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

Monday, May 10, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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