Saturday, December 29, 2007

City Hall's New Year's Gift
to Oshawa Taxpayers

At a time when city hall is struggling to get next year's tax increase below 9%, and you are struggling to make your property tax payments, City Council has delivered a New Year's Gift to you to "relieve" the pain.

At a "reported" cost of just $30,000, city hall has hired professional writers and other "creative" people to prepare Oshawa's entry documents to the Livable Communities Contest. They have also seen fit to send Mayor John Gray and a city delegation to London, England, to "present" our entry.

So what is the present? Why Council has presented us with a gold medal as one of the most desirable cities of 75,001 – 200,000 population in the universe in which to live.

Out of 9 competitors though, 3 got gold and all the others got silver. It's nice that ALL competitors can go home a winner, isn't it. This is a model that could be introduced into the Olympics or the NHL to make everyone a winner. When everyone is a winner, though, the contest becomes nothing more than "smoke and mirror" optics for the politicians to brandish to their devotees back home.

Myself...I find it hard to believe that Oshawa City Hall would want to spend our hard-earned tax dollars to communicate how great Oshawa is to the world when they repeatedly voted to refuse Oshawa citizens information about a truly important issue--the plebiscite question they asked about our city's voting system. They asked that question but repeatedly voted to deny giving citizens information about it.

I always understood that communication started at home. I can't understand why they would want to communicate to the world and yet deny information to the people here at home. I guess they just didn't want your informed opinion about the question they asked.

If they didn't want your informed opinion...why ask the question in the first place?

People might have benefitted from knowing important stuff about the plebiscite question like “What it meant”, “What the meanings of the terms used in the question were”, “What the consequences were of the various choices they could make”, and yes, the question could have been asked in a simple and straightforward way rather than the confusing and convoluted way it was.

But the Mayor said it was not the city's responsibility to inform the public about any of this if you could imagine.

I did see the Oshawa's LivCom visual presentation and while it highlighted the new arena, the new courthouse as an example of brownfields renewal, our creek valleys and bike paths, the second marsh, the lakefront, etc., they did not portray our embarrassing downtown, the pathetic South Simcoe Street main entrance to our city from the 401, the only Lake Ontario city not having a marina nor did they highlight the fact that city council has voted to make Oshawa the largest city in Canada and probably the world to have a general vote without the use of formal civic political parties which are at present prohibited in Ontario.

While the presentation did comment on some communication
"highlights", it failed to mention the fact that City Council continually voted to deny the public information they needed to make an informed and reasoned decision on the plebiscite question.

Oshawa's delegation's verbal presentation to the competition panel was extraordinarily ordinary at the same time as being extraordinarily deceitful in what it didn't mention. But the $30,000 citizen tax money was professionally creative in putting our best foot forward in the accompanying video...and provided the Mayor and staff delegation a well earned holiday in expensive London.

Oh what the Mayor will do to "serve" this city!

And we learned a lesson...the "secret" of success lies in what you don't say.

Now Oshawa...go and convince your friends and neighbours nation-wide that you live in one of the most livable communities in the world.

After all, Oshawa politicians and civic administration gloated far and wide in press releases to every conceivable publication and website about this event where it appears that everyone was a winner.

With all of the efforts at communicating this stuff nation-wide and preparing all of the documentation required for the event, it just makes you wonder how city council has civic administration staff spending their time. Perhaps our civic administration is overstaffed and needs these superfluous activities to keep itself busy!

The cruncher though...I think the $30,000 price tag for all of the time and effort, not to mention travel costs, is vastly understated and I intend to file a "Freedom of Information" request to expose the "real" costs of this folly including the cost of carbon offsets purchased by our delegation, they claimed to the judging panel, to offset environmental damage done by their air travel.

Initial investigations show that the conference was held at the Thistle Marble Arch Hotel in London where our delegation undoubtedly stayed. Rooms start at 139.23 pounds/night so a 7 day total for 3 rooms amounts to £2923.83 + any applicable taxes for a minimum cut into the $30,000 budget of $5,701.04 CAD. This is before competition entrance and delegate registration fees, air travel and meals for three, entertainment, tuxedo rentals, London city transportation, hospitality, tour costs (as a day was set aside for this!), etc...and all those professional writers, photographers, graphic designers, voice-over actors and printers who prepared all of the full colour documents, slideshows, and videos...and oh, almost forgot---those carbon offsets!

