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

Monday, July 19, 2010

City Politicians Signal Intention to Work to Rule---an Early Victim of the General Vote

“Eye on City Hall”

A column of Information, Analysis, Comment, and unfiltered opinion
Bill Longworth, City Hall Reporter
JuLY 19, 2010

City politicians have now voted to “Work to Rule!” They have decided to withdraw their service from responsibilities that don’t provide them a salary.

They will no longer serve as unpaid Council Representatives on the many Volunteer Boards of Community Organizations that create the social fabric of Oshawa life---like the Volunteer Board of the Oshawa Senior Citizen’s Centers.

City politicians have shown it is not important work for them to sit on these boards. Hopefully the many city volunteers who have sat on these boards for many years, and perform invaluable efforts on behalf of this city, will not follow the politician’s lead and make the same service withdrawal decisions. If this becomes the case, these organizations will flounder and fold and Oshawa and its citizens will be the losers.

Hopefully the community volunteers will prove to be more responsible than our city politicians and will not withdraw their service.

Councillor Nester Pidwerbecki was at a McLaughlin Art Gallery show opening a week ago representing the Mayor who was on a midweek holiday. Pidwerbecki was approached by a senior---a cultured lady who asked, “Why is city council withdrawing city council representatives from the Senior Citizen’s Centers Board of Directors?”

Pidwerbecki responded with the same stock answer he gives for taking a lead role in introducing the general vote to city elections.

“We have a new philosophy at city hall,” he said. “We want all of our council members to take a city-wide view in their council duties. We don’t want politicians to become parochial by taking on any special interests. And besides, he said, the councillors assigned to these non-paid roles never show up anyway.”

Perhaps Pidwerbecki was talking about himself for failing to attend as Council Rep at Board Meetings of voluntary organizations he was appointed to. Perhaps he showed up at this art opening only because its election year.

By withdrawing from the local volunteer boards, Politicians are isolating themselves from important aspects of city life. In Pidwerbecki’s comment, he also inferred that politicians don’t take interest in attending volunteer boards unless they are paid. Some philosophy eh?

The lady responded to Pidwerbecki’s explanation, “How will city council know what problems and challenges Oshawa Senior Citizen’s Centers are facing? Who will champion our interests and our needs on city council? Who will be our liaison with city administration?”

“Everyone will represent your interests on city council,” Pidwerbecki responded. “With our new philosophy, everyone is responsible for everything. That’s why we have introduced the general vote for the upcoming elections---to remove councillors from taking a special interest in any specific community.

How about applying Pidwerbecki’s philosophy to your workplace? Wipe out all of the specialized responsibilities of the staff and make everyone responsible for everything. Would anything get done? Of course not! When everyone is responsible for everything, no one is responsible for anything. It’d be a recipe for disaster in your workplace. Same for city hall!

For effective work, responsibilities have to be assigned. The benefits of assigned division of labour has been known and practiced since the beginning of time. Perhaps our council dinosaurs and flat earthers are in a time warp regressing beyond the cave man that even then practiced division of labour assigned responsibilities.

The general vote is seen by many of our aging councillors as a way they can reduce their workload and semi-retire, at the same time as securing their council seats till their death or resignation, and calling for greater salaries, office staff, and office space, because the 160,000 city size of their constituency will be twice the size of that of our MP’s and MPP’s.

Why a reduced workload? Half of a ward councillor’s responsibility and effort is looking after constituent concerns. Community work is time consuming, but with the removal of ward councillors, no politician will be specifically responsible for answering the concerns of any community or representing its needs on council. With the few votes your local concern represents, city politicians will not be any more interested in handling your problem than sitting on Boards of our voluntary community organizations, which is the first formally reduced workload casualty of the general vote.

Why a more secure job tenure? The maximum cost of city wide elections now has been pegged at $80,000 for city councillors and $90,000 for city and regional councillors, both about 7 or 8 times the maximum cost of ward elections. The only candidates able to raise campaign funds are the incumbents who take donations chiefly from the development industry, in return of course, for favorable votes supporting their donor’s projects. The high cost of elections wipe out serious and competitive campaigns of the vast majority of candidates since the only source of campaign financing for non-incumbents is their own bank account.

Over time, because of the high cost of city wide elections, all city councillors will eventually come to reside in a few of the richer areas of Oshawa leaving vast areas of the city unrepresented and forgotten on city council.

Pidwerbecki’s idea of politicians taking a city wide view to reduce parochialism is a spurious and misleading argument.

Ward representation didn’t result in parochialism among politicians. Every council action required a majority vote of ward councillors---the building of the Legends Centre in the North end, the building of the South end recreation centre, purchase of the Cullen miniatures, city hall reconstruction and refurbishment, demolition of North Oshawa Arena and the Civic, failure to protect historic Rundle House from the wrecking ball, etc., etc., etc.

Ward politicians have two functions---1) To look after the overall interests of the city, and 2) To handle the constituency concerns of their ward residents. This important latter function will be lost with the general vote.

In actual fact, the general vote will result in increased parochialism by city politicians. As all politicians come to reside in a few of the richer areas of the city, won’t these richer areas be better served by the politicians? We are already seeing this with the demolition or planned demolition of all south end arenas except for Donovan depriving the less mobile south end children from skating/hockey opportunity. These south end arenas have been replaced with new arenas in the newer richer North Oshawa communities. Rather than reduced parochialism, the general vote will result in increased parochialism as the politicians look after their home communities first.

If there is merit to the argument that city wide elections provide better government, we should apply the General Vote principles to Federal and Provincial elections which presently are ward systems. We should wipe out individual ridings to let politicians run across the Province and the Nation. The result? You guessed it! All of the MP’s and MPP’s would come from the higher population centers and low population low voter areas would be continually unrepresented and forgotten.

This is exactly what will happen in Oshawa with the general vote. If the general vote is better, wouldn’t it be used widely in the country? In fact, Oshawa will be the largest city in the country to use the general vote without the use of municipal political parties which are at present illegal in Ontario. The general vote is used only in small centers in the Province. Experts from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing have quoted an optimum size of about 20,000 for communities to use the general vote, which interestingly is also quoted as the optimum size for wards.

Oshawa general vote politicians will have constituency sizes about twice as large as our MP’s and MPP’s, a ludicrous state of affairs for local government which is supposed to be closest to the people.

This “parochialism” argument that Pidwerbecki put forward in terms of justifying politician’s withdrawal of city council representation on the voluntary boards of city organizations is a spurious bit of misinformation that Pidwerbecki spouts from time to time.

When we first got ward elections in 1985, Pidwerbecki was not on city council. He applauded the move as one of the best things to happen to Oshawa. “Now we shall see new faces on city council,” he said. “We will get rid of the country club that has been there too long!”

Now as a 20+ year member of the country club he once derided, he now champions its return. What a self-serving hypocrite!

His biggest bit of misinformation, though, was his comment on why Oshawa needed the general vote. “Oshawa is just getting too large for ward elections,” he claimed.

Of course, we all know that the larger a municipality, the more it needs ward elections. Can you imagine the City of Toronto going to city wide votes and voters across that city coping with a book-sized ballot of hundreds of candidates to select the 43 or so to be elected to Toronto City Council?

Does Pidwerbecki think the Oshawa voters are stupid?

We have seen city council devoting much time and effort in looking after their own self interests….improved health benefits, MBA education benefits, increased salaries, and handsome retirement/electoral defeat settlements---but the greatest foist of all was the introduction of the general vote.

Hopefully all of the strategizing they’ve done to look after their own self interest will backfire this time, and the whole lot will be turfed out on their ear.

We need politicians interested in looking after Oshawa for a change.

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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