Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Term Limits for Councillors

The following item is my Nov. 23, 2009 column “Eye on City Hall” published every Monday in Oshawa Durham Central Newspaper. I also host a 3 hour radio program under the same title every Monday from 6-9 pm. Both can be accessed at

This week I am going to focus on two ideas proposed by Councillor John Henry at a Committee Meeting this past week….Term Limits for City Politicians and his proposal to rectify the loss of local community representation due to City Council’s decision to adopt the City-wide general vote. Henry is suggesting that council appoint councilors as ward representatives in something he called "special interest" wards.

While the first proposal is outstanding, it will not get the support of council, and the second is ludicrous, but will probably be adopted by the next council elected in November, 2010.

The real question is why Councillor John Henry proposed these ideas knowing full well that neither has a hope in hell of succeeding. He is either naïve or just spouting wind proposing ideas that even he probably disagrees with.

Funny how things work in politics. So why would Henry do this?

The only criteria for election under the general vote is “high name recognition” and does not at all depend upon quality of input to city business or a high level of service to ward voters responsible for political success under the ward elections that are used in every large city in the country except for Vancouver which has Municipal Political Parties. These are illegal under Ontario Municipal Law. Funny that Oshawa City Council has abolished the system used virtually everywhere else and has adopted a system not used in any large city in the country. If Oshawa City Council’s system was best, wouldn’t it be widely used?

In requiring only high name recognition for political success and making every councillor a competitor for the same city wide vote, the general vote promotes a non-productive and dysfunctional city council. All councilors will backstab, bitch, bicker and grandstand to grab the press to enhance their name recognition. No councillor will support a good idea coming from a fellow councilor since they wouldn’t want to give any competitor a “leg-up” for the next election. So let’s use these ideas of the dynamics of a general vote council to see why Councillor John Henry would make his suggestions and why council would never support them leading up to an election.

Henry’s first idea is limiting councilors to 3 consecutive terms (12 years) for any single position on council. This idea is outstanding since we have 3 council members who have sat on city council in excess of 20 years and 9 of 11 councillors have sat for over 12 years. Wouldn’t it be useful to insure some turnover to bring vitality and fresh ideas to council? Term limits are not a new idea and are used with some frequency in Democracies around the world. Term limits guarantee that councils do not become dominated by senile“flat-earthers”

When the question came up for committee discussion, it was if the city council “truck” was stuck on the top of a manure pile…and you were asked to help push it off as city council drivers spun the wheels and shot it right back in your face. It’s time for city voters to reverse the spin!

All of the political “spin” was negative….but what would you expect. With the lucrative part time job on council, why would councilors vote themselves out of this windfall? It doesn’t matter what is best in producing vibrant leadership for the city. Opponents said, 1) in a democracy, no candidate should be denied the right to run for office, and, 2) turfing office holders out after 12 years would result in too many inexperienced members. They didn’t mention that shooting the idea full of holes would guarantee the positions of the council dinosaurs. Holy Cow…the most powerful politician in the world, the USA president is limited to 2 terms or 8 years and thus an inexperienced president is elected every 4 or 8 years….but inexperienced office holders are incapable in running Oshawa’s business? Get real!

In terms of democracy, I don’t know why politicians are so keenly jumping on this track when they failed to insure the most basic and fundamental democratic right in regards to the general vote plebiscite question, the right to be informed which Canada’s Supreme Court has indicated is a citizen’s basic right and a most basic requirement for democracy to function in Canada. They said it was not their responsibility to inform voters about the question. Ludicrous! What would be your reaction if your child failed a test because the teacher refused to teach the content of the test?

Politicians cannot tackle this question of term limits because of conflict of interest problems. The Ontario Municipal Act prohibits them from voting on issues in which they have a pecuniary interest. Now that the issue has arisen, I suggest that council must now hold a plebiscite on this question to let the people decide. The result would then be forwarded to the Provincial Government to encourage them to introduce legislation allowing term limits. The idea of term limits was discussed, but unfortunately not adopted, in government proceedings leading up to recently introduced revisions to the Municipal Elections Act.

The second idea introduced by Councillor John Henry would have politicians themselves divvying up the city and appointing themselves to their favoured wards. This goes against everything we believe in our representative democracy and also the chief rationale given by council for adopting the general vote. They said that ward voting led to councillor’s parochial views in only being interest and engaged in their own communities without taking a city-wide view, a red herring flouted by ward system opponents prior to 1985 when I brought ward politics to the city. I don’t know how new arenas downtown and in the north end, new firehalls in the developing parts of the north end, rebuilding and renovating city hall downtown, etc. squares with the idea of parochialism since these expenditures required majority council votes. Council then is unlikely to undermine the chief rationale they gave for changing the election system….they can’t very well appoint ward representatives now that they have just thrown them out.

And why would Councillor John Henry vote continually and on every question to throw out ward representation and want to return it now? With no ward responsibilities, Henry must realize that his workload will be substantially reduced as he won’t have to deal with any constituency problems and thus will be able to devote more time to his other endeavors.

The idea, though, is philosophically ludicrous. In a democracy, don’t voters directly elect their chosen politicians to represent their specific interests? It’s only in autocratic totalitarian police states that despots, dictators, fascists are appointed to look after the “people’s interest.” While city bylaw officers with police and locksmiths in tow raided UOIT student bedrooms rifling panty drawers for leasing documents might be close to these kinds of regimes, we’re not quite there yet!

So why would Councillor John Henry introduce these ideas to committee? He knew they wouldn’t fly. He also knew that none of his fellow general vote competitors on city council would support his or any other councillor’s good ideas.