In the meantime Oshawa, have a wonderful holiday and a contented New Year as you contemplate your tax bills for the upcoming year. There may be more LivCom debacles and more travel junkets planned for the New Year.

My final assessment of this taxpayer expenditure? Indications were that there were few entrants, delegate presentations seemed to have been made privately to the judges with little public audience or other display of interest, that large cities like Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, etc. did not enter, that potentially all entrants were shortlisted to the final--in short, the whole contest was about meaningless optics and possibly a "holiday abroad" at taxpayer expense for the delegations. I wonder whether a cost/benefit analysis was done on this extravagance?

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Request to Canadian Civil Liberties Association to Assist in Preserving Democracy in Oshawa and Throughout Ontario

Mr. A. Borovoy,
General Counsel,
Canadian Civil Liberties Association

Good afternoon Sir:

I write you in regards to the first decree of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association which is the protection of rights and freedoms fundamental to our democratic system.

The City of Oshawa of population approximately 160,000 has recently passed a bylaw to bring the “at large” or the “general vote” to the city for the election of its city council.

This will make the city the largest in Canada to use the general vote without the “formal” use of municipal political parties which are at present prohibited by the Ontario Municipal Elections Act.

This irresponsible, undemocratic, and self-serving action of Oshawa City Council cannot at present be appealed for review by any outside independent and objective body and Oshawa City Council took specific action to insure this.

The general vote in a city the size of Oshawa is completely unworkable without political parties as it excludes the possibility of informed voters which the Supreme Court has said is a necessity in a democracy and a basic right of Canadians.

The resulting city council will be less accountable, less inclusive, less representative, and less democratic and will give all city politicians constituencies about twice the size of those of our Federal and Provincial Members which is untenable for a local government that is supposed to be closest to the people.

Oshawa did hold a “non-binding” plebiscite on the issue but designed an extremely flawed plebiscite process with a gerrymandered question designed to confuse the people and solicit a response favored by the majority of council.

Oshawa’s Mayor stated publicly that City Council had no duty to inform the public prior to the plebiscite and thus voters were confronted in the voting booth seeing a question for the first time that they didn’t understand and had not previously considered. Even the “technical” terminology used in the question was never defined for the public.

What is worst the action of Oshawa City Council can be duplicated unilaterally by any irresponsible city council in Ontario without rebuke given the Ontario Municipal Act as it stands today.

I am writing you with the hopes that your organization might consider taking action on this important issue.

You can find considerable background information about the issue at and I am personally available at the pleasure of you or your staff at any time to discuss any aspect of this issue in depth or provide any details that you might require.

We ask that one of the following actions be taken:

1) Oshawa’s General Vote Bylaw should be repealed, or,

2) That this kind of governance question should be appealable to the OMB, or,

3) If Oshawa is allowed to implement the General Vote, that the Province institute appropriate legislation in terms of fundraising, election expenses reporting, formal party approval of its slate of candidates as a requirement of registering as a party candidate, and an indication of party affiliation on voting ballots, and,

4) Failing the introduction of legislation to allow the growth of municipal political parties, the Ontario Municipal Act be revised to ensure that Oshawa's irresponsible and undemocratic actions cannot be duplicated in any other Ontario Municipality without citizen appeal to an independent, uninvolved, and objective body like the OMB.
The involvement of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association in this issue will apply influence and pressure on the powers that be to work to protect the basic premise of democracy--the “real” vote that allows the public to determine their political destiny. This is the basic “icon” of democracy and it is being undermined by Oshawa’s General Vote Bylaw and by the undemocratic process City Council followed in implementing it.

We believe that governments exist to serve the people and that it is a degradation of Canadian democratic ideals when politicians can shanghai the system for their own self-serving purposes.

I think we have to be ever-vigilant to protect against erosion of our democratic rights and freedoms.

We look forward to hearing from you soon regarding this important question and pray that your organization will provide assistance in the preservation of Canadian democracy and freedoms in Oshawa and potentially in the rest of Ontario.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Bill Longworth calls on City Auditor to Investigate Council's Plebiscite Strategy

The video following is VOTES Chairman, Bill Longworth's, presentation to Oshawa City Council on November 26, 2007.

As the title suggests, Mr. Longworth was calling on Oshawa City Council to direct Oshawa's Auditor General to conduct an audit on City Hall's communication, information, and education efforts to prepare Oshawa voters for the General Vote Plebiscite.

