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

Monday, August 30, 2010

Some Visions for the "Greening" of Oshawa

“Eye on City Hall”

A column of Information, Analysis, Comment, and unfiltered opinion
Bill Longworth, City Hall Reporter
August 30, 2010

There is widespread concern that the world is being paved, that scarce resources are being wasted, and that pollution is in danger of destroying this world as a habitable place.

Thus the worldwide growth of the “Green” movement with growing political power in most developed corners of the world. This growth, of course, is representation of a growing public recognition and endorsement of the problem.

Unfortunately most governments are far behind the people in recognizing the problems and now have to wake up and take action before destruction occurs beyond repair.

We can never bring back those bits of heritage we demolish, those fields of green we pave, those oceans of water we use as a waste dump, the air we breathe after spewing with chemical and waste particulate matter---purposely it seems, almost like some decongestant, without knowledge or apparent concern of the health impact it has.

Thus governments spend multimillions of our tax dollars on a giant incinerator on our Oshawa doorstep because no one else wanted it. Our residential footprint is growing ever steadily now reaching almost to Hwy #7 and from our Eastern Townline all the way to Toronto. Roads are being constructed to taking ever increasing populations of commuters to Toronto while traffic jams have idling cars spewing more pollutants into the atmosphere. Our city government is blowing up city buildings like council chambers and city hall “A wing to construct bigger monuments to themselves. Gone are heritage buildings like Rundle House which was important enough to be featured on a city brochure, “Historic Walking Tours of the Oshawa Downtown,” and the Civic, the house of Bobby Orr, and the world that was, is nothing more now than memories.

Just when will the madness end? The only thing we’ll have left will be images like The Thomas Bouckley collection of historical photos, samples of which always hang in the back hallway of the McLaughlin Art Gallery.

All of this destruction everywhere will have an effect, not only on the physical health of humankind, but also on the mental and emotional health of people.

We have an increasing crime and mental illness problem worldwide with heinous unexplainable crimes appearing in the news too frequently.

Has anyone wondered whether some of this is occurring because many humans are challenged by difficulty living in a world that just seems to be spinning too fast; a world where noise, speed, flashing colour, and a burgeoning inventory of ever-changing and short-lived products seems a stimulus revving up every physical and mental activity of the human body?

Everything just seems to be moving too fast agitating every human function. Everything is out of control...and it’s all affecting the human condition!

We need to look after our world. We need old time places and healthy and natural places where we can slow down our metabolism, appreciate our past, collect our thoughts, and unwind from the hustle and bustle that surrounds us everywhere in this modern world.

The time is now for governments at every level to recognize the problems and plan for a sensible world ahead. This is the reason for the growth of the green movement worldwide.

To help preserve our environment, to improve our quality of life, and help to save the world, I have some suggestions.

In Oshawa, we do have attractive well-treed and natural river valleys and walking paths, a high potential lakefront that I wrote about Aug. 16, in my article, “Big League or Bush League,” which you might read, some nice parks and flower gardens and boulevard tree plantings, but we do have a problem of planning with some of the rapid residential growth taking place north of Taunton---too many congested “cookie cutter” houses packed on uninspired subdivision streets which seem overflowing with parked automobiles and too lacking in open areas.

This type of uninspired housing is starting to encroach on the many historic hamlets we are blessed to have in Durham Region.

Just as the Province of Ontario legislated a greenbelt area that provided a buffer separating urbanization zones and protecting the Oak Ridges Moraine, I believe that Durham Region should revise its official plan to provide for buffer zones around the many Durham Region Hamlets like Columbus, Raglan, Ashburn, Leskard, Whitevale, etc. We must protect these historic places from being absorbed by subdivision encroachment. During the 1990’s, almost 50% of Ontario’s municipalities vanished through amalgamation. Buffer zones would protect a way of life and prevent these once-independent and historic hamlets from disappearing through subdivision or industrial encroachments or beneath the wrecking ball.

The common thought that bigger is better is a feeling that often permeates our thoughts. While women often know that the best things often come in small packages, this is a thought that has never entered our heads when we look at housing, and so the residential footprint continues to explode outward invading our best farmland.

To counteract this bigger is better attitude, as Mayor of Oshawa, I’d work to get some vacant land adjoining UOIT rezoned as a “special student housing zone,” where, we’d allow developers and investors to build creative prototype experimental housing with various high land-use intensification forms to complement Oshawa’s growing reputation as a high tech place with a high tech university.