Now the real question. Was John Henry really sincere about these ideas that he probably doesn’t support….or did he simply want to grab the press?

Good Ideas John…but no kudos from me! You just wanted the press!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Eye on City Hall

I am pleased to report that I have been asked to write a weekly newspaper column called "Eye on City Hall" to be published every Monday in the Oshawa/Durham Central newspaper. In addition, I have been asked to host an internet radio progam on the same topic which you can hear every Monday starting November 30 from 6 to 9 pm. My commentary will be interspersed with the regular top popular music that you can listen to anytime while working on your computer. If you don't get the newspaper, it can accessed at and the radio station can be accessed at

In both of these mediums, you will find Information, Analysis, Comment, and unfiltered opinion similar to the items you find on this website.

I shall continue to write on this blog as usual as time permits.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Letter to Minister regarding Review of Ontario Municipal Election Law

Hon. J. Watson,
Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing

Hon. D. McGuinty
Premier of Ontario

Mayor and Council,
c/o Oshawa City Clerk

Dear Sir:


I write to you once again regarding the general vote that Oshawa City Politicians have implemented for the election of our next municipal council.

This change was made following a convoluted plebescite question on the 2006 ballot in which the public were poorly informed. In point of fact, the Mayor publicly acknowledged at a Council Meeting that it was not the city's responsibility to provide voter information on this question, saying this was up to private individuals who felt strongly about the issue. This, as you know, is contrary to Municipal Election Law which prohibits 3rd party campaigns. Oshawa Politician's lack of interest in communicating basic details as to what the question meant, what difference it would make to voters, why a change was needed, and why the question was asked, and their failure to ask a straight-forward question certainly demonstrated 1) they were not interested in an informed voter result, and 2) they manipulated the question and the voters to get a desired result.

City politicians were able to implement this change unilaterally without review to any external body like the OMB because they kept their ward structure even though these will not be used for election purposes. Only changes to ward boundaries are appealable and so Oshawa kept its ward boundaries to avoid any external objective review of the change.

Federal Members of Parliament have an average constituency size of 107000 and serious consideration is being given to reducing this significantly with the introduction of up to 36 more seats across the country. Does it make any sense then, that Oshawa's Municipal Politicians should have constituency sizes of about 165,000 or 50% larger than those of our Present Federal Members of Parliament. For a government that is supposed to be closest to the people, this makes no sense at all and simply takes our local government farther away from the people than our Provincial and Federal reps.

In fact, as I have communicated to you in the past, this large constituency will make our local government less accountable, less representative, less responsive, less inclusive, and less democratic. The huge ballot will produce an impossible task for voters in making informed ballot choices. Name recognition rather than service to the public will be the chief prerequisite for election success. This, of course, will present huge benefits to the incumbents...which is the reason why they favour it. The general vote serves the politicians---not the ratepayers.

In my communications with you, I suggested 1) that ward elections should be mandated for cities in excess of 50,000, or 2) that municipal election law should be updated to allow for municipal political parties including fundraising/reporting provisions, as well as ballot party identification for party approved slates. As you know, municipal political parties, similar to Vancouver's, are necessary to allow the general vote to work in large cities if they are being allowed to implement that form of election. Democracy requires an informed public and Municipal Political Parties present the only way for citizens to become properly informed under such a system.

In communications with you, you assured me that reviews of legislation governing municipal elections were underway and further assured me that serious consideration would be given to reviewing this issue.

The deadline for information to get to Municipal Clerks is rapidly approaching for any legislative changes to be implemented in respect of the 2010 Municipal Elections and I ask you to postpone Oshawa's proposed change in voting system to the 2012 Elections if your department is unable to meet the presently mandated timelines.

Your action NOW is vitally needed to ensure a fair and democratic 2010 election process for Oshawa City Council.

I would appreciate feedback on the current state of review of the legislation affecting this very important question.

Bill Longworth,

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Position of Local Councillor should be wiped out!

The following story has been reprinted from Oshawa This Week

Oct 08, 2009 - 04:30 AM

By David Conway
Former Oshawa Regional Councillor

As an Oshawa taxpayer and presumably a municipal voter, you may recall the referendum in the 2006 municipal election regarding the choice to continue with the ward system or change to the general vote system in electing our councillors. It was worded in such a way that if you wanted to retain the ward system you had to vote "no" to the question.

It was clever on the part of councillors who wanted the general vote system and it worked, mainly because most voters do not like to take a negative approach to the polls and therefore are inclined to vote "yes" even though they may not realize it may be detrimental to their best interests.

Now voters will be going to the polls in 2010 to elect seven regional councillors and three local councillors on a city-wide "general" vote.

This brings me to my topic question -- if local councillors were elected to serve two wards each in addition to the individual wards served by regional councillors, and those wards are no longer significant, then why do we still need local councillors?

With a city-wide vote in place all seven regional councillors will be elected to serve the entire city. What, then, is the purpose in electing three additional councillors to do the same thing?

I remember when Bill Longworth worked so hard to bring the ward system to Oshawa that there was considerable opposition but eventually it was approved. With Regional council in existence at the time it was apparent that a regional councillor's work would have to be considered a full-time position.

This precluded anyone with a full-time job in their own careers from offering their services as councillors. For this reason, and I am sure I am correct in this, five positions were made available for "local councillors" who did not sit on regional council and could therefore serve on a "part-time" basis as most meetings were held in the evening hours.

That has now changed to the extent that local councillors are now basically "full-time" councillors and some meetings are now being held during daytime working hours. The intent to have local councillors serving on a "part-time" basis has been abandoned. The significant increase in pay to local councillors substantiates that statement as well as their claim that it was twice as much work to look after two wards so the pay increase was merited.

