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

Monday, September 6, 2010

Oshawa doesn’t deserve this City Council

“Eye on City Hall”

A column of Information, Analysis, Comment, and unfiltered opinion
Bill Longworth, City Hall Reporter
September 6, 2010

The municipal elections are now a scant seven weeks away and candidates are heating up their campaigns as the deadline for nominations for election to city council approaches.

At present there are 47 declared candidates to appear on the ballot. Candidates for Durham Public Board of Education or the Separate school board will be in addition to these.

Do you have a chance in hell of becoming an informed voter? To do so, you’d have to know who each of the candidates are, have a chance to meet them, and know what they stand for. An impossible task! Hell, there are so many candidates that even the candidates themselves do not know all their opposition candidates.

The latest totals for each office are Mayor---Vote for 1 of 6 candidates, Regional Council---Vote for 7 of 25 candidates, and Local council---Vote for 3 of 16 candidates.

This general vote election and the huge impossible election ballot with 53 names for Public School Supporters when trustee candidate names are included and 52 names for Separate School Supporters is compliments of Mayor John Gray and Councillors Pidwerbecki, Kolodzie, Parkes, Henry, Sholdra, and Marimpietri. If you think their implementation of the General Vote after refusing to inform voters about the plebiscite question is a travesty of democracy, they should not get your votes on October 25th.

It’s interesting that the plebiscite question was placed on the 2006 election ballot despite the fact that there was not one whimper of expressed citizen discontent with ward elections. This should raise serious questions in your head about why the question was on the ballot.

All of the action for change has come from city politicians and so the plebiscite question and the result they wanted arose simply as another form of entitlement for the politicians

We already know that they vote themselves huge salaries, lifetime health benefits, huge retirement benefits, $100 per week tax free car allowances, free advertising and campaign materials on the taxpayer’s dime, free travel, city charge cards---they even voted to demolish council chambers and city hall “A” wing at $25M to give themselves more palatial office space more becoming of their station in life.

So why not shanghai democracy to give them a lifetime council seat. This is the atrocity they’ve perpetrated on the Oshawa people.

Their manipulation of democracy to get a result they wanted is more akin to the election systems in North Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, and many African countries, etc.---the kinds of governments where western nations have seen serious losses of troops trying to bring justice and fairness to citizens entrapped under inhumane dictatorial governments.

To secure the desired plebiscite result, Council followed a strategy of keeping the issue secret to confront voters “cold” in voter’s booth with a question they had never heard, never considered, and didn’t understand….and then you had to vote “NO” to preserve a system that everyone was satisfied with….CLEVER!

Realizing this “ploy,” I did write to the Mayor and Council and Committee Chairman, Cathy Clarke, whose committee steered the issue through council, suggesting an information brochure explaining the pros and cons of the ward/general vote systems be sent to all residents but this suggestion was ignored in the interests of keeping the secret to election day.

I even offered to write the argument for preserving was elections but this offer of help was also ignored.

While Canada’s Supreme Court has frequently stated that an informed public is a basic necessity of democracy, Oshawa’s City Council decided on this “strategy of secrecy” to keep the public in the dark and catch them with a trick question that no one had heard, considered, or discussed, and which had confusing terminology that was never defined, and worded in such a way that the “yes” answer most will give when confronted with a confusing question they don’t understand, resulted in a change from the system everyone seemed satisfied with.

Amazingly, Mayor John Gray stated at city council, just before the adoption of the general vote, that city council had no responsibility to inform the public about the question council asked. He said it was the responsibility of the concerned public to fundraise and organize to inform the public. He didn’t say such third party fundraising and campaigning is against the Ontario Municipal Election Act, nor did he say that the same Act gave City Council unfettered and unlimited spending ability to communicate details of plebiscite questions to their publics.

Amazing, city council asks a question to get public opinion on an issue and says they have no responsibility to inform the public about the issue, and lies about this being private citizen responsibility.

This was lying to the public at its worst---or it showed a tremendously uninformed mayor. In any case, it definitely demonstrated that Gray is unfit to lead our city and lead our council.

Don’t you think that if city council wanted an accurate measure of public opinion on this question, they would have wanted to inform the public?

Because they didn’t provide the necessary information, they showed they didn’t care.

They just knew the result they wanted and followed a strategy to get it.

This is vote fixing in the extreme and is a practice we would expect from third world authoritarian fascists, despots, dictators, and tyrants….but in Canada---no way!

How can a city council that pulls this “secrecy strategy” to “trick” the public and “fix” the vote ever claim to be open, transparent, honest, accountable, democratic…and respectful of city ratepayers?

And what is just as important….If they pull a “fast one” like this on such an important question, can you trust anything they tell you?---like the city’s debt position or the costs of city hall demolition, rebuilding, and renovations….or their election promises.

Presently John Gray and every member of council are acknowledging that taxes are too high after voting for them and now to say they believe in holding the line or cutting is just too hard to believe. In fact, two months after the last election, Mayor John Gray was calling for 9% tax increases.

So why did politicians want the general vote? Easy! 1) They wanted to “semi-retire” by eliminating all constituency work. When everyone is responsible for everything, no one is responsible for anything, and besides…your vote is not important in the bigger scheme of general elections---they’re not responsible to you! And, 2) they’re virtually guaranteed lifetime re-election. This is the history of the general vote in Oshawa when for seven general vote councils counting for 107 seats, not one councillor lost their seat by the vote. All change took place by death or resignation of members. Only name recognition is important in a general vote election….not service to the public! And 3) they’ll now be able to demand more salary claiming they have twice the constituency size of the Federal or Provincial Government!

The General vote is going to cost taxpayers “big time” as politicians claim these greater salaries for greater responsibility, bigger staffs to handle a claimed bigger workload, and bigger offices to house the increased staff, more palatial offices consistent with their increased importance, and bigger office budgets to cover their bigger needs….big, big, big, $, $, $...all piled on top of the highest taxes in the GTA….ridiculous!

Service to you, the voter, is irrelevant for politicians under the general vote. Politicians can snuff their nose at you! Your single vote is relatively unimportant when 20,000 or so votes might be required for election and so no politician will put much effort into solving your problem.

Instead politicians will devote great attention to the wishes of trade unions, the golf club, large churches and organizations, etc. as they feel that these organizations will encourage their city wide membership to vote for the “friendly” and “helpful” politicians that have jumped in to serve the needs of the large organization.

Therefore the voting power and the interests of politicians shifts from individual homeowners, taxpayers, and residents to the larger organizations controlling or influencing large blocks of votes.

Our general vote here in Oshawa is proof positive that your politicians don’t give a damn about democracy. Everything is secondary to their sense of entitlement. That’s why we have a system here not used in any large city anywhere in Canada.

And don’t you think if the system implemented here was any good, it’d be widely used across the country?

The job of city voters come the October 25th election is to turf out the whole damn self-serving bunch before they do more harm to democracy and to this city!

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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