In the video, Mr. Longworth makes mention of the Mayor's public comments that the city had no responsibility to communicate information to the public about the plebiscite question. This is amazing since Oshawa purportedly asked the question to get an informed opinion about the issue from Oshawa voters. How can you get an informed opinion if people do not understand the question and city council refuses to provide information to them.

The only information we have about why the question was asked was a news report of Councillor Pidwerbecki, the guy who loudly insisted the plebiscite was democratic you will recall, and well after the plebiscite was held gave a very poorly thought-out explanation to the press. His actual answers have been dramatically satirized in a video. His answers and council's whole plebiscite process was designed to "snow" the people to implement an electoral system that would be self-serving to incumbents to secure their political careers till their death or resignation.

If you thought that the political system was to serve the people...guess again---because Oshawa politicians led by Mayor Gray and Councillors Pidwerbecki, Kolodzie, Parkes, Henry, Sholdra, and Marimpietri have proven by their votes in support of the general vote that they believe it should serve damned the people!

As we noted in an earlier post

Wording the question in terms of a "general vote" is a concept that most people would not understand since it was not defined anywhere and is not part of people's daily experience. While its meaning is as elementary to politicians as "galactosylceramide lipoidosis" or "zalcitabine" or "palmar fibromatosisis" is to medical doctors...the meaning is not easily understood unless you are in the field.

How would you feel if your family doctor said you needed a Cholecystectomy and then offered you a choice of laparoscopic or open...and refused to define the terms and give you the advantages/disadvantages of each? Wouldn't you get rid of him? Even worse, what if he didn't even tell you about the surgery and just wheeled you in and did it?

This is similar to what the politicians did with the plebescite question. They refused to give you information and just wheeled you into the voting booth for your "X" on a weighted question...irresponsible, undemocratic, and unprincipled.

They deserve the same fate as a doctor who would refuse you required information. Get rid of them!
And so how did Oshawa Council handle Bill's request? Just as expected! Page 584 on the Nov. 26, 2007 Council minutes shows...

15. Bill Longworth - Request to address Committee to request that City Council direct Oshawa's Auditor General to perform an audit on how well the City of Oshawa carried out its responsibilities in informing the public concerning the plebiscite question during the 2006 Municipal Election

Recommendation (LOST AND REFERRED)

That Correspondence FA-07-198, dated October 19, 2007, from Bill Longworth requesting that City Council direct Oshawa's Auditor General to perform an audit on how well the City of Oshawa carried out its responsibilities in informing the public concerning the plebiscite question during the 2006 Municipal Election be received for information.

16. Referendum Questions

Recommendation (LOST)

That any future referendum questions be referred to the Accountability and Transparency Sub-Committee to develop a framework.
Now isn't it amazing that they have referred FUTURE referendum questions to the Accountability and Transparency Committee to develop a framework. The last referendum that I recall was almost 25 years ago.

This is really sweeping the serious problem with the recent plebiscite under the rug.

These "OPTICS" of "ACTION" will not fool anyone!

Friday, December 7, 2007

Oshawa City Council "Hall of Shame"

We're going to institute a new feature on City Council "Hall of Shame". This will appear as a featured sidebar item like our "Best of" sidebar item and will be a perpetual watchdog for readers on the extravagance, waste, and failures of Oshawa City Council

While I realize that all councillors did not vote for those issues "making the list", I will attempt to identify those who did.

Some of the "Hall of Shame" stories have already been published on the blog and will appear as links to the stories. Other stories will be researched and written up in an ongoing way over the life of this council.

Those politicians supporting the "Hall of Shame" items will find their names linked to these issues as regularly as possible during the next election in our attempt to discredit and defeat those whom we feel are not positive contributors to Oshawa's long term health.

Some "Hall of Shame" stories we will be featuring in our growing list will be:

1. Oshawa City Council members, Mayor John Gray and Councillors Pidwerbecki, Kolodzie, Henry, Parkes, Sholdra, and Tito Dante Marimpietri all of whom voted to refuse to provide ratepayer information re the general vote and all of whom voted to take away local neighbourhood representation on Oshawa City Council.

2. Oshawa Council calls plebiscite question but refuses to inform public as Mayor Gray says its not Council's responsibility...this was up to private citizens despite Ontario Muncipal Elections Act roadblocks to third party campaigning.