In Tokyo, for example, where land is very scarce and costly, micro housing is becoming common as architects, builders, and planners construct housing on as little as 300 sq ft of land. The idea is to use the space to be minimalist and functional while still including the necessities and as much luxury and visual space as possible. The room and facilities are strategically placed enabling the occupants to have all the modern convenience in a small space.

The experimentation and construction of some forms of micro housing and modular housing and other creative housing prototypes here could showcase a new housing mindset for Canada and showcase the high tech, creative, and visionary thinking and leadership we have right here in Oshawa.

Who knows, “The Shwa,” may present a positive rather than a negative visual to the world---It may represent innovative, visionary, creative “out of the box” thinking---Shwa thinking, Shwa thoughts, Shwa leadership---you get the idea!

In terms of energy conservation, Oshawa could become a national leader in promoting whole subdivisions with solar electrical, solar water heating, and geothermal heat. This could be encouraged with an amendment to our development “lot levy” schedule of charges.

Cheaper development fees on energy saving subdivisions would provide incentives to developers to invest and cheap home energy costs would also provide extra incentive for buyers even at premium prices. Of course, my promise of annual 3% tax cuts until our average taxation reaches that of the GTA would also help market these, and all homes.

In terms of naturalization of our creek valleys, I’d stop all beaver culls in our creeks and flood retention ponds and allow natural biodiversity to flourish there. There are automatic water level maintenance systems and emergency pond draining systems that can be installed, where needed, to avoid flood damage. The beaver are willing to work for free to beautify the lands they inhabit, whereas it would cost millions of taxpayer dollars to do the same thing by human labour.

In terms of greening, I’d want the city to experiment with some natural wildflower and low maintenance shubbery boulevards to not only naturalize the beauty but also to decrease costs of grass cutting.

I’d also encourage the construction of community vegetable gardens in every part of Oshawa.

Oshawa has suffered from a lack of creative and visionary leadership and they seem to fall into every “pot hole” problem possible, resulting in frequent ridicule in the national press.

We have the “Shwa reputation” and city politicians are doing nothing to correct the image. They’re like canoeists alarmed by the sound of rushing water who keep paddling with increasing vigour towards the falls.

As your new mayor, we will have a new kind of creative and visionary leadership, a new vigour to renew this city, and a dynamic and inspired effort to make Oshawa the place you will be proud to call home.

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, August 23, 2010

Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive

“Eye on City Hall”

A column of Information, Analysis, Comment, and unfiltered opinion
Bill Longworth, City Hall Reporter
August 23, 2010

The inspiration for this column came from the cover picture on last week’s issue of the Central Newspaper. It pictured Mayoral Candidate Louise Parkes with the Istanbul Mayor, with whom she apparently had “exchanged ideas.”

The Central Newspaper Cover picture and caption were “lifted” from Louise Parkes’ Facebook Page where she had informed her facebook readers that she had met and discussed and exchanged ideas with the Istanbul Mayor.

This column addresses the practice of politicians, like Louise Parkes, and others who will be specifically addressed later in this column, of deceiving the public with a fragile and complex weaving of the truth, half truths, lies and lies of omission, in order to get the public to believe something other than the truth. Sometimes the web is weaved to make the politician seem more influential, important, and a “big shot” to their ardent supporters.

This was the thought I had when I first saw the picture and did a Google search of the Istanbul Mayor, something you can do for yourself. You’ll note clearly that the good-looking, slim, young guy with lots of hair, pictured with Parkes and whom she claims is the Mayor of Istanbul is not the same old balding guy that the internet pictures as the current Istanbul Mayor.

Is this a tangled and dishonest web of deception to “sell” Mayoral Candidate Parkes as more influential and important than she is? Next she’ll claim lunch with Barack Obama.

I can’t imagine the Mayor of Toronto or Vancouver or Montreal devoting part of his busy day to Oshawa Local City Councillor Parkes, never mind the mayor of Istanbul.

But dishonesty knows no bounds by someone impressed with their own importance. They may stop at nothing to deceive their followers into believing the same thing. Trouble is, dishonest politicians use the same practices in everything they do. If they’re dishonest in one circumstance, you can bet they’re dishonest in most others as a matter of everyday practice.

Parkes missed the special council meeting on the Goodman Retention Pond Beaver Cull and the word at the time was that she was on a special mission on behalf of the city to Europe. Now that sounds important!

