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

Monday, July 26, 2010

Mayor John Gray and His Merry Band of Beaver Killers

“Eye on City Hall”

A column of Information, Analysis, Comment, and unfiltered opinion
Bill Longworth, City Hall Reporter
JuLY 26, 2010

At the June 28, 2010 city council meeting, city council were presented with a staff report that addressed the problem of a colony of beavers building dams in the Goodman Creek storm management retention pond. It reported that city staff had engaged trappers to ensnare the colonizing beavers with underwater traps. This would cause the beaver to die a slow and terrifying death by drowning.

If you mistreated your dog in the same fashion, you would be called up on the carpet and subjected to a lengthy prison term, and an examination of the state of your mental health.

This deplorable staff information was accepted unanimously without comment by any member of council who are used to voting to destroy or demolish everything that comes to mind---city hall, North Oshawa arena, the civic, rundle house, the downtown, etc., etc., etc….and now, the Goodman Creek beaver colony!

This is just another episode in a never-ending litany of incidents, bad judgements, and political pratfalls by our current crop of Laurel and Hardy Keystone Kops "Comedy of Errors" City Council that can’t seem to get anything right. It would all be so funny, if it weren’t so damn serious.

This city council is so politically inept that it trashes this city under the “bad publicity” bus with virtually every action it takes.

This week, it’s the Goodman Creek beaver colony….next week---stay tuned!

This city council is so inept that city staff must be toying with the politicians by slipping in this beaver killing information at the last council meeting prior to the October 25th election. Perhaps city staff, like many city residents, wants to see a complete Election Day wipeout of all of the present incompetents.

Voters will have an important choice to make on the Oct 25, 2010, voting day---whether to re-elect the incumbents to give us more of the same incompetence and lack of responsible oversight or to replace the old and tired faces with new who would be more alert to responsibly managing the affairs of this city.

Voters will have the choice to have more beaver cullings, more MBA tuition fundings for politicians, more needless destruction of city arenas, more life-time retirement benefits for politicians, more needless and expensive construction projects like replacing our iconic council chamber and “A” wing of city hall with a misplaced aluminum-clad beer-can replacement, more salary and benefits perks for politicians, more Cullen miniatures purchases, more student housing fiascoes, more high taxes, and the never-ending list goes on...OR a complete break with the past and the election of a complete set of new faces on city council.

In watching Oshawa elections for the last 30 years, I’ve never seen such potential political talent stepping up to the election plate as I’ve seen this year.

Every councillor has a duty to yell and scream when they see irresponsible or unethical actions or bad judgements being made by council or city staff, or any individual member of council. Instead we see a council that is not self-policing in any way…a council whose members jump on politically expedient bandwagons only after bad/unpopular decisions have been exposed by the public.

Every member of council was silent on this “beaver issue” like they were so deafeningly silent on actions such as funding the $46,000 MBA’s or the $45,000 Mayor’s birthday party Stephen Colbert day, or the $1/4 Million Cullen Miniatures purchase, until the wastefulness was exposed by private citizens. And only then did some see political opportunity in jumping on the bandwagon already exposed by private citizens.

Voter’s have to be cognizant of those politicians who speak out of both sides of their mouth at once…voting one way at council and then supporting the opposite positions to voters.

This is not the first time this city council has voted in support of inhumane killing of beaver in this pond. They reluctantly admitted to killing six beaver here in November, 2009, after first lying to residents that the beaver had been captured and relocated.

The November killing raised considerable public furor at the time and you’d think that the fuss raised would have taught council and city staff that the public would not condone this brutal action. Guess they are either slow learners or just don’t give a damn about voter’s concerns.

Of course, we all know that staff can take control if there is weak leadership at the helm...and Mayor John Gray is often seen as an enthusiastic cheer leader for city staff. In his hard hearted fashion, fully supportive of the staff decision to slaughter the beaver and refusing to call a meeting to review the matter until forced to do so by a petition of the majority of council, Gray intoned, "We just have to get rid of those critters some way."