It would seem to me that there is now no basis for electing seven regional councillors and three local councillors in a "general" vote system when all that is needed is seven regional councillors who collectively will be looking after the needs of all citizens of Oshawa.

This result would not only mean a more streamlined and efficient City council but would save the taxpayers approximately $200,000 per year.

Since it is less than three months before potential candidates begin registering for the 2010 election, it is rather important that City council give some consideration to this issue at an early date.
David Conway is a former Oshawa councillor.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Gross Mismanagement of our City Business, Conflicts of Interest, and Adoption of the "At Large" Vote to Protect Politicans from Electoral Defeat

The following is a citizen letter sent to the mayor and council which appears on a recent Finance and Administration Committee Agenda. You can read the original copy of this letter by clicking the title above and see the news articles the writer refers to.

Sent: Wednesday, August 12,2009 12:30 PM
To : clerks

Subject: Fw: Tax Information

Attachments: Tax lnformation

Attached is a recently published article that should be forwarded to everyone on Council.

With respect to property taxes on a residential property assessed at $350,000, you will note that taxes in Vaughan, Markham and Mississauga are about the same in the $3,500 to $3,600 range. Toronto is lower.

Now let's turn to Oshawa, we are 106% HIGHER than Toronto, 68% HIGHER than
Vaunhan, 74% HIGHER than Markham and 73% HIGHER than Mississaum.

What is the secret to their substantially lower tax rates?? I believe it is primarily due to the fact they don't have the Oshawa Council managing their financial affairs.

I wonder if they purchase fancy and "showy" sports cars for their Mayor? How do you really think hard pressed taxpayers feel when they see or read about our Mayor driving around in his "fancy" new "wheels", while they are suffering financial hardships and paying excessive property taxes in the current very problematic economy?

Perhaps some recent negative newspaper articles may shed some light on this for you. If the Mayor is entitled to a vehicle, then by all means get him a new one at the appropriate time. That is not the issue - what is the issue here is why he would be authorized to purchase such a "showy" vehicle and set such a poor example in this economic environment? This is somewhat like "rubbing salt in a wound". Such a decision speaks volumes as to how you really care about how taxpayers
money is being spent. By the way, saying this "showy/fancy" purchase was made to show
support for GM and the Camero, which is to be constructed at the Oshawa plant, just doesn't cut it with me.

I wonder if the other municipalities in the GTA pay the educational expenses for Councillors - expenses for an elected politician who could very well be gone at the next election! How do taxpayers benefit from this? Councillors are not permanent high potential staff being trained for future executive level positions! If they wish to improve their education, I strongly feel they should pay for this themselves - after all, they are the only ones who benefit!

I would really like to see the related business case (cost/benefit analysis) presented to support approval of such expenses - if one actually exists.

A related area of concern is that I understand Council approved having hard pressed taxpayers absorb these costs - what we have here is Council approving expenses for the benefit of Councillors on this Council!!?? Isn't this commonly referred to as conflict of interest? In any event, I assume you must have checked with your
legal area to ensure this was, in fact, appropriate?

I could go on and on - and on and on - but what is the point - you just don't listen. The only thing that seems to get your attention is finding ways to get re-elected.

When challenged on taxation, the City of Oshawa normally responds by advising Oshawa is "in the higher range" of property taxation in the GTA. This is extremely misleading as well as completely inaccurate - and if you do this again, you will be challenged in an appropriate manner. Stop trying to hide the true facts - rather, do what you are getting paid to do by more effectively managing the City's financial affairs and reducing our property taxes so they are in line with the other areas mentioned above. Most important of all, stop wasting our hard earned tax dollars!

I have lived in Oshawa for nearly 4 years. I can assure you that if I had been aware of the excessive tax rates here, I never would have moved to this area. Oshawa sure doesn't deserve a "premium"!!

The numbers mentioned above and outlined in the attachment speak for themselves. There is something dramatically wrong in Oshawa. How do you people sleep at night or "look in the mirror" - the greatest test of all - and live with what you see?? If this was a private business, most if not all of you would be terminated.

Unfortunately, being "bullet proof' politicians, the only way we can get rid of you is to try to vote you out of office once every 4 years.

You are all pretty "cute" - somehow you have manipulated the voting process whereby local Ward representation will soon be gone at the next election and Councillors will have no specific accountability to taxpayers in the local Wards. What a great way to "hide in the bushes" and avoid accountability to taxpayers. I do not recall ever having had a chance to cast a vote on this change and I can assure you that I RESENT THIS CHANGE AND AM 100% OPPOSED TO IT !!

An extremely unhappy taxpayer
Ron Boulter

Editor's Comment...Do we need Oshawa City Council...Here is the dominant business decided at the last council meeting...and we pay a third of our high municipal taxes to discuss this kind of issue...City Council and the city administration should be disbanded because all significant business is done at the Regional Level. We could save a significant proportion of our tax dollars!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Why no upgrades to south Oshawa parks?
---It's a function of the

Jul 22, 2009 - 01:18 PM

To the editor:

Re: Two Oshawa parks to get millions in upgrades, July 19.

Upon reading Friday's article regarding provincial funding for park renovations in the City of Oshawa, I was slightly confused.

Why, when there are so many children who would benefit so thoroughly from a new park in the south of Oshawa, are millions of dollars being spent on upgrading parks in well-off areas of the city?

I would like to give Mayor John Gray and council members the benefit of the doubt given that I am not familiar with their politics.

Therefore, I will say that this must simply be an oversight.

For surely, had the city realized the socio-economic benefits of choosing a park in such a location, they would have outweighed the city's need for a tourism boost.