As it turns out, she was part of a UOIT delegation supporting a “twinning project” they had established with a Turkish university. Why she was part of the delegation, or more importantly, who paid her travel expenses, is probably a good question that should be investigated. She does seem to do a lot of travelling and earlier in this council term had made a pitch for increased political office budgets to cover travel expenses.

For a politician that jumped with both feet onto the MBA funding issue for the political opportunism presented, only after it had been exposed by private citizens, it seems odd that she would try to increase her own “travel entitlements” at the behest of the taxpayer. It’s almost like the pot calling the kettle black! We’d think any politician who was awake at the switch would have blown the whistle when the MBA issue first came to council attention in the budget documents which she voted for. Perhaps Parkes’s jumping on the MBA issue was retribution for Cullen’s role in exposing Parkes for leaving a downtown restaurant without paying her bill which resulted in the firing of Cullen’s son’s girlfriend who was Parkes’ waitress.

Louise Parkes also voted, in every possible instance, against my attempts to inform Oshawa voters of the ward/general vote plebiscite issue, and obviously was one of the councillors who supported the entire “secrecy” strategy to avoid public knowledge, information, and debate about the issue, which would have raised public awareness before the plebiscite vote.

When I mounted a facebook page, Oshawa O’Neill Community, and made the statement, “Both your city councillors, John Henry and Louise Parkes, are supporting the general vote which will steal your community city council reps from you, and In the event of a problem in your neighborhood, there will be no politician directly responsible and accountable to you and your neighbors,” Parkes made the statement televised at council that this was threatening and slandering her.”

Parkes didn’t want the O’Neill Community to know that she wanted to rob them of their guaranteed representatives on City Council---Some Slander! Some Threat! Some accountability from the “slandered” councillor! She didn’t want her community to know her vote!

With giant hyperbole, at an all candidates forum held at Durham College for the 2006 Federal Election, Federal Liberal Candidate, and local city councillor, Louise Parkes made the incredulous claim that she was responsible for bringing huge Federal and Provincial and GM Grants to UOIT for the establishment of a R&D Automotive Engineering Programs and Facilities there.

She also claimed credit for bringing a new hotel/Conference Center to the downtown which has since fallen through, and claimed credit for bringing in Glyn Laverick as owner/operator of the Regent Theatre which failed miserably, and she was the chief architect of the $250,000 city purchase of the Cullen Miniatures fiasco, and the chief proponent of the city spending milions more to develop a site to host the miniatures.

Incidentally, Laverick, who also operated the Music Hall on Toronto’s Danforth Avenue went bankrupt last Thursday. Parkes has a way of picking out “real winners.”

With a record like this, I think Oshawa would be better off without Louise Parkes in the political kitchen. She’d probably even turn a lunch with Barack Obama into another disaster.

Parkes is not alone in lying to or misleading the public.

Perhaps the biggest political lie of all time was Mayor John Gray’s pronouncement at the April 30, 2007 televised city council meeting, just prior to council voting to adapt the general vote. He stated that city council had no responsibility to inform the public about the details of the plebiscite question---what it meant, why it was asked, what difference it would make, why a change was needed, etc. He said the communication responsibility was that of the public who should organize and fundraise to run an information campaign if they felt strongly about the matter.

Amazing!!!! City Hall asks a question....and then the mayor says its the public's responsibility to inform everyone about it. Incredulous!

John Gray knew that informal third party citizen campaigns were illegal according to section 39 and 82 of the Ontario Municipal Elections Act. He also knew that section 39(8) of the same Act gave municipality’s unfettered spending ability to inform their voters about plebiscite questions. He would also have known that an accurate measure of voter opinion required an informed public. Because Council failed to inform the public, and promote public discourse and discussion on the issue, they showed they didn’t care.

Instead, council knew the result they wanted and fooled voters with a trick question designed to get the result they wanted---the General Vote which protected incumbent’s seats for life, if past Oshawa history with the General Vote is any indication.

John Gray’s sense of democracy is more like Stalin’s or Mussolini’s when Canada’s Supreme Court has ruled regularly that an informed public is a vital and necessary component of democratic rule.

In that same televised April 30, 2007 council meeting, Councillor Joe Kolodzie said he’d never heard of a government informing the public about a plebiscite question. That, shortly after the Ontario Government spent over $6 million informing the Ontario public about their own electoral reform question on the last Provincial ballot. Even then, the Commissioner of Elections was concerned that not enough money was spent to adequately inform the public.

