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

Monday, October 25, 2010

Dirty Tricks, Ethics, and Controversy on the Campaign Trail

“Eye on City Hall”

A column of Information, Analysis, Comment, and unfiltered opinion
Bill Longworth, City Hall Reporter
October 25, 2010

Heard a good one the other day! Three teens were distributing John Gray literature to one of my campaign volunteer’s home off Central Park Blvd. The astute volunteer, thinking it unusual to have teen boys volunteering for a campaign, asked if the boys were getting paid. At first one of the young guys said, “Yes,” and then after a momentary pause, “Well not really! The Mayor has offered to donate to our church group trip to the Dominican Republic in return for our help in his campaign.”

This is an unusual way for Mayor John Gray to compensate these students as donations to a church youth travel group cannot be counted as a campaign expenditure on the official expense forms that have to be filed after the election and so the donation must come from another source.

There are two sources possible---a donation from the Mayor’s personal funds which, while admirable, wouldn’t make sense in paying a legitimate campaign expense which could, and would, be paid from his campaign donor funds.

The only other source of funds are city “Partnership Grants” which are available for assisting in the funding of worthwhile non-profit community projects. I’m suspecting that these are the taxpayer-funded donations the Mayor has offered.

This would be an unethical use of taxpayer money to help fund the Mayor’s campaign, but it is the only logical explanation for him not paying the students directly for their labour.

I shall be on this like a hawk to expose this dishonesty if a city grant is provided, or already has been provided, to help fund this church group trip, in return for campaign labour.

Such funding of campaign labour would also be a contravention of Provincial Legislation controlling the spending, reporting, and accounting of campaign expenditures as this labour would not be charged to the campaign.

Such un-reporting of campaign costs allows politicians to exceed campaign spending limits set by the Province and has been the subject of court challenges following elections.

As a demonstration of her campaign tactics, Louise Parkes has planted a women heckler in the audience in each of the last two Mayor Forums to shout out about negative campaigning when I mentioned her 54% salary/expense spending increases in the first three years of her current term, her exorbitant cell phone bills that have been just $23 less than the totals of 8 of her fellow councillors, and her call for bigger office expense budgets to cover her travel expenses.

At the most recent Mayor Forum, Parkes had her heckler sit directly in front of the microphone to discourage me from exposing her dishonesty. Guess she didn’t want the audience to know about her exorbitant spending habits at taxpayer expense! It didn’t work---cause I think voters have a right to know!

Parkes’ excessive feeding at the public trough is so inconsistent with the message of restraint and “Fair Taxation” indicated on her signs and in her debate presentations that it amounts to a lie.

For one, I believe that politicians should be honest and shouldn’t be able to get away with saying anything they want to mislead the public.

Another trick used by politicians is to plant “clappers” at political forums to clap thunderously at the most innane comments of their favoured candidates.

The unschooled in political campaigns do not realize the theatre involved in campaigns to demonstrate unsubstantiated support for their favoured candidates.

Nor do they realize that the local city newspapers, which are not titans of reporting integrity, base their important choices on retaining their share of the city advertising dollar which provides significant regular “lifeblood” revenues for the newspapers. This determines which stories they are going to print and which individuals will get exposure in their rags.

One newspaper gets over $20,000 monthly in city advertising and so their coverage is friendly to the politicians. I remember its reporter walking out of the room one time when I got up to make a presentation about retaining ward elections to a city committee. Obviously, the Mayor had made it clear that the city advertising budgets dictated that my comments were not to get exposure in their newspaper.

One little 8 or 10 page newspaper, The Snap Newspaper, struggling to increase its minimal city ad revenue, recently had 3 or 4 pictures of John Gray and a couple of pictures of Louise Parkes, John Henry, and Nester Pidwerbecki. This paper is aggressively biased in its political coverage and is working hard to get a larger share of the city advertising budget.

As mentioned earlier, all campaign costs have to be officially accounted for. The Nicholson Brothers, both running for election for different offices, have many signs throughout the city promoting the Nicholson name without any reference to first name or position being sought. This raises an interesting question as to which campaign, Brian’s or brother Mike’s campaign, should the signs be charged against, or both. Or in fact, if the signs are not clear whose they are, are they in fact legal. I did send an email to the city clerk who is in charge of city elections asking this question. She has not responded yet.

Another mystery that has now been partially solved is “The Mystery of the Disappearing Signs.” There has always been sign damage and some shrinkage, but this has been a huge problem this campaign.

There have been some sightings of candidate campaign workers stealing signs and even of some photos of those in the act which has been reported to police. Recently, a Miller Paving Truck and a rental van were seen removing signs on Wilson. Although unconfirmed at present, it seems that the Region has contracted with some to roam regional city roads removing signs. I don’t know whether they are objective or selective in their choice of signs to remove. Apparently the removed signs are trucked to some as yet unknown location in Ajax.

As I write this, I have just returned from a storage facility behind the arts resource center at city hall after retrieving perhaps $500 worth of my signs that have been removed by city work crews. While I have the signs back, a real problem is the lost exposure time of the signs and the time to replant them with volunteer labour.

In all ways, incumbent politicians follow practices to promote themselves at public expense and pass bylaws to limit exposure of non-incumbents names to the voting public. Thus they pass bylaws limiting signs and then hire contractors to remove them.

Oshawa City Council incumbents use your tax money to pay for advertising, attendance at public events, and spend thousands of dollars in publishing and distributing unneeded, unread, and frivolous printed materials like “Inside Oshawa” which are really expensive glossy carriers for politician’s mug shots and messages and city propaganda they want to get out.

You’d think politicians would want to get out really important information to voters such as why the last plebiscite question was asked, what it meant, what difference it would make to voters, etc. Instead, they refused to communicate this information to prepare voters for the plebiscite question instead wanting to rig the system to favour the result they wanted...the result that favoured the re-election of incumbents. This is democracy---Oshawa style!

It angers me every time I see politician’s buying ads with our tax money to wish us Happy New Year, Merry Xmas, or to thank veterans on Remembrance Day. All are worthy endeavours...but not with our tax money!

These messages are nothing more than a shill where the ad is simply promoting the politician without any sincerity toward the cause being recognized.

One of the dirtiest tactics is unidentified telephone calls in the middle of the night. I received one of these at 4:42 am on October 21 only to be awoken by silence on the other end of the line. I also received a complaint that one gentleman was upset with my campaign because he said he received one of these after-midnight calls from someone who said they were calling on behalf of my campaign. I don’t know how many of these calls have gone out and how many votes I might have lost as a result of the angry recipients...but my campaign has done absolutely no telephone canvassing even at reasonable hours.

By the time you read this, you have probably cast your votes using the most ridiculous system in Canada with the huge ballot and the list of 70 candidates or so for the various offices. It may be Tuesday before you know the election results but hopefully all city councillors are punished for bringing you this impossible ballot, for bringing you the highest residential tax rate in the GTA, and for saddling you with a city debt that has escalated from $10M to $100M in 8 short years.

The campaign has been long for me from January 4th and so today (Monday, Oct. 25th) is a welcome end to all of the energy sapping campaigning.

We’ll all look forward now to what future the election has brought Oshawa, and this analysis will be the subject of my column next week.

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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