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 31, 2010

There are Strange Things Done Neath Facebook’s Political Sun

“Eye on City Hall”

A column of Information, Analysis, Comment, and unfiltered opinion
Bill Longworth, City Hall Reporter
May 31, 2010

You can tell when a politician is on the run. That’s when they start striking out and threatening and bullying. And in a sign of true weakness, after all of the bluster fails to work, when the opposition is unyielding, they retreat, with their tail between their legs.

Their character also shows when they attempt to dominate all the conversation…cause if you’re dominating the floor, no one gets a chance to question or dispute what is being said. As one very popular Oshawa City Politician advised many years ago, "If you don't know what you're talking about, talk loud!"

And when all this fails, a politician on the run threatens to sue to silence those communicating information they don’t want the public to know…even if the info seems innocuous on the surface. And so Oshawa's Councillor Brian Nicholson threatened to sue me last week for reminding him to document his employment record outside of politics on his resume…but more of that later!

We have had classic examples of all of this political theatre during the past week, with Councillor Brian Nicholson at center stage.

It started innocently enough. A concerned citizen, Ms. Jennifer Evelyn, decided that she’d get in the game and try to compile information about city council candidates for the illumination of her fellow voters. This is especially important now that we have the general vote which will produce such a giant ballot that it will be near impossible for voters to get to know the candidates.

As all city council candidates were seeking to be hired by the Oshawa voting public for the position of city council member, she figured it would be useful to start a facebook page to host resumes for the candidates. After all, they are all attempting to be hired by the voters, and a resume would be basic to help voters decide whom to “hire.”

As a Mayor Candidate, I quickly posted a resume with a list of credentials and accomplishments on Ms. Evelyn’s site. Councillor Louise Parkes said she’d pull one together and post it…although as of this writing, it has not been posted.

Sometimes politicians promise things that they have no intent on doing. They feel that the political capital comes from the promise and not from the follow-through. They figure the promise will be forgotten, but that they can pick up some valuable political capital in the process.

By way of apparently supporting the public agenda, some politicians will even offer suggestions to make the request stronger.

When Ms. Evelyn requested resumes, Councillor Brian Nicholson posted a host of additional items to be asked of resume respondents and, as is his habit, gave a myriad of Nicholsonian suggestions. When pressed for his own resume, he explained it was posted elsewhere without giving the location.

When pressed for further resume details, Nicholson pointed out that he had a BA in economics and political science, and then gave a lengthy list of City and Regional Economics, Finance, and Budget Committee Chairmanships he’d held.

His degree in economics certainly would have garnered him some votes for the chairmanship of these committees. After all with that economics major, he would look like a trained guru of economics to his fellow city and regional politicians.

Nicholson failed to provide information about the details of his university education and so he was asked some basic information---Which university?...And when? When this information was not forthcoming, I, and others, decided to check up on Nicholson's claim to that Trent University BA degree in economics and political science that he said he had.

During the process, and in response to all the resume advice Nicholson had provided on the site, I posted a remark that it was worthwhile to bring some “real world” experience to political office. I specifically mentioned that Nicholson should detail his work as a jail guard and as a life insurance trainee, the dates of those jobs, and why he left them. This is what got his ire up.

I thought asking why he left those jobs was a legitimate question any job interviewer would ask. Nicholson, however, responded to this simple question in an unusual way.

“If you have info you’d like to share about this, go ahead, because my lawyer needs the work, and the last guy who broached this subject lost a defamation lawsuit,” Nicholson wrote on the facebook site.

I couldn’t understand why such a simple question would strike such a hostile and sensitive nerve. Maybe there is something there the public should know…if only to know why a lawsuit is threatened with such a simple question regarding past employment history. I was floored by Nicholson’s aggressive response!

All Nicholson’s sensitivity over my simple question started me wondering when this former jail guard/life insurance trainee got that degree. Why was he so hot? Did he get it on the taxpayer’s dime too? Did we pay for his degree just as we sucker taxpayer’s paid for April Cullen’s and James Anderson’s MBA’s?

When we requested details about Nicholson’s degree, where it was from, and the dates, he quickly pulled all references to it from the places where I’d seen it and had previously printed off a copy. Nicholson then removed all of the many comments/suggestions/information he had provided on Ms. Evelyn’s facebook page…a page and a topic that he seemingly enthusiastically endorsed earlier.