Once again, it just leaves me wondering, why?

Bonnita Herriott


Oshawa Speak's Editor's Comment:

Everyone in South Oshawa must know that the city has plans to demolish The Civic and Harmon Park Arenas and potentially Children's Arena replacing these south end and central arenas with the new facilities in Oshawa's north end. They have already demolished North Oshawa Arena depriving those children in the most densely populated part of Oshawa from their arena to match their planned deprivation to children in South Oshawa. This is to be expected under the General Vote since Council members expect lower voter turnouts in the older and often poorer sections of Oshawa and thus feel no need to service these areas. They put all of their investments in the richer and higher voter turnout areas neglecting the needs of children most in need.

Without ward representatives to fight for the rights of taxpayers in the South end, they will get shortchanged every time.

No city council member lived south of King Street during Oshawa's 7 term experiment with the General Vote prior to 1985 while 8 out of 15 council members lived in the old Ward Six North of Rossland while 3 out of 15 members lived in one polling subdivision of about 100 houses at the East end of Regent Drive.

Only the well-to-do areas get served under the general vote since that's where all politicians come from under that system. That's why the general vote is not used in any large city in Canada without the use of municipal political parties which are banned in Ontario.

A city is often defined by its deprived areas which is still often Oshawa's general reputation which we have yet to completely shed from the past.

The General Vote is widely used in the USA where every municipal jurisdiction is organized around Democratic and Republican Party Slates and Platforms which determine voter choices.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Oshawa's New City Center
Can't City Council Do Anything Right?

City Council irresponsibly destroyed these---

To give us this $17 million
Aluminum "Beer Can"
as the focal point of our City Square
surrounded by existing architectural treasures

Prepare to be amazed
as Oshawa becomes Canada's laughing stock!

if we aren't already...what with
a) Cullen Gardens Miniature purchase
b) Only large city in Canada to use the General Vote without political municipal political parties which are outlawed in Ontario
c) The gall to hold a plebiscite and keep the question secret from voters to avoid public debate and understanding of the issue
d) The highest property taxation in the GTA
e) Attempts to bar minors from purchasing spray paint and magic markers in a mistaken view that this will limit graffiti
f) Refusal to return Provincial Ombudsman documents and widespread distribution of these contrary to conditions by which the city was given the documents
g) Housing discrimination against College and University students
h) Discussions to demolish all existing older arenas except Donovan and replace them with new facilities in the North end thus depriving South end children from easily accessible arenas
i) A mayor who has publicly chastised councillors for refusing to implement 9% tax increases
j) Giant fee increases for the use of taxpayer owned recreational facilties that will insure the facilities are under utilized
k) A giant run up of public debt with the continual explanation that it will not impact on the tax rate (I'd like to know where the money comes from if not from taxpayers!)
l) A Mayor who claims the city is well positioned to be a leading growth center in Canada despite problems in the auto industry, record city unemployment, and record city debt
m) Discussions to sell public park space at give-away prices to developers
n) Rationale for destruction of public buildings is that they need repair or are energy inefficient---if all governing bodies used the same rationale, they would destroy the Parliament Buildings, the White House, Buckingham Palace and every other public building in the world. You would also destroy your house every time it needed a new roof!
o) City Council allowed destruction of the historic Rundle House which they featured on their Historic Walking Tours Brochure
p) Wastage of staff time and tax resources on such publications as Restaurants of the Downtown and the many other publications distributed widely simply to put out political messages at taxpayer expense
q) The Mayor and a staff delegation going to England for a week for the Sustainable Communities Contest to learn that Oshawa was the third best place of our size in the world in which to live---brag about that to your friends
r) The numbers of taxpayer paid political ads at Remembrance Day, Canada Day, Easter, Christmas, Labour Day, Valentines, etc.
s) The destruction of city council chambers and "A" wing without firm prices and designs for the replacement...also hiding giant expenses behind two city hall projects...the refurbishment of Rundle Tower ($10Mill) and the reconstruction of Council Chambers and "A" wing (presently $17Mill)....the only purpose of this giant expenditure was to provide larger and more palatial office space for the politicians!
t) A Mayor who calls some of his fellow council members "Stooges"
u) A council that is becoming increasingly dysfunctional and unproductive as it moves to the general vote where every incumbent will be opponents of every other council member
v) Oshawa's new downtown arena set to lose another $300,000 to be billed to the taxpayer
w) A Mayor arguing citizens must pay $1.50 per withdrawal for "the convenience" of having ABM's placed in public places...he believes everything should be a "profit center" for the damned the public interest
x) The city's use of an accounting system that is designed to hide the true costs of all projects since no master accounting ledger is used to track costs for any project and costs for individual projects are hidden across a myriad of ledger sheets with inadequate descriptors to obfuscate costs.
y) The city's wastage of countless tax dollars and staff time in preparing useless flyers, brochures, press releases, etc. and entering meaningless contests like the "Sustainable Communities" contest where every entrant is a winner
z) We could cite further examples of ineptitude ad nauseum

How will the "beer can" fit with these?

Click on following visual of buildings surrounding
"THE BEER CAN" for a larger view!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Taxes in Oshawa are too high

Reprinted from Letters to Editor, Oshawa This Week, July 2

To the editor:

When are the people of Oshawa going to stand up against the council and fight the taxes in Oshawa?

I live in a 1100 sq. ft. home in north Oshawa and my taxes are $4,062 per year.

This is outrageous.

I tried to sell my home last year and every comment on why I couldn't sell was the amount of my taxes.

My taxes are soon going to be more than my mortgage payment.