I received an email from Andrea Bragg, an Oshawa resident concerned that beavers in Goodman Pond were once again being inhumanely killed in the same barbaric fashion as last fall, and that despite the public concern raised at that time, city staff have not come up with recommendations that would include relocating the animals or installing a beaver pipe that would control water level buildups at the same time as allowing the beaver to continue to exist in the pond.

Ms. Bragg suggests that city hall’s action to drown the beavers, which graces Oshawa’s Coat of Arms in recognition of it being a First Nation’s Trading Post for beaver pelts in earliest times, is brutal, unethical, and unacceptable in present times.

Besides, beavers presence in the retention pond and their subsequent raising of water levels has resulted in the emergence of a more diverse ecosystem including ducks, swans, herons, fish, mink, muskrat, turtles, frogs, snakes and foxes, and a more interesting mix of plant life---a little bit of Canada’s cottage ecosystem right in the middle of Oshawa. Hell, the beaver are providing free engineering and labour to do a job of parks beautification and naturalization that city hall and its taxpayers would otherwise be spending big bucks to do. Perhaps city hall sees these busy beavers as a contentious labour issue!

The vast majority of city voters would agree with Ms. Bragg and it is totally unbelievable, that in this election year, no city council member would object to the inhumane culling of this beaver colony.

Ms. Bragg said her group was ready to call in the Toronto media, even though, as she says, “This city does not need any more negative publicity.” In my response to Ms. Bragg, I suggested that she should call in the Toronto media as the most expeditious way of trying to save the beaver, since any reasoned plea to city council usually falls on deaf ears, especially as council has recessed for the summer and will not now be meeting until after the October 25th election.

Even adverse publicity has not stopped this city council from irresponsible action in the past, but it is the best hope Ms. Bragg’s group has of stopping the senseless slaughter of the Goodman Creek beaver colony.

Ms. Bragg and Marissa Kata organized a protest rally attended by about 55 residents and a couple of city councillors at the Goodman Creek Retention Pond on Saturday, July 17. They also invited the Toronto Press.

In preparation for the July 17th event, concerned resident Jack Snedden was checking out the surroundings around the Goodman Creek beaver pond. Despite city hall’s assertions that the traps involved were underwater snares, he found two “loaded” beaver traps partly buried in the mud and vegetative material surrounding the pond. Had children stepped on these, they would have been seriously injured with expensive potential lawsuits lodged against the city.

Councillor Brian Nicholson, who was at the rally, insisted that these snares were not the ones engaged presently by the city and that these must have been left over from last November in the last beaver cull.

This lack of care is even more serious if the traps had been left there over the winter and had not been collected and accounted for by the “experts” who were paid to set the traps on behalf of the city.

As a result of the protest rally, enough councillor signatures were gathered to hold a special city council meeting on July 21 to review the earlier beaver killing decision. A motion by Brian Nicholson to immediately stop all beaver killings in the Goodman Retention Pond and for city staff to come up with a comprehensive plan to control water levels and flooding potential in city beaver ponds was passed on votes of Brian Nicholson, John Neal, Robert Lutcyk, Tito Dante Marimpietri, and April Cullen.

Opposed to the motion, and continuing to support the brutal slaughter of the animals, were Mayor John Gray and Councillors Nester Pidwerbecki, Joe Kolodzie, and Mary Anne Sholdra.

This was such a hot issue that Mayoral Candidates, Councillors Louise Parkes and John Henry, were not there to vote on this important issue---Guess they didn’t want anyone to know how they felt on this important issue and that speaks tons about their potential leadership of city council.

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, July 19, 2010

City Politicians Signal Intention to Work to Rule---an Early Victim of the General Vote

“Eye on City Hall”

A column of Information, Analysis, Comment, and unfiltered opinion
Bill Longworth, City Hall Reporter
JuLY 19, 2010

City politicians have now voted to “Work to Rule!” They have decided to withdraw their service from responsibilities that don’t provide them a salary.

