responsibility that many people of the world would give their right arm for.

Therefore I would introduce incentives to vote. I would assess a minor voting incentive “tax” as part of the property tax bill for every homeowner in the city. This would provide a monetary “reward” of perhaps $20 for every citizen casting a municipal vote.

The total payout would be totaled and recouped by way of tax assessments over the following four year council term.

A heightened obligation to vote would also encourage responsible citizens to get to know the candidates and hopefully select a stronger council.

FOUR---Council salaries and expenses are getting out of hand. Sitting as a municipal councilor is not a job but a privilege.

Therefore I would support fixing council salaries at those of the average worker in Ontario as assessed by Revenue Canada data and not the executive salaries and perks city politicians are commanding today. The Ontario Provincial Legislature put a ceiling on the salaries of School Trustees a few years ago and they should extend salary limiting legislation to city politicians.

FIVE---Over the long haul, I would favour working with Durham Regional Councillors and the Ontario Provincial Legislature to eliminate Oshawa City Administration and Council as well as those of all of the local city municipalities within Durham Region.

This was done by the Mike Harris Gov’t in Toronto and the City of Toronto now has the lowest taxes in the GTA. A $350,000 Oshawa house, for example, is taxed at the same rate as an $880,000 Toronto house.

Oshawa City Council costs about a third of your property tax bill and yet has very few important responsibilities as all of the major responsibilities were given to Durham Regional Government when it was formed in 1973.

Region wide planning of our Fire Protection Services and our Parks and Rec Services would result in far more strategic placement of these facilities.

Eliminating Oshawa City Council and Administration would cut out significant overlaps and duplications of service to result in huge tax savings.

At the same time, you would still live in Oshawa, just as residents of North York, Scarborough, or Etobicoke still live in those places, despite the fact that their local governments were eliminated many years ago.

SIX---I would support petitioning the Provincial Government to mandate the publication of detailed itemized expense reports on city web pages. Citizens have a right to know where every one of their tax dollars are being spent and publication of this information would insure careful consideration by politicians of all of their expense spending. This is a current issue at all government levels but disclosure has been denied by Oshawa City Council.

At the Federal Level, the $503,500,000 spent annually by our 308 MP’s, an average of $1.634 million per member, is coming under closer scrutiny and MP's feel mounting pressures to allow for an audit by Sheila Fraser, the Federal Auditor General, but this has so far been denied by parliament

If all these changes were implemented, I guarantee Municipal Governments across the Province would be more vibrant and voter interest and participation would increase exponentially.

Editor's Addendum
Every political system is broken and needs to be fixed. Movements such as the Occupy Wall Street Movement and a recent grassroots movement to amend the USA Presidential Election System are proof positive of the need to bring fairness and the ordinary citizen's participation into the process.

Be sure to follow Bill’s radio broadcasts, “Eye on City Hall”,
every Monday, 6-9 pm EST, on http://www.ocentral.com/thewave/

Monday, May 17, 2010

Politics Has Opened to the Masses---Get involved!

“Eye on City Hall”
A column of Information, Analysis, Comment, and unfiltered opinion
Bill Longworth, City Hall Reporter
May 17, 2010

As the election approaches, city politics seems like a war zone with facebook war-of-words battles breaking out everywhere and politicians attacking each other incessantly.

But what can you expect when the politicians have introduced the general or city wide vote which not only robs the various communities of their guaranteed community representation at city hall, but has produced a dysfunctional council by making all politicians competitors with each other for the same vote.

These are functions of the general vote that I predicted when I made a number of presentations to city council opposing the general vote. At that time, I said the politicians would backbite, bitch, bicker, and grandstand trying to grab the press leading to an unproductive and dysfunctional council and large parts of Oshawa would become disenfranchised over time as all of the political representation would come from a few of the richer areas of the city. We now see these predictions coming true in spades.

But the last thing we’d expect is for city politicians to take out their vitriol on voters who want to express their opinions. After all, that is a right we have in this country…right? But the unheard of is happening.