3. Oshawa highest taxed jurisdiction in GTA yet mayor supports a further 9% increase.

4. Oshawa Bylaw Officers forced entry to UOIC student housing searching private quarters for student leasing documents.

5. City Council's misplaced communication is absolutely wrong to spent big bucks on world contests like LIVCOM contests to communicate to the world when council refused to communicate important information to the Oshawa public on the plebiscite question.

Communication begins at home!

Why ask a plebiscite question when you refuse to tell the public what its about or to insure understanding and promote public debate about it?

We are presently researching costs and other questions on the city's LIVCOM submission and will publish an article once we have established all of the necessary facts.

Early indications though are that there were few entrants, delegate presentations seemed to have been made privately to the judges without any public audience or other display of interest, that large cities like Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, etc. did not enter, that potentially all entrants were shortlisted to the final--in short, the whole contest was about meaningless optics and possibly a "holiday abroad" at taxpayer expense for the delegations. I wonder whether a cost/benefit analysis was done on this extravagance?

6. Council's continual votes to deny public information on the plebiscite.

7. Introduction of the General Vote which reduces council accountability, reduces inclusiveness in Oshawa political life, and removes neighbourhood representation from council. The General Vote further isolates political leadership from the people of the city and is completely unworkable without municipal political parties which are not at present encouraged by Ontario Municipal Elections Law.

8. City Politician's total renumeration packages including untaxed Expense Accounts, Auto expense allowance and political honorariums for sitting on community committees alongside unpaid community volunteers, conference attendance costs, blackberry costs, entertainment/meal expenses, etc.--all details under investigation at present and freedom of information request(s) is/are being prepared. Some city politicians conferenced (partied?) in all of Calgary, Ottawa, and Europe at taxpayer expense over the summer months.

9. GM Place costs citizens half million dollars this year but you can bet your boots that Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment that manages the site did make money on the operation. What is total cost when city borrowing costs including PUC monies are included? This whole area is being explored...but you can bet that there is going to be a continual taxpayer cost going forward...and continual profits to the management group MLS&E (of which my pension group is the majority owner!. My pension plan, one of the best and most profitable in the world is much smarter than city politicians and only invests where their return is assured!--in this case without putting any up-front development monies into the mix.)

10. The Cullen Garden Miniatures purchase fiasco which from all reports looks like an inside job with potential politician conflicts of interest.

11. Some council getting confused on a partnership funding question for the VOTES group where they were confronted with a "plebiscite-like" convoluted question and got confused voting the wrong way.
That the 2007 Partnership Grant request from VOTES of $25,000 as outlined in Report ABCS-07-95 be denied as it does not meet all the criteria established within the Partnership Grant Policy.
Realizing that they erred on a question similar to the plebiscite question that they insisted was so easy it wouldn't fool anyone, they voted against the committee/staff recommendation that VOTES be denied funding. In my books, this means that they had to support providing the funding to communicate plebiscite details to the public...but hey...council makes the rules and simply referred it back to committee so that they could bring it forth another time "so they could get it right!"

12. Plans to demolish and rebuild parts of city hall under the pretense that they need a "customer care" area...I bet that the public service area if they build one is miniscule but that political office space becomes gigantic...all at taxpayer cost purported to be about $12,300,000...but we'll believe this when we see the final figure. After all, our city politicians do need palatial spaces, don't they? And with the general vote, they'll all claim the need for bigger salaries, more staff and bigger watch!

Monday, December 3, 2007

Request for An Audit on City's Plebiscite Information and Communication Efforts

Bill Longworth
Presentation to Oshawa City Council
Nov. 26, 2007

I am here tonight to request that you direct Oshawa’s Auditor General to conduct an audit on City Hall’s communication, information, and education efforts to prepare Oshawa voters for the General Vote Plebiscite question.

We think it important to establish if Oshawa measured up to the communication standards expected by the Supreme Court of Canada and Elections Ontario in its information campaign leading up to the General Vote Plebiscite

If you’re interested in good government for Oshawa, you’d jump at the chance to have an independent look at your whole plebiscite strategy….to see if the voters were fairly informed…to see whether the plebiscite result had any validity whatsoever….because purportedly you voted to adopt the general vote because of public opinion as expressed by the plebiscite result.

If the plebiscite result was not valid because people didn’t understand the question or what they were voting for, perhaps you should not have moved to the general vote.