Sandy Matthews


Editor's Comment---Perhaps one of the reasons why city council introduced the General Vote which guarantees their re-election is to protect their jobs even in the face the huge public debts they've generated and their generally incompetent management of city business.

City doesn't have track record to manage harbour

Reprinted from July 2, 2009 Oshawa This Week
Guest Columnist Adam Mercer

Few people in the City of Oshawa would deny that the harbour should be well-managed by an agency with the money and clout to do a good job for the people footing the bill; the taxpayers of Oshawa.

In a recent opinion column, Councillor Brian Nicholson essentially posed the question, "Why will the federal government not honour the recommendations of David Crombie and let the City of Oshawa manage the harbour or appoint a body to do so?"

Seriously? Does council as a whole not understand this? Staying informed about events in the city over the last year or two should provide the answer to that question with little difficulty, but in case anyone has forgotten ...

The City of Oshawa has a habit of making business decisions that don't make much sense to an outside observer. The Cullen Miniatures are still out there being stored at the expense of the City of Oshawa. There was never a plan worked out as to what to do with these things once the city owned them. If they cannot plan something like a $250,000 investment, why should they be handed millions in federal cash to do whatever they want?

Taxpayers are also on the hook for something between $14 and $17 million for the cost of rebuilding City Hall. Oh, and there are all the other building projects that have happened in the city that were such a great idea we have had to remortgage the only asset the City has that makes money, our local PUC.

If that were not enough to discourage anyone from allowing the City to take over the management of the harbour, the recent discord among members of council itself might be the straw that broke the camel's back. Between accusations made regarding hidden agendas, letters being hidden from public view, the now infamous "stooges" comment and the massive mishandling of the Ombudsman's report on some of the activities of council, it is hard not to see why there are questions about Council's ability to function on any major question. (Editor's Comment---Don't forget that Council actually voted to refuse voters information about the rationale, impact and ramifications of the change to the General Vote---a system not used in any large city in the country. If the general vote was better, don't you think it would be used widely?)

That's especially valid when it concerns an issue as economically and environmentally sensitive as the harbour.

From the Federal Government's perspective, it is looking to hire the caretaker of an important public asset in the Oshawa Harbour. Our council is confused because it is not even on the short list despite making poor business decisions, mortgaging the City's assets to spend more than it has and it seems incapable of unifying long enough for a photo-op.

If we have to look for positive and important accomplishments, there is always the massive PR effort to bring Kiss to Oshawa.

If you were hiring for an important position in your own company and someone dropped off a resume with highlights like that, would you even interview them?

Friday, June 12, 2009

Welcome Back From
Your Taxpayer-funded Holiday

While Oshawa is suffering record unemployment and job losses, extended GM summer closings and the potential shuttering of GM, the highest taxes in the GTA, and a train wreck, many of our councillors have been holidaying at our expense in Whistler, British Columbia.

They were there to attend the June 4-8 National Conference of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM). Of course they would have flown out a few days earlier and stayed a few days after to provide a decent holiday of sightseeing beyond what was provided by the conference. They would want to make the most of it as the holiday and expensive accommodation and transportation was paid for by Oshawa taxpayers who scraped together the tax dollars out of their empty pockets to pick up the politician's holiday tab.

While in Whistler, our councilors no doubt took advantage of every learning opportunity provided by the conference.

To be really valuable at this conference, our councilors should have organized a seminar showing their fellow municipal politicians across the country how to ram the general vote into their citizen’s throats as our city politicians did to guarantee their re-election and future attendance at many of these taxpayer paid FCM holiday junkets across the country. They could have counselled their fellow municipal politicians to design an incomprehensive plebiscite question designed to solicit the desired answer from unsuspecting voters and then keep the question secret to catch voters cold in the voting booth and refuse to provide voters information about the question so they could understand what they were voting for. They could have counselled politicians from across the country the strategy of how to introduce Oshawa’s new voting system that is not used in any large jurisdiction in the country. It goes without saying, of course, that the Oshawa’s system is not used because it is undemocratic, unrepresentative, and unaccountable, produces an unproductive council utilizing an incomprensible ballot with upwards of the names of 75-80 candidates for city-wide elections.

Instead of this valuable service, no doubt our politicians took advantage to take “study tours” featured on the conference program to the Olympic Sport Venues including the Whistler Sliding Centre which will host the bobsled, luge, and skeleton events, the Whistler Olympic/Paralympic Park which will host the biathlon, cross country and ski jumping events, Whistler Creekside which will host the downhill skiing events, the athletes village, a slideshow/video presentation about a 430-day Antarctic scientific mission (not an Arctic Mission which would have at least been relevant to Canadians), and enjoyed a gondola or quad chair ride to the top of Whistler or Blackcomb mountain to enjoy a casual evening buffet of west coast cuisine and local entertainment (to insure our city politicians didn’t get bored, they were also able to traverse back and forth between the mountains in just 11 minutes on the new Peak 2 Gondola to enjoy the breathtaking views from both mountains),

Additional tours with extra costs were organized to Ancient Cedars Hike ($135), a driving and hiking tour to explore some local waterfalls ($135), a Squamish First Nations Cultural Centre Tour ($23), a Zipline eco-tour ($145), a tree-trek canopy tour ($50), a Whistler Village walking tour ($13), a Lillooet Canoe tour ($135), an ATV wilderness tour ($147), a Whistler Art Tour ($33), and a Horseback Western Ride ($100). By golly, with all of the banquets, tours, and activities, there was hardly any time for serious business. But hey, our tax dollars have to treat our politicians well don’t they?

