Sunday, February 11, 2007

Conspiracy of Silence

The conspiracy of silence continues. Unlike responsible municipalities like Vancouver and Guelph that wanted their citizens to make informed decisions including the history of the municipal vote, our politicians continue to be keep information from the public to "blind-side" them and pull the wool over citizen’s eyes. As I said in my address to council last Monday, Oshawa Council wants to avoid an OMB hearing because then Oshawa people will discover that our politicians have been "pulling a fast one" on our citizens. Otherwise, why would they want to avoid the impartial and objective judgement on their actions that the OMB would provide.

City Council failed to provide any reasonable information regarding the plebescite questions catching voters “cold” in the voting booth where they were confronted with the plebescite questions they had neither considered nor thought about. This was by design of council. I suggested information flyers be prepared and sent to all Oshawa households but council failed to acknowledge this suggestion or act on it.

Neither have they ever given us any rationale why the plebescite question would be on the ballot.

At last Monday’s council meeting, council defeated motions calling for information flyers to be distributed to all households and then decided only to publish the date of a public meeting to be called to get public “input” into the question. I fear this public meeting is a “sham” though as politicians have already decided that they will switch to a general vote but keep the wards intact so as to avoid an independent OMB inquiry into the change. The city solicitor has been quoted that, “it is a done deal,” as has Nestor Pidwerbecki who is working behind the scenes to solicit council support. Some council members have stated that the ward system is best for Oshawa but that they will vote to support the plebescite in which they kept the citizens in the dark. Hardly democratic!

When the city manager was asked by Mayor Gray if it was possible to prepare an information flyer on this question for the public, he responded, “We couldn’t get it right!” Does he mean that there is no way to prepare an honest and objective brochure at the same time as satisfying council’s earnest desire for a general vote to protect their lifetime seats on Council without serious threats of defeat?

Changing to the general vote is purely a political question with no logical reason to change and no positive benefits to be achieved. In fact, the general vote will have a severe negative effect on Oshawa’s future, even affecting the value of real estate here as vibrant and accountable leadership vanishes from this city.

Because of the political nature of the question, as the city manager suggested, responsible and professional staff certainly could not produce a flyer satisfactory to their masters, the politicians, since they know also that politicians want the general vote, and there is no other reason to change.

The city manager could have suggested a flyer be produced by political science consultants or professors expert in municipal government who could write the brochure expressing the pros and cons of each system. These experts are independent of staff and not accountable to the politicians but the city manager would realize that this would not get the support of council.

Council certainly uses communication experts for their other publications…why not for this one? Of course, city politicians would want none of this…if there is a message getting out, they want to control its content! And a change to the general vote cannot be supported by any honest logic other than to protect Councillors from serious competition at election times. Realizing this, one alderman under Oshawa's old general vote used to holiday in Florida during election campaigns and still got re-elected. She realized that virtually all change in council took place through death or resignation and she was on Council until one of these events occurred.

Politician’s also expressed the question in such a way that the “yes” vote that the majority of people would naturally give resulted in a change to the general vote. People would have to vote “no” on the convoluted question to preserve the present system. The politicians revised the question a number of times until they got what they considered the “right” question. Right because it would produce the desired result. They operated on the principle of knowing what result they wanted and then phrasing the question to solicit this result. And then in the interests of democracy (they say), insist on voting to uphold the plebescite result despite statements they think ward voting is best for Oshawa.

Oshawa voters have been misled about why the question was worded the way it was. Mayor Gray has explained that council was informed according to the municipal act, they needed a question with a “yes” answer if it was going to result in change. This rationale says if you want change, word the question so that a yes response describes what you want. In point of fact, Guelph also put the ward/general vote question on their ballot but the question was "Are you in favour of retaining the current ward system as the method of electing city councillors?" This was the way Oshawa voters were told the question could not be phrased. Why are we being misled? The Guelph question in all probability would have resulted in keeping the ward system in Oshawa, a result the politicians didn’t want.

If Oshawa Council proceeds to the general vote, it will be necessary for political parties similar to Vancouver's to be formed so that voting makes sense to the people so they know what promises have been attached to their votes. They will vote for a political party platform by choosing the slate of that political party. There is evidence of such organizational efforts already in Oshawa.

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