They will no longer serve as unpaid Council Representatives on the many Volunteer Boards of Community Organizations that create the social fabric of Oshawa life---like the Volunteer Board of the Oshawa Senior Citizen’s Centers.

City politicians have shown it is not important work for them to sit on these boards. Hopefully the many city volunteers who have sat on these boards for many years, and perform invaluable efforts on behalf of this city, will not follow the politician’s lead and make the same service withdrawal decisions. If this becomes the case, these organizations will flounder and fold and Oshawa and its citizens will be the losers.

Hopefully the community volunteers will prove to be more responsible than our city politicians and will not withdraw their service.

Councillor Nester Pidwerbecki was at a McLaughlin Art Gallery show opening a week ago representing the Mayor who was on a midweek holiday. Pidwerbecki was approached by a senior---a cultured lady who asked, “Why is city council withdrawing city council representatives from the Senior Citizen’s Centers Board of Directors?”

Pidwerbecki responded with the same stock answer he gives for taking a lead role in introducing the general vote to city elections.

“We have a new philosophy at city hall,” he said. “We want all of our council members to take a city-wide view in their council duties. We don’t want politicians to become parochial by taking on any special interests. And besides, he said, the councillors assigned to these non-paid roles never show up anyway.”

Perhaps Pidwerbecki was talking about himself for failing to attend as Council Rep at Board Meetings of voluntary organizations he was appointed to. Perhaps he showed up at this art opening only because its election year.

By withdrawing from the local volunteer boards, Politicians are isolating themselves from important aspects of city life. In Pidwerbecki’s comment, he also inferred that politicians don’t take interest in attending volunteer boards unless they are paid. Some philosophy eh?

The lady responded to Pidwerbecki’s explanation, “How will city council know what problems and challenges Oshawa Senior Citizen’s Centers are facing? Who will champion our interests and our needs on city council? Who will be our liaison with city administration?”

“Everyone will represent your interests on city council,” Pidwerbecki responded. “With our new philosophy, everyone is responsible for everything. That’s why we have introduced the general vote for the upcoming elections---to remove councillors from taking a special interest in any specific community.

How about applying Pidwerbecki’s philosophy to your workplace? Wipe out all of the specialized responsibilities of the staff and make everyone responsible for everything. Would anything get done? Of course not! When everyone is responsible for everything, no one is responsible for anything. It’d be a recipe for disaster in your workplace. Same for city hall!

For effective work, responsibilities have to be assigned. The benefits of assigned division of labour has been known and practiced since the beginning of time. Perhaps our council dinosaurs and flat earthers are in a time warp regressing beyond the cave man that even then practiced division of labour assigned responsibilities.

The general vote is seen by many of our aging councillors as a way they can reduce their workload and semi-retire, at the same time as securing their council seats till their death or resignation, and calling for greater salaries, office staff, and office space, because the 160,000 city size of their constituency will be twice the size of that of our MP’s and MPP’s.

Why a reduced workload? Half of a ward councillor’s responsibility and effort is looking after constituent concerns. Community work is time consuming, but with the removal of ward councillors, no politician will be specifically responsible for answering the concerns of any community or representing its needs on council. With the few votes your local concern represents, city politicians will not be any more interested in handling your problem than sitting on Boards of our voluntary community organizations, which is the first formally reduced workload casualty of the general vote.

Why a more secure job tenure? The maximum cost of city wide elections now has been pegged at $80,000 for city councillors and $90,000 for city and regional councillors, both about 7 or 8 times the maximum cost of ward elections. The only candidates able to raise campaign funds are the incumbents who take donations chiefly from the development industry, in return of course, for favorable votes supporting their donor’s projects. The high cost of elections wipe out serious and competitive campaigns of the vast majority of candidates since the only source of campaign financing for non-incumbents is their own bank account.

Over time, because of the high cost of city wide elections, all city councillors will eventually come to reside in a few of the richer areas of Oshawa leaving vast areas of the city unrepresented and forgotten on city council.