So you might be interested to know which of our city politicians took advantage of our largesse to entertain themselves on this junket. I shall find out for sure soon along with all of their expenses charged to city taxpayers but I did send an email to all city politicians asking if they were attending this conference, whether they were being accompanied by a spouse/significant other, and who was footing the bill. I also asked if they were going to write a report on this conference on their return documenting the new information they gleaned to introduce to Oshawa to provide taxpayer value for subsidizing the trip.

I received responses from John Neal, Robert Lutczyk, April Cullen, Brian Nicholson, John Gray and John Henry, all of whom stated they were not attending the conference….Good for them!

The others, Nestor Pidwerbecki, Joe Kolodzie, Louise Parkes, Tito Dante Marimpietri, and Maryanne Sholdra did not respond to my email. I must therefore assume one of two things…1) They attended the conference but wanted to keep it a secret as best they could, or 2) They do not respect Oshawa taxpayers enough to respond to legitimate queries from them. The truth will be discovered soon! I shall file a freedom of information request to establish who attended and the costs for each that has been billed to the Oshawa taxpayer.

Friday, May 1, 2009

City Lacks Openness with Voters

To the Mayor and Council,
c/o Oshawa City Clerk

Hon. Dalton McGuinty,
Premier of Ontario

Hon. Jim Watson,
Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing

Mr. Andre Marin,
Ontario Ombudsman

Local Press

As a person who wants to follow the actions of city council and of the concerns of residents, I find it ludicrous that city hall buries citizen letters within the agendas and minutes in such a way that no interested citizen can see copies of letters directed to the mayor and council to read their concerns and suggestions. City Council is not a private club and all information should be open to the citizens except that which is allowed to be "private" by legislation. I find this council to lack openness in the extreme with the citizens.

As an example of this, my letter addressed to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing in respect of suggested changes to the Municipal Elections Act is hidden as an appendix #9 at the bottom of the April 27, 2009 City Council Agenda and the lengthy letter is simply addressed as:

9. Bill Longworth submitting his recommendations to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing concerning the Municipal Elections Act, 1996, and recommending that Oshawa Council’s resolution to change to the general vote system of election be rescinded and that every municipality in the province with a population in excess of 40,000 people be mandated to elect their councils by the ward vote system of election. (All Wards)

This may whet the appetite of interested ratepayers but there is no link for those interested to see the entire list of suggestions given when in the past such links were provided.

Is this city council's attempt to limit public input and discussion to the administration of this city.

Please provide me the bylaw addressing this change of policy or was it simply made by seat-of-the-pants political reasons to stifle citizens?

It seems to me that we have two municipal GTA governments that garner national press exposure because of their inane actions...namely Oshawa and the City of Vaughan.

I am requesting that the Oshawa City Council be more open with the citizens of this city who are charged with the responsibility of electing a vibrant council for this city.

A vibrant democracy only thrives in the presence of information, something this city continues to deny.

It was undemocratic for the city to place the election system plebiscite on the last ballot and then refuse to provide information to the citizens about the question because the mayor publicly stated at city council, that it was not city council's responsibility to provide information on a question they had asked...and this denial of information is continuing to this day.

I am also sending this letter to the Premier, the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, and the Ontario Ombudsman with whom this city has recently been involved in a major conflict in refusing to return documents belonging to his office

Saturday, April 4, 2009

VOTES submission to Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing who have called for public input into review of Municipal Elections Act, 1996

Please title to submit your own suggestions to minister

Hon. J. Watson, Minister
Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing
13th floor, 777 Bay Street
Toronto, ON M5G 2E5

Dear Sir

RE: Review of Municipal Elections Act 1996

Below I have enumerated a number of changes to be considered by your ministry as they review and revise the Municipal Elections Act, 1996. I have brought some of these suggestions to your attention in the past and have been assured that consideration would be given under this upcoming review. Some of the suggestions below are new but all have been precipitated by the City of Oshawa’s determination to revert to the “at large” or “general” vote which has proven very unsatisfactory to Oshawa in the past but does serve the politicians to secure their council seats until their death or resignation. Integral to all of the suggestions I have made below is the most basic democratic principle that, “the political system should serve the people…not the politicians.”

Oshawa City Council has voted to revert to the general vote for the election of the 2010 City Council. At 160,000 population, this would mean that the constituency of each local and regional councillor for the city would be about twice the size of our Provincial and Federal Politicians. This makes no sense for a government that is supposed to be closest to the people.

Bill 130, as it stands, allows all municipalities in Ontario to introduce the general vote unilaterally without possible appeal to any independent body as long as ward boundaries are not altered. Oshawa city council voted to revert to the general vote but to keep, but not use, their existing wards thus avoiding an OMB appeal. This was in all likelihood an unanticipated action by the drafters of Bill 130.

Oshawa’s experience with seven General Vote councils prior to 1985 was:

A) Vast areas of the city became unrepresented on council as all political power became concentrated in a few of the richer areas of the city (half the politicians lived in one defined ward while 1/5 lived in one polling subdivision in a second ward)

B) Because of the concentration of political power to specific communities, city council became less inclusive, less representative and less diverse

C) The general vote produced huge ballots (the last 11X17 inches with close to 100 names) making it impossible for voters to make informed choices. Because of the impossible task of making informed choices, voters tended to vote for the names they’d seen before…the incumbents. As a result, all change in political leadership over Oshawa’s 7 general vote councils came as a result of death or resignation of incumbents and not one incumbent was defeated out of the 107 possible seats over that period. Half the city was not represented in any of those general vote councils.

D) Because political leadership could not be changed by the vote, an aging city council became less responsive and less accountable to voters and suffered from the lack of fresh leadership. Eight aldermen out of 14 were defeated under Oshawa's first ward vote.