In a press report following the plebiscite vote, Councilor Pidwerbecki stated that Oshawa needed a change because it was just getting too large for the general vote. What misinformation spouted by a 20+ year veteran councillor. He knew exactly the opposite was true. The bigger the municipality, the more it needs to be broken down into wards.

As an aside, Professor Andrew Sancton, the most respected expert on Municipal Governance in Canada, was in Oshawa a week ago, and stated without reservation that city council was absolutely wrong to impose the General Vote on a city the size of Oshawa.

For some, the position defines their identity. When Councillor Parkes mistakenly addressed Mayor John Gray as Councillor Gray at a recent committee meeting that was videoed and went viral among local facebook readers, he indignantly exclaimed, “I’m the mayor!” He exclaimed the same thing to me just prior to the recent Mayoral Debate when I greeted him as “John.” As a former part time bookkeeper, I guess John needs his fragile vision of self importance re-supported regularly by the “Mayor” or “Your Worship” titles, the same way Parkes reinforces her vision of glory and self importance from the people she’s said she’s met.

Is there no room for honesty, integrity, accountability, common sense and good old fashioned values in Oshawa City Politics?

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, August 16, 2010

Oshawa---Bush League or Big League?
The Choice is Ours!

“Eye on City Hall”

A column of Information, Analysis, Comment, and unfiltered opinion
Bill Longworth, City Hall Reporter
August 16, 2010

At the first Mayoral Debates held at the Oshawa Golf Club on August 4, the Mayor Candidates were asked a number of questions, one of which dealt with the recently completed Harbour and Waterfront Agreement between the City and the Federal Government.

While I am pleased that the agreement returns significant acreage to the city, I am displeased that a key component of the agreement is to confirm our lakefront as a mixed-use industrial/recreational area with increased industrialization on the East Wharf.

This agreement gives veiled support for the construction of the proposed ethanol plant and a feeder railway spur line to the waterfront.

Oshawa Harbour Commission Chairman, Gary Valcour, in the Federal Press Release announcing the agreement stated that, “The agreement offers a strong message of Federal Government support for an industrial and mixed-use port in Oshawa providing current and prospective port users with the certainty needed for continued growth and investment.”

These words are very telling and clear---there will be expanded growth of industrial uses at the harbor. This increased industrialization which is one of the key components of the Federal and City agreement is of major concern. I feel that increased industrialization and recreation and greening of the waterfront cannot happily co-exist.

Increased port industrialization is inconsistent with what is happening at every other lakefront along the Great Lakes. Toronto has closed down virtually all of its lakefront industrialization---all of the grain elevators have been demolished and the warehouses have been turned into boutique retail malls. Increased industrialization is completely incompatible with creating a people place.

Mayor John Gray, in his simplistic and self patronizing way said, “Everything is wonderful---we are doing a great job---any criticism of city council is bad for Oshawa” and gleefully announced at the Mayor Debates that the settlement after 40 years of dispute is great, and gloated, ”Now we can get the marina built.”

The Mayor’s support for the waterfront deal and his haste to build the marina indicates, once again, the chief deficiencies of his leadership and his vision for this city. That is small-minded bush-league thinking which worships the past, piecemeal planning, and no vision of big league grandeur for this city.

I believe we need an integrated plan for the entire lakefront. A too hasty rebuilding of the marina will limit overall planning for a world class development.

With the waterfront agreement, I am afraid we will see a return of my earliest impressions of the Oshawa lakefront when I first visited as a toddler from Toronto with my mother too many years ago. Beyond my fascination with watching a “large” sailboat tacking up the channel to the marina, I still remember the dirt, the grime, the smell, and the visual pollution of the many oil tanks and the unkempt weedy fields on the east side of Simcoe a few hundred feet north of the lake and I remember how different it seemed to have railway tracks going down the centre of Ritson and Simcoe Streets. I even remember seeing a steam engine shunting its load down one of these main streets.

This waterfront agreement ushers in a return to these visions of the past. With this waterfront agreement, lakefront users will continue to be subjected to the noise, dirt, grime, odours, airborne pollutants, dispersants, contaminants and particulate matter, and visual pollution of smokestacks and rail spurs and truck traffic.

This increased industrialization plays major havoc with my plans for a world class development at our lakefront, one of the most naturally beautiful lakefront environments from Kingston to Niagara Falls.

The “East Wharf industrial barrier” will physically separate the west lakefront from the second marsh nature and ecological reserve and will prohibit integration of the overall development and ease of movement between the two.

