“Eye on City Hall”
A column of Information, Analysis, Comment, and unfiltered opinion
Bill Longworth, City Hall Reporter
August 2, 2010
STOP THE PRESS...THIS ARTICLE WAS WRITTEN AND SUBMITTED FOR PUBLICATION FOLLOWING STATEMENTS FROM THE MAYOR THAT HE WAS NOT ATTENDING THIS EVENT. AFTER IT HAD GONE TO PRESS AND PROBABLY AFTER THE FORMAT WAS REVISED AT JOHN GRAY'S BEHEST, HE CHANGED HIS MIND...ALAS TOO LATE TO REVISE THE PRESS RUN FOR THIS ARTICLE. IT IS REPRINTED HERE IN ITS ORIGINAL FORM AS WE DO NOT BELIEVE THAT MAYOR JOHN GRAY SHOULD THREATEN TO WITHHOLD HIS PRESENCE AT THESE VOTER INFORMATION MEETINGS UNTIL FORMAT CHANGES HE WANTS HAVE BEEN MADE TO LIMIT THE CANDIDATES FREE FLOW OF COMMENTS AND MAKE IT MORE DIFFICULT TO RAISE ISSUES AND QUESTION A RECORD THAT JOHN GRAY CANNOT DEFEND. WE BELIEVE IN AN OPEN AND FREE "DEMOCRACY" WHERE RULES ARE NOT GERRYMANDERED FOR THE BENEFIT OF ONE POLITICIAN.
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.
every Monday, 6-9 pm EST, on http://www.ocentral.com/thewave/