Pidwerbecki’s idea of politicians taking a city wide view to reduce parochialism is a spurious and misleading argument.

Ward representation didn’t result in parochialism among politicians. Every council action required a majority vote of ward councillors---the building of the Legends Centre in the North end, the building of the South end recreation centre, purchase of the Cullen miniatures, city hall reconstruction and refurbishment, demolition of North Oshawa Arena and the Civic, failure to protect historic Rundle House from the wrecking ball, etc., etc., etc.

Ward politicians have two functions---1) To look after the overall interests of the city, and 2) To handle the constituency concerns of their ward residents. This important latter function will be lost with the general vote.

In actual fact, the general vote will result in increased parochialism by city politicians. As all politicians come to reside in a few of the richer areas of the city, won’t these richer areas be better served by the politicians? We are already seeing this with the demolition or planned demolition of all south end arenas except for Donovan depriving the less mobile south end children from skating/hockey opportunity. These south end arenas have been replaced with new arenas in the newer richer North Oshawa communities. Rather than reduced parochialism, the general vote will result in increased parochialism as the politicians look after their home communities first.

If there is merit to the argument that city wide elections provide better government, we should apply the General Vote principles to Federal and Provincial elections which presently are ward systems. We should wipe out individual ridings to let politicians run across the Province and the Nation. The result? You guessed it! All of the MP’s and MPP’s would come from the higher population centers and low population low voter areas would be continually unrepresented and forgotten.

This is exactly what will happen in Oshawa with the general vote. If the general vote is better, wouldn’t it be used widely in the country? In fact, Oshawa will be the largest city in the country to use the general vote without the use of municipal political parties which are at present illegal in Ontario. The general vote is used only in small centers in the Province. Experts from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing have quoted an optimum size of about 20,000 for communities to use the general vote, which interestingly is also quoted as the optimum size for wards.

Oshawa general vote politicians will have constituency sizes about twice as large as our MP’s and MPP’s, a ludicrous state of affairs for local government which is supposed to be closest to the people.

This “parochialism” argument that Pidwerbecki put forward in terms of justifying politician’s withdrawal of city council representation on the voluntary boards of city organizations is a spurious bit of misinformation that Pidwerbecki spouts from time to time.

When we first got ward elections in 1985, Pidwerbecki was not on city council. He applauded the move as one of the best things to happen to Oshawa. “Now we shall see new faces on city council,” he said. “We will get rid of the country club that has been there too long!”

Now as a 20+ year member of the country club he once derided, he now champions its return. What a self-serving hypocrite!

His biggest bit of misinformation, though, was his comment on why Oshawa needed the general vote. “Oshawa is just getting too large for ward elections,” he claimed.

Of course, we all know that the larger a municipality, the more it needs ward elections. Can you imagine the City of Toronto going to city wide votes and voters across that city coping with a book-sized ballot of hundreds of candidates to select the 43 or so to be elected to Toronto City Council?

Does Pidwerbecki think the Oshawa voters are stupid?

We have seen city council devoting much time and effort in looking after their own self interests….improved health benefits, MBA education benefits, increased salaries, and handsome retirement/electoral defeat settlements---but the greatest foist of all was the introduction of the general vote.

Hopefully all of the strategizing they’ve done to look after their own self interest will backfire this time, and the whole lot will be turfed out on their ear.

We need politicians interested in looking after Oshawa for a change.

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, July 12, 2010

Clothes Make the Man…Even Transforming Mild-Mannered Clark Kent into Superman

“Eye on City Hall”

A column of Information, Analysis, Comment, and unfiltered opinion
Bill Longworth, City Hall Reporter
JuLY 12, 2010





How appropriate! The Queen is in Manitoba laying the cornerstone for a new Museum of Human Rights as I write this column on Canada Day Weekend. This has been a defining year for our Nation---the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, the Queen’s Canada Week Visit, and the recent G8/G20 Conference. This was a year Canada made a mark on the world.