E) Name recognition, rather than service to the community, was basic to getting elected so grandstanding, backbiting, bitching and bickering became the method by which politicians tried to grab the press to enhance their name recognition. Council became a dysfunctional rather than productive place at the expense of the city’s health.

F) Politicians tended to deflect their interests away from serving individual constituents instead favouring the interests of large groups with the hopes that these groups would encourage their city-wide membership to support the “friendly” politicians They also tended to favour the interests of potential political donors to help them fund their expensive political campaigns.
In light of the foregoing, we would ask the following:

A) That Oshawa’s change to the general vote be rescinded and that every municipality in the province in excess of 40,000 population be mandated to elect their councils by ward vote.

B) That failing the mandating of ward voting for large municipalities, that legislation should be drafted allowing for the formation of municipal political parties including

• Political party fundraising and reporting legislation

• Political party approval and submission of slates of candidates to carry the party banner

• Provision to have political candidates identified as independents or with a party on municipal ballots

• Legislation allowing for private caucus meetings for party incumbents
C) That Legislation be introduced limiting municipal politicians to two consecutive terms to allow for the introduction of fresh ideas and fresh leadership

D) That municipal communication requirements be more rigidly defined to insure that voters are sufficiently informed re the ramifications of any plebiscite question being asked by a municipal council

E) That municipal political campaigns be publicly funded consistent with the vote success of candidates as only incumbents at present are able to secure political donations. All such private donations should be prohibited and past surplus monies raised by politicians and kept by the clerk should be folded into city revenues or returned to the donors.

F) That consideration be given to eliminating local councils and local civic administrations where the municipality is part of a regional government. Elimination of this redundant administrative duplication would generate significant cost savings to the municipal taxpayer with the upper senior tier easily accommodating the existing minor responsibilities of the lower tier

G) That in the event that lower tier civic administrations are not eliminated, that local councilors in these administrations be eliminated as redundant.

I would be pleased to attend and provide input or testimony at any meeting or session where the issue of ward vs general vote is being considered or discussed or where further input is requested for any of my suggestions.

In support of the above requests, we have provided links below my signature to some important supporting information appearing on our website

Bill Longworth
Chair VOTES (Vote To Eliminate Self-serving politicians)
159 Spirea Court,
Oshawa, Ontario

905 579 3971 (home)
905 809 1875 (mobile)

Links to Additional Supporting Information

Bill Longworth, Feb. 5, 2007 presentation to City Council arguing for retention of ward voting in Oshawa

Bill Longworth, April 30, 2007 city council presentation re. problems with the general vote

Mayor explains City Council has no duty to inform voters of plebiscite details

Open Letter to Premier

Letter to Canadian Civil Liberties Association

VOTES files complaint with Ontario Ombudsman re Oshawa General Vote plebisite process

Letter to Editor of 250 Ontario newspapers explaining the need for change

Letter to J. Gerretsen and Premier McGuinty asking for legislative changes to allow for municipal political parties if Oshawa’s General Vote Bylaw is allowed to stand

Letter to J. Gerretsen quoting parts of 1985 OMB finding (M840053-March 21, 1985) directing ward vote to be implemented in Oshawa

Council votes to deny providing information to public about general vote

Bill Longworth argues for disbanding Oshawa Civic Administration and complete integration of entire Civic Administration into Durham Region to dismantle a redundant level of government and its unneeded expense to city taxpayers

Why ward system is best and why then did city council vote for the general vote

Letter to Premier suggesting Province employ Oshawa’s “NO COST” plebiscite process to provincial electoral reform question

Council gets stymied by its own plebiscite-type question—the type of question they insisted was easy to understand and couldn’t possibly confuse the public

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

City Councillor's Travel Budgets

The following letter to the editor has been reprinted from Oshawa This Week with the author's permission

To the Editor,
Oshawa This Week
Feb. 9 Letter to the Editor

In reading the February 6th article with respect to granting further tax payer's money for Oshawa council's travel needs, I think Oshawa tax payers should be outraged not just at increasing travel budgets, but even considering sending City personnel to Whistler, BC for a conference.

Do these councillors not get it? In these difficult times, with layoff notices now counting in the thousands, council should be looking at reducing spending on things such as travel not increasing it.

Councillor Parkes says it is essential to attend these FCM conferences because "'s where they learn best practices and keep up on what is happening in other municipalities." Well, certainly these “best practices” from previously attended conferences does not seem to have benefited Oshawa tax payers as we now have the highest municipal tax rate in Canada. This has occurred due to this Council’s breath taking spending spree over the past number of years on arenas and recreational centers to the tune of $84 million, $10 to 12 million on the new City Hall and of course $250,000 on miniatures which are in City storage with no buyer to be found.

Current debt load for the City is over $105 million with the interest cost alone projected to be over $12 million for 2009. Council has also drained most of their reserve funds and the Oshawa PUC, so nothing for a rainy day which everyone now knows is upon us. We are only weeks away from knowing what are tax increases are going to be for this year, which is going to be a struggle for many Oshawa families.

If Councillor Parkes and her like minded colleagues want to know what is going on in other municipalities that have “best practices” in place, they should pick up a telephone and talk to them about it and not go on a tax payer paid boondoggle.

James Sprague,

Other published Letters to the Editor by Mr. Sprague

Councii has duty to be open with citizens
Council keeps making same mistakes

Site Editor's Comment

The Toronto Star recently published an article listing Poland as a week-long conference destination for some Oshawa politicians. This would allow city politicians of Eastern European Heritage free holidays to their homeland at taxpayer's expense. How long will city taxpayer's tolerate politicians deciding where they want to travel and then fabricating justifications for taxpayers to pick up the tab to get there? All international and out-of-Province Conferences should be barred from public funding. Taxpayers cannot afford to be constantly sending politicians on these junkets. Taxes are high enough without letting politicians holiday and party at our expense.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Too much Spin! Let's be real!

