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

Monday, April 19, 2010

Does Supporting the Troops require supporting the mission?

“Eye on City Hall”
A column of Information, Analysis, Comment, and unfiltered opinion
Bill Longworth, City Hall Reporter
April 19, 2010

If you criticize government policy to engage in the Afghani war, rabid supporters of Canada’s war efforts claim you are not supporting our brave men and women engaged in this dangerous effort. Independent observers without the government blinders know there is a “barn door” of difference between the two and can clearly separate the two issues. Most everyone now is beginning to accept the notion that we can support our soldiers while at the same time being dead set against them being engaged in the conflict far from home.

This same type of argument is often being floated out there by city politicians who undoubtedly feel that Oshawa voters are not smart enough to distinguish such differences between the two issues….Supporting the troops and supporting the mission in Afghanistan.

Both Mayor John Gray and Councillor Brian Nicholson regularly cite any criticism of city politicians and/or their decisions as negativism….”destructive to the city,” they say. Such nonsense!

Oshawa voters can clearly see the difference and in fact recognize that most criticism directed at city council is an attempt to make the city better. Any politician that respects their constituents would know this. Attempts at slandering opponents with the term “negativism” is simply an attempt to “shush” opponents thus limiting public input and debate.”

In fact, the only thing that motivates candidates to stand for election is dissatisfaction with city politicians and a desire to do better.

Mayor John Gray, in his annual “State of the City” on Feb. 18, 2010, reminded those assembled that negativity about the city hurts residents and businesses and called for an end to "old attitudes" about Oshawa.

In that address, he stated “domino effect” planning by the city encouraged UOIT to expand into the downtown taking over all available space to house the move of 1000 students to the downtown core.

While the mayor applauds this move, I feel it is disastrous for the any renewal of the city core. The overloading of students in the downtown will further discourage Oshawa’s adult population from patronizing higher end stores and restaurants. These will disappear to be replaced by fast food and beer joints, and dance halls, all of which will attract “hell-raising” youth from afar.

I guess Mayor John Gray would attack me for being negative about these developments. I don’t know why when a better Oshawa is important to me in my role as a long-time housing stakeholder.

My investment in the city will go south if our downtown or city further deteriorates.

Recent attempts to clean up the downtown will be wasted if undesirable elements are attracted there to mingle with our student population.

Newspaper accounts already document the havoc raised by student tenants in some residential neighbourhoods surrounding the university and this will now be duplicated downtown. Negative thinking? No! Realistic? Yes!

Gray trumpeted city investment in the GM Centre as being the keystone of downtown renewal and guaranteed that it was a money earning proposition. We learn now that the 2009 operating loss was $1 million taxpayer dollars not to mention the additional debt servicing charge on the $45 million dollar facility. Taxpayer costs to subsidize these losses will continue to cost homeowners dearly.

The huge losses spawn rumors that the city will sell the facility after the election. Selling will produce staggering taxpayer losses. Investors would only buy this money siphon for a song! Is this thinking negative? No! Realistic? Yes!

In last years “state of the City” address, the mayor said Oshawa was well on its way to shaking off its old image of a city in decline, and was now a great place to buy a home or start a business. He rhymed off a long list of recent achievements including a rejuvenated downtown, a new management company overseeing the General Motors Centre, the new Conant Complex which opened in south Oshawa last summer, energy-saving renovations currently underway at City Hall and the release of the Crombie report and its recommendations for Oshawa's waterfront.

Note that all of the mayor’s comments were wrong. The downtown is not rejuvenated and as explained above will slide ever downward, the new management center overseeing the General Motors Centre is experiencing record losses, the money wasting and unneeded demolition and the “Beer Can” rebuilding of Council Chambers and “A” wing required only maintenance and not demolition and the energy refit will never pay for itself in a million years.

If the mayor and civic administration had their way worldwide, I guess they’d demolish and rebuild Parliament Hill, Buckingham Palace, The Louvre, 24 Sussex and every other public building in the world as no building that’s been standing for a few years is up to date in energy efficiency. Negative thinking? No! Realistic? Yes!

Gray also dived into the contentious issue of property taxes, saying reports that Oshawa's taxes are the highest in the GTA, are simply untrue. He compared property tax increases in Oshawa with our Durham neighbours. Note he chose his words carefully referring to property tax INCREASES and not the taxes we actually pay.

The fact is that a $350,000 house on any of Oshawa’s boundaries would currently save $1200 annually in taxes if it were moved to the other side of the street into Clarington, Scugog, or Whitby. Just moving your house to the neighbouring municipality would save you enough cash to fund a yearly Caribbean Cruise.

A $350,000 Oshawa house pays more taxes than 23 out of 25 GTA municipalities would pay on a $450,000 house and more than 16 out of 25 GTA municipalities would pay on $550,000 dollar house and more than 3 out of 25 municipalities would pay on a $750,000 house. Amazing! In fact, a $350,000 Oshawa house pays the same taxes as a $880,000 Toronto house. Are we negative to point this out? Hell no! Do taxpayers need to know this stuff? Hell yes! Sky high taxation signals gross fiscal mismanagement in Oshawa.

Gray may spout low tax increases to us this year but doesn’t he have a responsibility to say why we’re paying only .9% more this election year when he was admonishing council for wanting less than the 9% he said we needed only two years ago? I think so!

Maybe Mayor John Gray should explain that a major reason Oshawa has the lowest priced housing in the GTA is because of our excessive taxation which makes housing less desirable and depresses real estate prices thus robbing Oshawa homeowners of tens of thousands of home equity every year.

In his Feb 2008 address, Gray emphasized that the City of Oshawa is one of the most affordable places in which to live, do business and is gaining that reputation not just in Durham but in Canada and the world.

He quoted an international public policy survey on housing affordability that surveyed 227 cities in Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, the UK, and the USA which listed Oshawa 49th of the cities surveyed and first in the GTA. Doesn’t he know this is an index of the desirability of a city as low prices are equated with low demand and low desirability? More proof that we need a new council to “fix” Oshawa!

In his Feb 2007 address, Gray acknowledged the city has suffered from image problems in the past, but stressed that is changing through downtown improvements like the General Motors Centre, community resources like UOIT and positive publicity like the 2008 Memorial Cup bid and recent Stephen Colbert challenge.

Looking ahead, the mayor promised to deliver on three major downtown projects that will further revitalize Oshawa's image: a marquis hotel, a name-brand grocery store and re-location of a new corporate headquarters downtown.

So let’s look at these promises as a function of John Gray’s leadership. Oshawa Image problems? Still here but worse with widespread national press as a result of tax funded MBA’s, $46,000 tax funded Stephen Colbert Day, UOIT student housing problems, Cullen Gardens Miniatures, money losing GM Centre, sky-high taxes, unneeded demolition and rebuilding of city hall, Arena demolitions, etc. As for the Memorial Cup…didn’t happen! The Marquis hotel…didn’t happen! Name-brand grocery store…didn’t happen! New corporate headquarters…didn’t happen. We need more than words and promises. We need action!

The mayor concluded, "We can achieve great things and never allow a pejorative thought to get in the way of our ability to progress." Are we being negative in looking backwards at the mayor’s own words and promises…all of which have been unfulfilled? I don’t think so.

But I do think by looking back we get a sense that we do need a change of political leadership in Oshawa…and quick!

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

No comments:

Post a Comment