In a time when Toronto and other inland ports are reducing the impact of industrialization and shipping at their lakefronts, Oshawa, with this Federal Government agreement, is going against the trend of the “greening” and “people-ing” of lakefronts.

Oshawa is a “bulk cargo” port when containerization is the norm, and Asia, rather than Europe, is the source for most imported and exported goods. This has made Great Lakes shipping less important than in the past. Goods arriving by container ship in Vancouver are moved overland by rail arriving in their original shipping containers even here in Eastern Canada.

The ethanol plant proposed for Oshawa would be better located in the Corn Belt close to its raw material on existing Trans Canada Rail Lines to reduce shipping costs.

The big thrust everywhere is to make waterfronts green and so all cargo warehouses and grain elevators have disappeared from the Toronto waterfront. If this is the trend in other places, why not here in Oshawa?

For the sake of a very few jobs and very minimal contributions to the economic well-being of Oshawa, we should not sacrifice the development and enjoyment of our lakefront for all our citizens. The proposed ethanol plant might employ 15 people and reduce lakefront enjoyment potential for 160,000 people…not a fair tradeoff by any measure.

Proper development to maximize people benefits at the lakefront has the potential to pour many more tax dollars into the city coffers than industrialization, and has the potential to increase real estate values in the entire south end and all of Oshawa, pouring millions extra into our tax coffers. Recreational, commercial, and residential uses will also generate huge capital and wealth creation to contribute to the Oshawa economy.

My lakefront vision as Oshawa’s new mayor is to discourage any industrialization of the lakefront and to instead develop our waterfront with all of its natural potential into a world class recreation and ecotourism destination and a prime residential area on Lake Ontario’s North Shore.

I would lead the city into sponsoring an international design and development contest attracting the best and brightest visionaries, architects, and planners from around the world to visit our lakefront to come up with integrated plans and ideas and proposals to give us a world class waterfront that would put a new face on Oshawa and give our lakefront iconic status similar to the iconic status of Toronto’s “New City Hall” which also resulted from an international design contest.

Any attempt to fast-track the marina without considering overall plans for the lakefront as has been suggested by Mayor John Gray, limits the integration of the overall design concepts for lakefront development…but unfortunately this short sighted planning characterizes city politician thinking resulting in giant problems like the student housing crisis around the university.

I believe that the lakefront development should be “big league” and not “bush league.” Besides a new marina, it would include high class condos separated by publicly accessible parks, gardens and walkways on the east side of Simcoe all maintained to parks standards by the condo developers. No development would block public access to any portion of our waterfront. All parking would be underground and all designs should be on a common nautical theme. All design schemes would include redevelopment of the present Lakeview Park and include plans for the entire lakefront including all lands over to the Darlington Provincial Park including enhancing hiking and viewing possibilities of the Second Marsh nature preserve.

All development would occur on city owned lands on which we would negotiate long term land lease agreements providing long term tax relief for the citizens of this city.

We need politicians who think big time---who have big visions and big plans and big confidence in Oshawa’s future to move us out of the bush leagues and into the big leagues. A place where people want to move because of the reputation of this city and its progressive leadership, and our quality of life---not because we have the cheapest and most affordable housing in the GTA.

Our lakefront can be a major tourist attraction, a major star on Oshawa’s landscape, an opportunity to put Oshawa and its lakefront on the national stage and a place to bring Oshawa national recognition that will make every city resident proud to call Oshawa his home…an opportunity to throw off the chains and reputation of “The Shwa.”

The proper “Big League” vision and approach will attract giant capital to develop our lakefront without costing the city taxpayer one dime and land lease agreements will provide tax relief into the forseeable future.

No longer should we accept being the doormat of the GTA.

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, August 9, 2010

Politics 101---A Basic Primer of Political Strategy for Political Neophytes

“Eye on City Hall”

A column of Information, Analysis, Comment, and unfiltered opinion
Bill Longworth, City Hall Reporter
August 9, 2010

Today is my birthday and I should be getting reams of presents….but I’m reversing things a bit and giving out gifts of political advice from one who has been closely involved in politics for over 35 years as a Federal and Provincial Constituency Executive Member, Campaign Organizer and Strategist, Voting Delegate at a number of National and Provincial Leadership Conventions, and Federal Candidate for the governing party.

