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.

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