Friday, September 14, 2007

Open Letter to the Premier of Ontario

Hon Dalton McGuinty,
Premier of Ontario

cc. Hon. J. Gerretsen,
Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing

Mayor and Council
c/o Oshawa City Clerk

Local Media

Dear Premier McGuinty:

I am aghast at the huge $6.8 million provincial expenditure that is devoted to funding the provincial referendum information and awareness campaign which will swamp the media and the public prior to the Octobert 10th provincial election.

I would suggest that the Province follow the “cost-free” process followed by Oshawa City Council leading up to Oshawa’s referendum regarding changing to the general vote for the election of city and regional councillors.

Following Oshawa’s model would free significant tax dollars for other Provincial priorities.

Oshawa councillors voted to not provide any information to the public and the mayor in remarks at city council stated that the city had no responsibility to provide any details or information related to the referendum question. He said this was the responsibility of individual taxpayers who should fund and organize an independent information campaign.

The mayor’s comments were in profound conflict with statements made by Ontario’s Chief Electoral Officer, John Collins, who states that Elections Ontario’s mandate
"is to ensure that Ontario voters are not only aware that a referendum is occurring on October 10, but believe they are adequately prepared to make an informed decision"

While both Elections Ontario and Canada’s Supreme Court believe that an informed public is a right in a democracy and that elections are fair and equitable only if all citizens are reasonably informed of all possible choices," that is not a belief that is shared or practiced by Oshawa City Council.

Oshawa voters were kept in the dark about why the referendum question was asked since no dissatisfaction was ever publicly expressed about Oshawa’s ward voting. The term “general vote” was never defined for voters. The pros and cons of ward vs the general vote were never defined.

The result? Oshawa voters were confronted “cold” in the ballot box having to consider the difficult, convoluted, and complex question for the first time--no prior information, no prior consideration, no prior discussion or debate, no understanding of the meaning of the question they were asked, and no definitions of the technical terms used in the question.

Further the referendum question was revised by council a number of times so that voters were required to vote “NO” to maintain the ward system and “YES” to replace it with the general vote.

In short, Oshawa politicians wanted and expected Oshawa voters to make uninformed choices with a question worded in such a way so as to skew the results the way council wanted.

Oshawa Council's deliberately flawed referendum process makes a mockery of democracy.

Following the referendum results, all councillors received public comments that the question was confusing. Many citizens stated they did not understand the question. After explanation, many citizens stated that they had voted the wrong way.

Despite this, council plunged ahead to implement a bylaw to revert to the general vote making Oshawa at 160,000 people the largest city in Canada to utilize the general vote without also having civic political parties.

This is in spite of the fact that Ontario Municipal Affairs and Housing officials have publicly stated that populations of about 20,000 are the upper limits for a general vote.

The flawed process and the convoluted question combined to give Oshawa Council the "self-serving" result they wanted…the result that would guarantee them their council seats until death or resignation.

The bylaw approved by Oshawa City Council provides for both a general vote and keeping the present ward structure purely to avoid any appeal to the OMB. I'm sure this is an unexpected and unanticipated outcome of recent amendments to the Municipal Act which gives more authority to municipalities.

Oshawa Council has implemented a system that serves them rather than the people they are supposed to serve—a system that makes them less accountable, removes them further from the people, takes away local community representation, insures that vast areas of the city will go unrepresented as time progresses, and insures that only the rich or incumbents who can fundraise through the development industry will be able to mount a viable city wide campaign.

The general vote for Oshawa will mean that city council politicians, who should be closest to the people, will have constituencies about twice the size of our Provincial and Federal Politicians.

Mr. Premier, If you feel that Oshawa was undemocratic in failing to insure an informed public and didn't meet the fairness expectations of Elections Ontario, or of the Supreme Court of Canada, I might respectfully suggest as premier, you’d roll back council’s decision and tell them that the only valid referendum result is from an informed public.

Invalidate Oshawa’s general vote bylaw and tell Oshawa City Council that if they feel the general vote is best for Oshawa, then they should fully inform the public and hold another referendum at the next city elections but only after they have satisfied the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing that they are implementing systems to promote public debate and provide sufficient information to fully inform the public.

Democracy is too important in this country for it to be mocked by members of Oshawa City Council for their own self-serving purposes.

You can see further background on this issue at

Bill Longworth,
Chairman and Founder of VOTES---Vote to eliminate self-serving politicians

September 13, 2007

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