This column is written out of concern of a “Code of Conduct” campaign signed by 19 of Oshawa’s 27 “new” council candidates. The real concern is that this code of niceness may discourage some candidates from doing the basic and necessary job of every candidate in every campaign….that is, highlighting incumbent and council shortcomings to make the case that change is necessary.

The first and most basic lesson in Politics 101 is that voters never replace incumbents because they’ve found someone better. Incumbents are only replaced because they’ve messed up so badly...so incensing the public that change is demanded. And competitors to the incumbents have to make sure they stoke the flames of this public discontent. Public memory is short….and new politicians must make sure the public never forgets.

This “niceness code” makes no more sense than promoting the nicest person in the company as its CEO. In making that choice, niceness is not a factor…nor will it be a factor for election to council. Wise voters will be voting for candidates they feel will be effective leaders...but voters have to be concerned enough about the actions of the present politicians that there is an “ocean current” sentiment for change. We are seeing much criticism of council in “letters to the editor” and successful politicians will have to “stoke the flames” of this latent unrest if they hope to have a chance at election.

The naming of individuals, which is discouraged by the “Code of Conduct” Campaign, is part of the process. Election to City Council is not like getting elected as President of a High School Student Council, which is a popularity contest where niceness is important. Real politics is a savage “blood sport” with huge consequences for the public and where only the tough and thick-skinned survive.

Another problem with the “Code of Conduct” Campaign is that signing the code may be the “first lie” of some candidates who have no intention of it having any impact on their campaign behavior. They may see political merit on being on the “nice” list, even though it is unlikely to lead to many votes or any change in their conduct. Signing the code may only highlight the hypocrites, which in itself may not be a bad thing.

While there are many astute and knowledgeable voters, mostly because they are engaged with the council over some issue like high taxes, the student rental housing problem around the university, the $46,000 MBA funding issue, the $250,000 Cullen Gardens Miniatures issue, the burgeoning city debt which has risen from $15M to over $160M under John Gray’s administration, the Goodman Pond beaver slaughter issue, the Mayor’s $46,000 Birthday party issue, the demolition of many of our city arenas, the wasteful $20M demolition and rebuilding of Council Chambers and “A” wing of city hall, or the last election’s Ward/General Vote plebiscite issue in which the Mayor publicly stated it was not City Hall’s responsibility to inform the public about this issue. So much for transparency and accountability from this Mayor! So council fooled the public with a trick question they had never seen and didn’t understand into voting for an election system not used in any large city in the country but which was favoured by the politicians in preserving their lifetime seats.

Unfortunately, most voters are not so engaged, interested, or knowledgeable, and many who vote do so only out of a feeling of democratic responsibility. The public memory is short, and so voters have to be constantly barraged from all directions and with a unified message from all new candidates about the mess, the entitlements, the lack of transparency and accountability, and the giant mistakes and wastage of tax monies of the present bunch.

Without this message, which is the message the public has to hear to give them reason to kick out the present crew, I guarantee that there will be few new members of council….that is the history of the general vote in Oshawa. Out of seven general vote councils prior to 1985 counting for 107 total seats, not one incumbent lost their seat by the vote. All change on council over that time resulted from the death or resignation of the aging members.

In fact, in the upcoming “General Vote” Election, there is only one guaranteed new face for council. Two councillors have vacated their local seats, leaving two seats to fill from among those presently nominated, and one of those two new seats is likely to go to former local councillor Mike Nicholson, brother of Councillor Brian Nicholson. At the Regional Level, one councillor has vacated his seat which will likely go to former Mayor Nancy Diamond or Local Councillor Tito Dante Marimpietri. No other changes will take place unless all of the new candidates bring out the heavy artillery and start firing their big guns now. Just having good ideas will not cut it!

The second basic rule of Politics 101 is that you don’t get elected based on your knowledge or intelligence or ideas or education or platform or what you can contribute to the city.

One only has to look at Councillor Maryanne Sholdra for that. At the recent special council meeting having to do with the beaver cull, she arrived late as usual, and drew howls of well-deserved derisive laughter asking questions that had already been answered, and her “other planet” surprise that the beaver cull did not involve hundreds of beaver in the Goodman Pond rather than the well publicized 4 or 5 that even the children who were present knew. Despite her incompetence, she is likely to get re-elected with a “sign and ad campaign” in which she avoids all public appearances and minimizes any face-to-face contact with the public. That's why she didn't attend the recent forum for all City Council candidates. She knows in politics, as in “finders-keepers,” possession of a council seat is 95% of the law---and any public appearance by her simply exposes her incompetency to the public.