There seems to be a great disconnect between the expectations of the Supreme Court and Elections Ontario and public pronouncements from the Mayor that the city had no responsibility to inform the public, to define the terms used in the plebiscite question, to provide a rationale for the change, to explain why the question was asked since the question was not in response to any expressed public concerns about ward voting and to explain the ramifications of the change to Oshawa ratepayers.

While the supreme court says voter information is a basic right in a democracy, and the mandate of Ontario’s election commissioner leading up to the Provincial Plebiscite on Electoral Reform was

a) That voters receive clear and impartial information about the referendum process

b) To increase awareness of the referendum question

c) To educate voters about their choices
None of this was done in Oshawa…the mayor said the city had no responsibility to communicate any of this to the voter…and Councillor Joe Kolodzie said he’d never heard of a government body providing information about a plebiscite question

Are city politician's heads in the sand and they simply overlooked their communication responsibilities to insure an informed voter…or did they purposely and systematically design a system to keep the voter in the dark until they were confronted with the complex and confusing question for the first time in the voting booth not even knowing what was meant by a general vote or its ramifications.

A possible interpretation of General Vote to many voters is like a General Election where everyone votes in constituencies for their area representative. And this is a perfectly legitimate interpretation for someone unfamiliar with political terms. But it is the complete opposite of the meaning of the General Vote that people voted for. Unfortunately the meaning of the term "General Vote" was never communicated to the people.

Interestingly, Oshawa’s Strategic Initiatives committee is presently discussing a report to establish a committee on how to receive more direct communication from the upper levels of government. Isn’t it hypocritical for a local government that refuses to communicate important information about a plebiscite question to voters to get their considered and valid opinion to complain itself about what they consider to be inadequate communication from senior levels of government?

Council is also establishing an accountability and transparency committee as required under Bill 130.

Isn’t it hypocritical also for council to establish an accountability committee when it has voted to introduce the less accountable general vote system to the city. And isn’t it hypocritical for council to establish anything having to do with transparency when it hid the plebiscite question and details about its implications from the public as best they could.

And isn’t it hypocritical when council publishes brochures on topics like downtown ethnic restaurants, walking paths, and the 60 page Infosource document complete with politician’s mug shots delivered as a re-election document by Canada Post to everyone’s doorstep only to land in their recycling bucket and then be collected and disposed of at taxpayer expense when they refuse to provide information about major electoral reform being proposed for Oshawa?

The Mayor is not here tonight…he’s in England as part of Oshawa’s entry into the Livable Communities Contestso isn’t it hypocritical to spend a reported (and no doubt seriously underestimated!) $30,000 to send the Mayor and an Oshawa delegation to England for a week for this Contest even hiring professional writers to prepare the submission when council repeatedly refused to provide plebiscite information to Oshawa voters?

And so I’m asking Council to direct Oshawa’s Auditor General to perform an independent and thorough audit on Oshawa’s plebiscite process and City Council’s efforts to inform and educate the public about the referendum process and question to establish with some certainty the validity of the plebiscite result…to see how well Oshawa City Council measured up to the information expectations of both Canada’s Supreme Court and Elections Ontario.

In the survey, I’m asking that:

a) The auditor compare Oshawa’s communication efforts with other Canadian Federal, Provincial and Municipal administrations that wanted to secure a measure of public opinion through the plebiscite process,

b) The auditor commission a survey of Supreme Court cases having to do with the availability of voter information leading up to elections,

c) The auditor commission questionnaires and surveys to establish the degree of voter knowledge about the plebiscite questions, its meanings and ramifications leading up to the vote,

d) The auditor commission independent and random surveys of Oshawa voters to establish ratepayer’s knowledge of the change and their degree of satisfaction with its ramifications,

e) Survey questions should include:

i) if respondents agree that they were fully and sufficiently aware of the details and ramifications of what they were being asked on the plebiscite question,

ii) if respondents agree with the removal of local or neighborhood ward representation,

iii) if respondents agree that they could make knowledgeable choices of the merits of up to 100 general vote candidates for different offices on an election ballot,

iv) if respondents agree that members of local council should have constituencies twice the size of those of their provincial and federal government representatives,

v) If respondents agree that governments have responsibility to inform the public of details and ramifications of questions they are being asked…or do they agree with mayor gray who says the city has no responsibility to inform and all of the efforts at communicating details of the city question should be left up to private citizens to fundraise and organize the information campaign
I would ask that any audits commissioned on this issue be completely independent of city council, that reports and study design be completed without input or approvals of city politicians, and that the results be widely distributed to the public.