One Columbus resident who has been active as a responsible and committed citizen in working to preserve the rural uniqueness of her community has received the despicable scorn of Mayor John Gray and Councillor Brian Nicholson when she made a presentation to the May 3, 2010 meeting of the Development Services committee of Council. She addressed Durham Region’s planned amendments to its official plan pushing for about 3,000 hectares of prime agricultural land north of the proposed highway 407 to be rezoned for employment and residential use. Ms. McConkey argued this was hasty and premature rezoning of farm land which would quickly lead to urban sprawl. This rezoning of agricultural lands (Regional official plan amendment 128 *Durham Region Growth Plan passed by the Region last June but not yet approved by the Province) involves land mostly already owned by the Development Industry and is favoured by John Gray who is Chair of the Regional Planning Committee. It is interesting that Mayor John Gray gets close to 80% of his campaign donations from the Development Industry, and with so much cash coming from the Developers, Gray may very well be seen as a representative of the Development Industry and not at all of the people of Oshawa.

Interestingly, Queen’s Park agrees with Ms McConkey and, is expected to issue a formal denial of Durham’s rezoning attempts. The Province is not happy with the excessive amount of land the Region wants to earmark for future residential and employment land. In order to justify paving over more green space than sanctioned by Ontario, Durham officials set aside the province's population and employment forecasts and insisted their region would have 25,000 more jobs than expected by 2031.

John Gray, Durham Region Planning Committee Chair, supported by his #1 supporter, defender, and apparent sidekick, Brian Nicholson, seem very defensive about the Province’s probable rejection of Regional Rezoning Plans and unleashed their despicable vitriol on Ms. McConkey at the May 3, 2010, Oshawa Development Services Committee Meeting. You can view a video of their disrespectful and alarming attacks. This video gives ample example of the dysfunction of this council and also the disrespect some city politicians have for its citizens.

John Gray’s and Brian Nicholson’s despicable attack on a concerned citizen is difficult to believe as this kind of disrespect coming from elected officials can never be justified. Their questioning of this citizen debutant borders on the type of hostile cross examination worthy of some major criminal trial…except that the judges in those cases would demand greater respect of the accused.

This behaviour is just one more indication of why Oshawa is becoming the laughing stock of Canada...Cullen Miniatures, MBA's, Stephen Colbert Day, mayor's use of city charge card to pay off Provincial Offences fines, money losing GM Centre, unnecessary demolition of council chambers and City Hall "A" wing, handling of student housing issue, raids on student housing with police and locksmiths to go through student personal belongings looking for leasing documents, Regent Theatre, highest taxes in GTA, demolition of North Oshawa Arena and The Civic because of surplus of ice pads after construction of Legends Centre and agreement with UOIT with their ice pad complex, the Mayor's bright yellow "boy toy" gas guzzling muscle car, pathetic state of the downtown, the lake front/marina fiasco, etc., etc., etc.

We need a change of leadership in this city---and we need it fast to limit the damage!

Facebook pages mounted by Oshawa Citizens indicate a new age of politics is upon us. Not only are many of the pages informative and entertaining, they are changing the face of political campaigning and opening up information and opinion opportunity to every interested citizen Information generation and flow is no longer just the purview of the commercial media or those rich enough to buy media space or those prominent enough like incumbent politicians to get free media coverage. Every person’s ideas and opinions can now be expressed and widely diseminated. And politicians are finding it impossible to hide information or hide behind the press.

This week, for instance, we have learned that Councillor Louise Parkes, the city council rep on the Downtown Business Improvement Area, has been accused by former BIA members of being asked by Parkes to write letters to the editor supporting Parkes. Doesn’t this smell like the supportive letters to the editor disgraced former Conservative Cabinet Minister Helena Guergis directed her political staff to write to newspapers following Guergis’s temper outbursts during airport security checks when she was leaving Prince Edward Island in the last months?

We also learned that Councillor Brian Nicholson who regularly cuts readers from entry to his facebook pages when they disagree with him or correct the "misrepresentations," “spins,” and "lies" he tries to foist on his readers, it has been widely alleged that he has created facebook aliases to allow him to eavesdrop surreptitiously on facebook commentary about him and use these aliases to anonomysly write supportive and "apparent" third-party rebuttals in response to any negative commentary about him that is running rife over the facebook accounts of Oshawa residents, many of whom have expressed the idea that he must be defeated in the next election.

For your entertainment, you could do a search on facebook and find pages entitled, “Brian Nichulsoncullanclarkeydodadee,” “Candidates Behaving Badly,” “Stop Bullying in Oshawa Politics,” “The "SHWA" Dictionary,” “I Love The Oshawa Bunny Ears Man!,” “You know you're from Oshawa when...,” “Say 'NO' to Louise Parkes for Oshawa Politics,” etc., etc., etc.