The “niceness” campaign plays right into the hands of the politicians in helping them to retain their seats by reducing public sentiment for change.

In fact, incumbent politicians will criticize any critique of Council mess-ups as destructive to the city, hoping, of course, to discourage opponents from exposing council and politician shortcomings. They know that its council actions themselves that result in political change, and they want to minimize voter knowledge of the mess-ups.

Falling for the “niceness” campaign is the new candidate’s and the city's worst enemy. It simply props up the incumbent dead wood on city council helping to insure their re-election. You have to give voters reason for voting for change. You have to attack their record and performance at every turn. Otherwise, you don’t have a hope in hell of winning. Niceness will simply not cut it!

Campbell’s Soup sells well because of the very recognizable name and red and white label and its long standing staple of a family’s diet going back to great-great-grandmother’s time---not because it is the best product around. Politics is not much different from this. The politician’s name is important….not that it’s good or great…but that it is recognized and familiar. Just as mother will pick Campbell’s off the shelf first without questioning whether it is best, many voters will pick the familiar name off the ballot without giving quality a thought. You only stop buying Campbell’s Soup when it’s left a bad taste in your mouth for some reason.

Same thing for politics! You only stop voting for a politician once he’s left a bad taste in your mouth. The job of new politicians is to remind voters of that “bad taste” left by the current bunch. Otherwise, voters will continue to pick up that “political can” of Campbell’s Soup never considering the quality of what is inside with the majority of voters never considering that there might be someone more deserving of their vote.

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, August 2, 2010

Playing Children’s Games at Oshawa’s First Mayoral Debate

“Eye on City Hall”

A column of Information, Analysis, Comment, and unfiltered opinion
Bill Longworth, City Hall Reporter
August 2, 2010


The Municipal Elections will be here shortly and things are starting to heat up. The first All-Candidates forums are scheduled for 7 pm, August 3 and 4, at the Oshawa Golf Club. Sponsored by the Cedar Valley Homeowners Association, they have given some incumbent politicians cause to unveil their election strategies.

Mayor John Gray has said he will not attend the August 4th Mayoral Forum. I guess his strategy is to play “hide and seek” with the voters. This may well be his wisest strategy, as his attendance would compel him to defend the indefensible, an impossible task when you think of some of his mess-ups over this past term.

If Gray did turn up for this election forum, his preferred game of “hide and seek” may turn out instead to be a game of “pin the tail on the donkey.”

We do know that John Gray does not believe that democracy requires an informed public. After all, he is on record as publicly stating city hall had no responsibility to inform the public on the plebiscite question that gave Oshawa an election system not used in any large city in the country.

Many Oshawa voters have decided that John Gray and his council have exceeded their “best before” shelf life and the complete Council shelf has to be re-stocked.

In almost 40 years of observing Oshawa city politics, I can’t recall a sitting mayor ever being opposed by more than one incumbent councillor. The fact that he is being opposed by six candidates including two incumbents and one recently defeated councillor speaks tons about their respect for Gray’s leadership. The “inside” politicians are striking like vultures on half dead road kill just waiting to be devoured.

Gray’s excuse for not attending the debate is that the sponsoring organization has lodged a lawsuit against the city to get it to enforce the R1A zoning in its community just south of the University Campus; secondly, that questions may arise that might jeopardize the city’s legal position, and thirdly, that the Association has already endorsed a candidate other than Gray.

John Gray is dead wrong about the lawsuit being lodged by the sponsoring organization. The lawsuit was filed by four independent non-executive members of the organization, and has not been endorsed by the executive.

If sensitive questions came up that might jeopardize the city’s legal position, the Mayor could simply pass on answering such questions with that explanation. He must know, however, that such questions could come up in all Mayoral debates. Is he then going to miss all the debates?

I have heard rumours that other incumbents challenging Mayor Gray may also boycott this mayoral debate. Of course, that is one of the advantages of the General Vote implemented by this council. Face-to-face and door-to-door campaigning is less important than faceless “big bucks” campaigns and high name recognition which council has worked at relentlessly over the last term with their incessant name calling, backbiting, bitching, grandstanding, and verbal assaults to grab the press.

In Oshawa’s old days of the General Vote prior to 1985, the huge 11”X17” ballot, with close to 75 names, allowed politicians like long-time councillor, Ruth Bestwick, to holiday in Florida at election times, so sure was she of her re-election.