Now that’s funny. Why would he pull his comments and suggestions and threats of lawsuits and references to his university degree from the page? Something seemed rotten in the state of Denmark! Nicholson’s action to pull all of the stuff he had written on the page sent inquiring minds a flutter! Good thing I’d previously printed off all the pages with Nicholson’s advice, threats, credentials and comments!

We started to wonder whether Brian Nicholson had the degree that he claimed he had. After all, that economics training may have been influential in getting him those chairmanships in the Oshawa’s Economic Policy Committee, Durham Region Budget Committee, Durham Region Finance Committee, Oshawa Library Finance Chair, and the many other Finance/Economic Chairs that he noted he held in his time in elected office. He seemed like the finance/economics guru of Oshawa and Durham Region. And all these chairmanships probably stem from his claim of a university degree with a major in Economics and Political Science. And wouldn't he be called a fraud if he got all these important positions based on credentials he claimed he had, but didn't?

And so we called the registrar of Trent U and asked whether Brian Nicholson ever earned a Trent Degree. “Nope,” we were told, “Nobody by that name is a graduate of Trent.”

Maybe Nicholson was mistaken about his graduation from Trent University. Maybe he graduated from Queens, or U of T, or Harvard or some other university….or even some Southern online institution that will send you a diploma on anything you want…but I guess we’ll never know.

But the whole thing and sequence of events does lead to some serious questions. In the meantime, we’ll just have to believe Brian. He says he has a degree---we just don’t know where its from, what dates he attended, or indeed who paid for it. We just know that he doesn't have the Trent University Degree he claimed. And hopefully the taxpayers didn’t shell out a dime for Nicholson's education---that’s for sure! Maybe Oshawa City and Durham Regional Councillor Brian Nicholson will clear up all these mysteries for us.

In another Nicholson “play of the week,” discussions are sweeping the nation about politicians at all levels releasing detailed expense records. After all, it is our public money and we have a “right” to see how it is being spent, don’t we?

And so Brian Nicholson jumped on this horse.

At widespread public suggestion that politician expense records should be published in Oshawa, and following some council debate, Brian Nicholson moved a motion that detailed line-by-line records be released for all politicians for each year over the last four year term.

He undoubtedly knew that it didn’t have a hope in hell of passing, but it was opportunity for some good press and worthwhile political gamesmanship in this political year, boosting himself up while pushing opponents down into the sewer---perhaps where some of them would be if records of their expenses ever did become public.

He could once again appear the defender of the public purse, maybe all the while hoping like hell that his motion didn’t pass.

When the full-disclosure motion was defeated, Nicholson announced with some fanfare that he was going to "direct staff" to compile his record of expenses which he would then post, and he challenged all other council members to do the same. I have not yet seen Nicholson’s records posted but await their publication and will confirm in this column when I see them.

Hopefully, like the immediate political capital idea expressed earlier, this promise to post was not just more political bluster with Nicholson finding some excuse in future not to post, or conveniently forgetting the promise, feeling that all political benefits have already accrued with his announcement and challenge to his fellow councillors, and that the whole thing will now just go away.

I hope Nicholson’s full disclosure motion was more than just good political theatre knowing that it was not going to be passed. In the meantime, Nicholson can look like a hero to those who are concerned about political spending.

There are two problems with Nicholson’s blustering “DIRECTION TO STAFF” pronouncement to release his expense records.

As an individual member of council, he cannot direct staff to do anything. Direction to staff can only come from council and that requires 5 votes in addition to Nicholson’s. Even if Mary Anne Sholdra was absent yet again for another crucial vote, he’d still need six votes as tie votes are lost.

Interestingly, Mayor John Gray’s input into the discussion was a motion that full disclosure should be confirmed for the future only, allowing politicians to clean up their future spending “P’s & Q’s” while continuing to hide present and past spending indiscretions with the taxpayer’s dime.

Now, back to defending myself on that threatened lawsuit, Nicholson v Longworth.

EDITOR'S NOTE---When all candidates were asked to complete questionnaires for recent OTW Candidate Election Profiles, Brian Nicholson stated that he was only a high school graduate with some courses in Economics and Political Science....Guess he can't sue me now if I call him a liar and fraud for misrepresenting his academic credentials, can he?

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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