This listing of facebook pages having to do with Oshawa City politics is certainly not exhaustive. Virtually every declared candidate has mounted both facebook pages and websites.

And more interesting, informative, and entertaining stuff is cropping up every day.

We have entered a new age of politics. It is impossible to hide information from the masses and everyone can have their say.

Maybe this is “true democracy!”…just like those early days in Greece when the earliest forms of democracy emerged---when everyone had their say and town meetings were the order of the day...

Perhaps we have come full circle. The grass roots are becoming more important in how we’re governed.

Now folks…We just have to get out and VOTE! This is our responsibility and an opportunity many people in the world would give their right arm to have.

Be sure to follow Bill’s radio broadcasts, “Eye on City Hall”,
every Monday, 6-9 pm EST, on http://www.ocentral.com/thewave/

Monday, May 10, 2010

Thanks for all your help boys…Don’t know what we’d do without ya!

“Eye on City Hall”
A column of Information, Analysis, Comment, and unfiltered opinion
Bill Longworth, City Hall Reporter
May 10, 2010

We’ve just passed the Federal Income Tax deadline and so that seemingly never-ending river of cash that floods governments at every level is obviously on our mind. No wonder they all seem compelled to spend like drunken sailors just to keep from drowning in all our cash.

And now on the eve of the new HST, which will increase Ontarian’s family tax loads by almost $800 annually, our minds are becoming focused on just what we get for all this money.

Recently our Prime Minister prorogued parliament so his commitment to Canada’s business did not interfere with his enjoyment of the Olympic Games. His $9000 an hour flights on government jets cost taxpayers about $45,000 for each of his trips to Vancouver or $90,000 for the round trip. This is only a small portion of his costs, however, when his accommodation, hospitality, security, venue tickets, etc., are included. His total Olympic costs undoubtedly cost the taxpayer tens of millions of dollars.

When Harper's Defense Minister, Peter McKay, took the same flight some months ago, he was asked by the press why he didn’t fly commercial. “Because it didn’t meet my schedule,” he responded. Well lah de lah. I took a flight out to Vancouver to volunteer in the Olympics, and guess what, I had to make my schedule fit the plane’s schedule. I couldn’t ask all you taxpayers to pool your cash to send me the Harper/McKay way!

Anyway, all this got me to thinking about where a lot of our tax cash goes and this exposes that strong sense of entitlement, the wastage, and the secrecy in too many places, even here in Oshawa with our local city government members, some of whom would be unemployed and unemployable were it not for their council seats. It's a fact that not one of our sitting council members made nearly as much in the private sector as they do from their Oshawa City Council political positions! And none of them has ever lived as high on the hog as they do now snorting at the public trough.

It’s not only here in Oshawa where Mayor John Gray feels he can use your tax monies to fund MBA’s for his friends, pay off parking and other bylaw infraction fines using a city visa card, use your tax monies to provide himself with a $40,000 birthday party, demolish council chambers and parts of city hall so that he and his political friends can get bigger office spaces and their names on a new building, and Louise Parkes, arguing for bigger office budgets so she can travel more on your dime, or Brian Nicholson arguing that university tuition money should be hidden in office budgets to hide these expenditures from you. After all, our taxes are the highest in the GTA and among the highest in the country and we wouldn’t want to lose this distinction, would we?

So Council…keep on spending, spending, spending….and we’ll keep on giving, giving, giving!

Whatever you do, don’t jeopardize our #1 rating as top taxpayers in the GTA! We want everyone in the GTA and in Canada to “Prepare to be amazed”….After all, city taxpayers reportedly spent $100,000 for some creative mind to come up with this motto-crap under our Mayor’s watchful eye.

Of course, voters have to be concerned with more than excessive spending by City Council. We have to be concerned that Councillors do not give away the store. How so, you ask!

Elections are expensive. With the General Vote and City-wide campaigning in Oshawa now, the upper spending limits for city councilor, regional councilor, and mayor are now approximately $80,000, $90,000, and $110,000 respectively. Politicians turn chiefly to the development industry for their election funds. Of course, we know he who pays the piper calls the tune…and so the developer’s political donations are nothing more than vote buying. Pleasing donors with "friendly votes" insures repeat donations for the next election. Thus politicians may give away our city store.