The world view of Canada has changed forever.

The recent Vancouver 2010 Olympics were accompanied by serious security and safety concerns, and so the police presence was highly visible. Everywhere you looked on every street corner were police from across the country proudly displaying the regular uniforms of their police service which acted as a symbol of a strong unifying force within the country….police from every region of the country pulling together for the common good and they did us proud. They were everywhere, groups of two or three police smiling and chatting amicably with passersby as friendly helpful faces assisting the crowds. And everywhere you looked, public areas and secured areas were defined by colourful posters in the green, blue, and white colours of the Vancouver Olympics, displaying motifs of the various winter Olympic sports.

Protesters came from far and wide to oppose the tremendous costs which might well have been diverted to the homeless, the poor, the native communities, the environment, or to combat corporate irresponsibility and inequitable distribution of wealth, etc. Similar protests accompany all world gatherings for the rich and privileged.

Some of the protesters were professional protesters---social activists moving from site to site to exhort their views. As with all such protest groups, the vast majority were simply law abiding spectators witnessing the event or enjoying the party atmosphere….not much different than witnessing Canada Day Celebrations at Parliament Hill or spectating at the Gay Pride Parade or Caribana or the Santa Claus Parade.

There is a possibility of problems everywhere that people gather---and everywhere it is the police responsibility to protect the public safety. They also have the responsibility to uphold Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms which guarantees citizens freedom of thought, belief, opinion, and expression, freedom of peaceful assembly, and freedom of association. The Charter also protects citizens against unreasonable search and seizure, and the right not to be arbitrarily detained or imprisoned. Upon arrest or detention, the Charter gives the citizens the right to be promptly informed of the reasons, to retain counsel without delay, and to have the validity of the detention determined. All citizens have the right not to be subjected to any cruel and unusual treatment or punishment.

Toronto Police Motto---"To Serve and Protect"...Photo Credit--Richard Lautens, Toronto Star


Every one of these constitutionally guaranteed rights and freedoms were widely ignored during the G20 Conference as if they didn’t exist. And so police actions are going to be tested in court actions brought by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, and calls to the Federal Government for a public inquiry are being made by Amnesty International, and after rejecting public inquiries into the police action, the Toronto Police Service Board has now acceeded to public pressures announcing an independent public inquiry as I write this. The Ontario Ombudsman is investigating the misinformation given by the police about their ability to demand identification of everyone approaching within five metres of the secured meeting area or face arrest.

A facebook site with over 10,000 "friends" as I write this has been established to document some of the policing infractions and increase public pressure for an independent public inquiry over the G20 police actions.

The police presence at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics handled security well. The few minor problems that erupted were handled with dispatch, professionalism, wisdom, and only the necessary police presence. No huge police demonstrations of strength and power were evident which would have incited rather than ameliorated any potential problems.

The Olympic security organizers must have attended Psychology 101 lectures and were well aware that aggressive behaviours provoke an aggressive opposition. Too bad, the G20 security organizers didn’t attend the same lectures.

Everyone knows that dress defines a person’s attitudes and behaviours. And in all of the resulting personas, the behavior is largely predictable. Dress can even turn a mild mannered Clark Kent into Superman---a superhero in battledress---ready to fight aggressively for his beliefs.

In Toronto, the 10 foot chain link security fence and the massed police presence numbering in thousands clothed in riot gear was in stark contrast to the Olympics security measures. The G20 police with their shields, billy sticks, hard helmets, face masks, and black superhero outfits defined the police attitude, and foreshadowed the predictably aggressive behaviours the police were to deploy. The police rhymically banging their shields with their billy sticks revved up the crowds and stoked up the cops. All of the trouble provoked by the police was predictable.