I don’t know about any candidate endorsement by this Ratepayer’s Association, but am quite confident that Gray’s lack of leadership in the student housing issue, that has seen the community become predominantly one of student rental accommodation contrary to R1A zoning that restricts development to single family housing, excludes him as a choice. Similarly, Mayoral Candidate, Louise Parkes, who has chaired the stonewalling of her committee overseeing the student rental issue, is not likely their chosen candidate.

City Council has tried to stall all action on this issue until after the October 25th Municipal Elections giving promise, but no action, to the concerned homeowners, and patronizing their university administrative friends with their inaction. Initially, they made their campaign donor development friends happy with political help in making sales attractive to student housing investors.

It is difficult for council to dance with all of the competing partners on this issue. In the end, council inaction has frustrated and angered all players in the puzzle.

Students have suffered because of the insecurity of their housing needs and because city policy has not made clear to the university its responsibility in providing for adequate student housing; the university has suffered because of the bad “student housing” publicity which has undoubtedly led some prospective students to seek other educational possibilities; residential home owners have suffered because the huge student rental population has made their properties unattractive for single family occupancy; investors have suffered because city indecisiveness has reduced property values as a long-term student rental business and the unresolved issue makes sales to potential single family occupants unlikely; developers are unhappy because the unresolved issue has made their developments unattractive to both home buyers and investors; and Oshawa has suffered because the whole issue, marked by planning shortsightedness, has been a national black eye and disgrace for the city. Altogether, it’s been a lose-lose-lose-lose-lose-lose situation for all involved.

At the outset, city hall, with city politician’s tacit and/or active approval, was the chief contributor to the creation of the problem. Despite the R1A zoning, Oshawa’s Planning Department approved revisions to building plans for up to seven bedrooms knowing that the purchasers were investors in student rental housing even though that was contrary to the zoning in place. Campaign donations to city politicians by the developers certainly helped to turn other cheeks to grease these sales to student rental investors.

Mayor John Gray gets about 80% of his political campaign funds from developers, among the highest levels of any politician in the GTA. These donations are not given lightly. Friendly votes and friendly development policies are expected in return. When a politician gets such a high proportion of their campaign funds from the development industry, do you really believe your interests are at the top of their agenda?

With the huge development dollars he will raise, you can be sure that John Gray will have a well-oiled slick campaign, but astute voters will look beyond the slickness to the ineptness with which he’s run the affairs of this city. His vulnerability is demonstrated by opposition from within his own council. Those on the inside know a deuce when they see it…and they want to trump Gray’s leadership deuce with a pair of threes of their own.

The incumbent politicians opposing the mayor have their own crosses to bear. They sat on their hands watching this whole student housing fiasco unfold. They were sitting silently at the table supporting politician’s MBA tuition funding. They were passive supporters of Gray’s decision to spend $45,000 of taxpayer’s money on his own birthday party. They were silent supporters of the beaver kill recently, or they didn’t read their agendas, and thus cannot be trusted to arrive prepared at council meetings to represent Oshawa’s best interests. They were avid supporters of the $1/4M Cullen Gardens Miniatures mistake. They allowed the wasteful and unneeded $25M expenditures on the demolition and reconstruction of city council chambers and city hall “A” wing. They allowed residential taxes to balloon 13% over this last four year term to continue to provide Oshawa taxpayers with the highest mill rates in the GTA. And the list of blunders goes on ad infinitem.

John Gray and his band of incompetents are dishonest in claiming among the lowest tax increases in this election year when they upped taxes by 13% over their recent term. By way of playing games with you, they said it was easy to come in with under a 1% increase this election year. They must think we have short memories to fall for this ruse. You can bet, if the present gang is re-elected, they will push for big tax increases at budget time, a short three months after the election, to make up for the “lowball” they lobbed this election year.

Oshawa’s sky-high taxes contribute to the lowest priced real estate in the GTA which robs Oshawa homeowners of thousands of dollars of home equity annually. As Oshawa’s new mayor, I will be calling for yearly 3% tax cuts until Oshawa reaches the average taxation levels in the GTA.

In summary, Oshawa voters will have an important decision on Election Day. For more of the same, they should re-elect the present bunch. If they want a break from this “train wreck” council, they should work actively with all their Oshawa contacts to replace every city politician.

The choice is yours. Make it wise! Make it informed! Take responsibility to discuss the need for change with every Oshawa voter you know.

We do not need a “comedy-of-errors” band of Keystone Kops in charge of Oshawa’s business.

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