Politicians may give away the store, as is the case in Oshawa, with the smallest development lot levies in the GTA thus forcing the highest property taxes in the GTA on residents. Taxpayers then in Oshawa are called upon to subsidize the housing development in this city.

The largest proportion of campaign funds in Oshawa comes from the Development Industry with Mayor John Gray leading the pack getting the 77.47% of his campaign donations from the corporate sector.

Part of the real concern about use of our tax monies is the secrecy involved.

Because of inadequate controls, politicians can spend their office budgets with impunity. They can use these for hosting their friends at the Legion, buying birthday gifts for their children, taking their friends for a big night on the town, or buying flowers for their spouse. While all of these are admirable expenditures, they are not admirable uses for your tax money or mine.

When John Gray spent $40,000 of your tax money on the Stephen Colbert Day (The Mayor’s birthday party), he refused to let even his fellow councilors know the cost and it was left to one of them to file a $100 freedom of information request to get the costs disclosed.

Even at the Federal Level, the 308 MP’s and 105 Senators are very secretive about their “office budgets”, an acronym, of course, for the personal expense use of our tax funds and have been resisting audits of that half billion dollars of “petty cash” by Federal spending watchdog, Sheila Fraser, for some time. Each MP and Senator burned up $1,210,653.75 on average for their expenses...amazing.

All parties are complicit in upholding the culture of hidden Ottawa receipts, one of the few stashes of taxpayer funds not yet subject to review and audit. They have their own Public Accounts committee of parliamentarians to do this, they say. Unlike the spending scandal by British parliamentarians that ended the careers of 30% of them in 2009, we have no castle moats to clean in Canada and our guys don’t pay prostitutes for their professional service…oh yeah!

Locally here, city politicians rave that their salaries are tied to salary increases won by unionized city staff. I fail to see how this justifies politician’s excessive salaries. Doesn’t this tend to allow for excessive wage increases for all city staff as the politicians realize that they will personally benefit from big staff increases?

And salaries are excessive! An inspection of Ontario’s “Sunshine List” (Public Sector Salary Disclosure List) shows over 100 city employees making over $100,000 annually.

An email I received, signed “Angry Taxpayer” asked me to explain how at least 12 Maintenance Supervisors in the Regional Works Department could be making over $100,000 per year and why a foreman on an asphalt crew made over $130,000 when this job in the private sector would pay less than half of that. You’ve have to admit there are no explanations except that things are running wildly out of hand…and you and I, Mr. and Mrs. Taxpayer, are paying for this largesse….even while struggling to put bread on our own table!

Recently questions of mileage allowances have been in the press. One Toronto city manager who earns in excess of $170,000 claimed $17,483 for business use of his automobile in 2009, a Toronto city engineer claimed $29,000 in the last two years and the highest claiming Toronto politician, Norm Kelly, claimed $14,000 in the last two years. That’s only slightly higher than the $10,400 tax-free every one of our Oshawa politicians claimed over the last two years. But hey! Our politicians don’t deserve near as much as those Toronto guys because our guys don’t have to drive so far and we don’t have to cope with all that heavy city traffic.

Some Oshawa city employees are claiming over $800 weekly for using their own vehicle for city business. That’s more than many workers in this country get in salary and more than it would cost the city to rent a vehicle from Enterprise or one of those big rent-a-car places.

But who gives a damn about costs when you can just reach deeper into the pockets of those generous Oshawa taxpayers to fund all your extravagances.

And now we find out that Regional politicians from Ajax, Pickering, and Clarington are sitting on the board of Veridian Corporation and Pickering reps are reaping handsome stipends and expenses of $29325 (Dickerson), $27845 (McLean) and $15493 (Pickles) annually to oversee the operations of the former municipal electrical distribution companies they sold to Veridian. The two Ajax and the two Clarington reps are no doubt harvesting the same.

No wonder we’ve been hearing rumblings for years about Oshawa City Politicians wanting to sell Oshawa taxpayer owned Oshawa Power Utilities Corporation to Veridian….There’s big personal bucks sitting in those hills for the politicians to do this. Many of the City Politicians could add another $30,000 to their annual income by selling off OPUC in exchange for a job of sitting on the Veridian Board of Directors….Isn’t it great how politicians are always looking out for our interests?

Thanks for all this public service boys….don’t know what we’d ever do without ya!

Be sure to follow Bill’s radio broadcasts, “Eye on City Hall”,
every Monday, 6-9 pm EST, on http://www.ocentral.com/thewave/