Current leadership and accountability, economic development and the city’s debt are major issues in this year’s Oshawa municipal election. With nine candidates vying for mayor, voters have a lot more ground to cover when it comes to the candidate’s platforms.
It can be overwhelming for voters to make informed choices at the polls, according to Bill Longworth, first-time mayoral candidate. He said the general election system in Oshawa means voters are staring at an “11×17 ballot” when they hit the polling stations Oct. 27.
If elected, Longworth said he intends to reinstate the constituency system he lobbied for Oshawa in 1985.
A general election system means a city’s council is responsible for the municipality as a whole, whereas the constituency system means council members are responsible for specific geographic areas known as wards—and is a much more commonly used system in cities, according to Longworth.
“(A system) that makes everybody responsible for everything (means) nobody assumes responsibility for anything,” Longworth said.
The city’s finances are a major issue to consider as well. Chris Topple, another first-time candidate for mayor, claims the biggest issue Oshawa faces right now is its $125 million debt compared to neighbouring and debt-free Whitby.
“Our economic state is in very poor shape and that will be the very first thing that will be tackled by the new council,” Topple said if he is elected. “Of course the other problem is we have a terrible situation involving governance in Oshawa… city council is divided, fragmented, polarized and very bitter in opposition to each other.”
Joe Ingino, another first-time runner, said the current mayor lost control of council during this term.
“If you want anything to be done at city hall you must go through a real charade of red tape, and that has to go because investors and people with money don’t want to come into a city where they have to spend months and tons of money to get their projects through,” Ingino said. “The reason why (the system) is broken is because our city hall doesn’t have any leadership.”
Ingino plans to take control if elected, which includes restructuring city hall to allow easier economic development.
Accountability and questionable leadership within the walls of city hall are topics that have crept up most during this election’s campaign period.
Rosemary McConkey is an avid watchdog of city council and a first-time runner for mayor. She said improving the finances of the city is the first of her three-fold platform, which also includes cultivating a positive image of Oshawa and encouraging citizen engagement.
“I have been before city and region council I believe more than anyone in the history of the city or the region,” McConkey joked. “Responsible activism is a good thing, it’s about the well-being of the city and improving the quality of life here.”
John Henry is Oshawa’s current mayor and incumbent. He said councillors have worked very hard this term to create new job opportunities and he is excited that residents are starting to see some of these changes, such as the renovations at the Oshawa Centre and the building plans for another major mall just north of the college and university campus, which will create about 2,500 jobs.
“Our youth unemployment for the ages 15 to 18 is somewhere around 20 per cent, and that’s why it’s key to get as much of these opportunities done as quickly as possible,” Henry said. “It’s not just about the starter jobs, it’s the spin-off jobs that come from (college and university) students… The jobs that pay the wages that you deserve to get paid when you graduate.”
John Gray, who served as mayor from 2003-2007, cited economic development as his major concern for the city as well—especially considering the future of General Motors in Oshawa is looking bleak, which will negatively impact unemployment rates and property taxes.
“In economic development the first rule is to retain what you already have,” Gray said. “We’re under a real dark cloud right now regarding the future of General Motors in Oshawa… we are less than two years away from what appears to be the cessation of production.”
Lou DeVuono, a first-time candidate, is taking a different approach in the election. He said he wants to restore responsibility and respect to taxpayers in city hall by revamping council and city staff to take a customer service-oriented approach to dealing with taxpayers.
“We’re there for them, we work for them, they don’t work for us,” DeVuono said.
Donald Woermke, another one of seven first-time candidates, said the biggest issue for the community is taxes. Although Woermke said he couldn’t make promises to lower taxes or hold to no increases, he will “examine the costs of different departments to try and find waste and pass it back to the people.”
Dan Hammond, first-time candidate, could not be reached by our deadline.