Such though is to be expected as a function of a federal “law and order” government that sees everything as white and black, as either good or evil, with little in between, a party so strict in its party discipline that all messages are controlled by the prime minister’s office. I suspect that the parameters for policing this summit were laid down by the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) and its “iron hand control” over everything it touches. This philosophy of absolute and overwhelming power never works. And now the Harper Government want no part of any probe that may point a finger back at them!

What a contrast, the Olympics policing and the G20 Toronto Summit policing, where the massed police presence, oppressive visual appearance, and aggressive policing philosophy has been highly criticized with widespread calls for a public inquiry and the resignation of Police Chief William Blair. Hundreds of YouTube videos of G20 police action have gone viral and have trashed Toronto’s reputation as one of the world’s great cities and destroyed Canada’s reputation as a peaceful, free, and tolerant nation with a great respect for human rights and democratic freedoms.

Police action has defined Canada and the G20 Summit with headlines in the national and international press like, “G20 Summit: smashing,” “A Black Eye for Democracy,” and “Brutal spectacle failed a city and its people.”

A YouTube search will unveil thousands of videos of questionable police action with the super-hero clad police in huge numbers advancing lava-like in their star-wars getups, morphing over protesters and spectators alike, and then rushing, apparently unprovoked, into the crowds with their billy sticks swinging and sucking up individuals to be dragged behind the police lines, roughed up in many cases while the police immobilized them with plastic ties fixing their wrists behind their backs before dragging them off. In some cases rubber bullets and tear gas were fired into the crowds. In one video, I saw, a young man was hugging his obviously frightened girl friend when the police, probably in a display of macho dominance in front of the girl, power-dragged him off to her screams. In another video, the police advanced aggressively swinging their billies on a group sitting passively on the road singing Oh Canada, with their backs to the officers.

You tube videos will also show massed riot gear clothed police officers "kettling" citizens who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and indiscrimately detaining and arresting them. Similar incidents in a recent London England economic summit were found by the British High Courts to be illegal and this will have some impact on class action suits of those similarly detained in Toronto.

Interestingly, there was no police presence around the burning cruisers or around those causing mayhem on the streets. As police seldom abandon their vehicles, there is speculation that the police planted and abandoned cruisers in the “trouble zone,” and may even have been responsible of torching them with some of their members planted among the protesters. There have been reports that the torched cars had been stripped of all of their computer and communications gear and fuel and gas caps before being abandoned. It was interesting that no police or fire service intervened to stop or limit damage to the police vehicles, nor, despite the presence of thousands of security cameras and police helicopters, was there any police presence around a Black Blok group rampaging up Yonge Street smashing store windows from Queen to College.

It has been stated by some of the police involved that they were ordered to “stand down” and not intervene in some of the destructive havoc being perpetrated by the Black Blok anarchists.

A theory being advanced is that authorities needed to allow and possibly incite some level of destruction to combat public criticism of the immense security costs.

This would not be the first time that undercover officers have infiltrated rampaging protesters and took a lead as Agent Provocateurs in instigating violence and destruction. In the 2007 Montebello Summit, police admitted such actions following press photos that showed three members of the rampaging and destructive group of rioters were wearing the same police issued riot boots as the riot gear clad officers.

The media and viral YouTube visuals are not what anyone previously would have identified with Canada or Canadians. In future, it will be hard for government officials to criticize nations accused of practicing police/government brutality against its own citizens.

Close to 1000 innocent citizens, the largest mass arrests in Canadian history were arrested and detained in crowded holding cages with open door toilet facilities, no beds, and inadequate food and water over the G20 weekend, and about 800 were released without charges showing the arrests were unjustified, while the remaining 200 were charged with minor offences like resisting arrest.

The unjustified detentions and use of excessive force is now the subject of lawsuits being raised by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and Government Officials have now acquiesced to public pressure and have announced a public inquiry into the G20 police actions.

As Thomas Jefferson once said, “When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty. Let’s hope that the recent G20 tyranny turns to renewed liberty, as those responsible for this assault on Canadian people pay the price, through the ensuing lawsuits and public inquiries.

We can’t have this happen again in Canada!

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