Oshawa City politicians are forever stretching the truth about Oshawa...and we've had enough. Let's make it great rather than saying it's great. We'll all recognize our greatness when we achieve it.

We're forever being told that Oshawa is the third best place to live in the world, that it won design awards for our tax draining GM Centre, The Legends Centre and the South Oshawa Community Centre, has won marketing awards for its downtown restaurants, and that we'll a GDP growth leader in Canada through 2011.

It's about time that city politicians got down to brass tax to work toward solutions to our problems rather than spending inordinate amounts of costly staff time in entering contests and spending our tax money on spreading the word through news services and image marketers. Action is far more important than words!

Nowhere are we being told by city politicians that we have the highest property tax in the GTA, that we have the highest EI spike in Canada and that welfare rolls are on the rise. No where are we being reminded of the Cullen Gardens Miniatures fiasco, the sorry state of the downtown and its business failures often attributable to city staff red tape, or to raids on Durham College/UOIT students residences to seek housing agreements. Nor are we reminded by the mayor of his pleas for increased taxing increases to cover wild council spending sprees. Lastly, we are not reminded by the Mayor and Council of our future city council voting system that is not used in any large city in the country. Worst of all, we are not told that council refuses to communicate important information to its citizen. When city council voted to hold a plebiscite on our municipal election system, they refused to tell us the details of the plan, what the change would do for the city, why we needed a change, or indeed what the question meant as the mayor said it was not council's responsibility to inform voters about the question. They worded the question in a convoluted and difficult to understand way and kept it a secret until voters were confronted with it in the voting booth...Democracy requires an informed public and council strategized to limit public information.

Oshawa City Council demolished North Oshawa Arena and City Hall because of forward maintenance costs. >They have now voted to demolish Civic Auditorium with the same rationale. "These buildings are old," they argued, "and costly to maintain."

City Hall's solution was to demolish the older buildings and replace them with new claiming significant savings. "Spend $50 million plus all the financing costs on General Motors Center to save $1 million on Civic Arena repairs," they said, "and spend another $50 million plus financing costs on city hall rebuilding and refurbishing because "A" wing had a leaky roof.

The North Oshawa Arena demolition, the City Hall demolition, and Rundle House demolition were all done by the same contractor who will undoubtedly be awarded the contract to demolish the Civic as well as Harman Park Arena and Children's Arena when they are scheduled for demolition.

The questionnable decision to demolish Oshawa's real estate assets, and strategically replace them with new arenas in the richer areas of Oshawa thus depriving children in the older areas of community ice facilities raises other questions. How is it that the one contractor is demolishing all of these buildings? Were they put out to tender? Were they tendered as a group even though council had not yet voted on their demolition? If they were were put out to individual tender, how come one contractor was able to come in with the lowest tender on all? Of course far more serious questions arise which I shall let astute readers identify for themselves!

In any case, the common rationale given by politicians and staff for the demolition of the old and replacement with the new was to save on maintenance and repair costs. This would lead to a belief that maintenance and repair costs would be negligible on the new facilties which have been widely acclaimed by the city for their quality of design and construction. In reality, and not at all communicated to the public by the politicians, is in its first three years, the Legends Centre has undergone major repairs with the disintegration of terrazo flooring in some parts of the facility and at the present time the walking track has been closed because of leaking roof problems. This is the very problem politicians claimed of "A" wing of city hall. They voted to tear that down! I wonder now in the interests of consistency whether they will take the same decision on the Legends Centre.

In the interests of "truth" and not the political "spin" justifying all of the expenditures, the pictures following will be proof positive about questions of "quality" and of the need for continuing maintenance and repair in even our newest facilities. If our newest facilities need ongoing maintenance and repair, what is the merit of the city hall argument to demolish and replace to avoid upkeep costs. It's like rebuilding your house when it needs to be shingled!

But hey!!! This city hall "bomb and rebuild" rationale keeps us on top of the heap as the highest taxed region in the GTA. It justifies our motto, "Prepare to be amazed!"

With such questionnable decision making and such wastage of citizen's hard earned tax dollars, no wonder that city council bunch wants to isolate itself from public accountability with the self serving general vote that protects their jobs until they die or retire.

Our "best-design-in-North-America" Legends Centre from December to March each year...I don't suppose city officials informed the judges of this major design flaw! They "snowed" them as they continually "snow" Oshawa taxpayers!

Our "best-design-in-North-America" Legends Centre has numerous cracks in the terrazo of the main hall...This looks like a "quality issue in this 3 year old building...perhaps the floor was laid on an unstable base and will only get worse over time! This absolutely destroys the merit of Council's rationale about destroying older buildings to avoid maintenance costs! Perhaps this defect continues under the ice pad floors!

Our "best-design-in-North-America" Legends Centre has already replaced this hallway of terrazo leading into the pool changerooms in this 3 year old building

Our "best-design-in-North-America" Legends Centre has giant cracks in the concrete sidewalks leading to the main door...This looks like another "quality issue" in this 3 year old building...perhaps the whole structure was laid on an unstable base and will only get worse over time leading to perpetual and major repairs...perhaps even demolition of an unstable building! Sections of this concrete sidewalk have already been replaced once again leading to a major defect in council's thinking...they wanted to avoid ongoing maintenance costs in older buildings by demolishing them and rebuilding...So much for that brilliant idea that has cost taxpayers plenty!