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2017 Year in Review

Councils make countless decisions each year, here are those that garnered the most public attention, for better or for worse

HOT

Making pets a priority

Oshawa pets were given new levels of protection early in 2017 to ensure their only concerns now are hairballs and the squirrels outside their windows. The updated pet standards bylaw introduced new criteria for adequate shelters, pens and enclosures. Specifically, when it comes to the outside home for your canine counterpart, houses must not only be large enough for your dog to stretch out fully when inside and allow them the ability to stand, sit, turn around and lie down, but they must also be constructed so that they are sufficiently insulated and completely enclosed, save for the door. The house must also be raised off the ground and the roof, floor and walls must be durable, waterproof and weatherproof with the ability to be sanitized. As well, the new bylaw lays out the regulations regarding animal pens including size and location. The updated bylaw was labelled “a great gain for dogs living in unacceptable conditions” by pet advocates.

Ward system approved

It took some time and a lot of consultation, but Oshawa city council made good on their promise to implement a new ward system ahead of the 2018 election. With the help of Watson and Associates and lead consultant Robert Williams, a new five-ward system was implemented by council in June. The new system includes one ward for both the northern area of the city and everything south of Gibb Street and Olive Avenue in the south end with the three remaining wards dividing up the city centre.

Back-up power for fire halls

Following debate and delays, city council approved the fitting of permanent back-up generators to Fire Halls 2, 3, 4 and 6, equipment said to cost approximately $385,000.  The debate around generators in the city’s fire halls heated up in the summer of 2017 when it was reported a back-up power system had been slashed from Fire Hall 6’s budget, the city’s newest hall, after all the bids to construct the building came in above the city’s $3.5-million budget.  The issue was highlighted when The Oshawa Express learned of a fire in June 2016 in the south end of Oshawa only a short distance from Fire Hall 2. However, when the call went out from the dispatcher, it wasn’t received by the nearby firefighters because the power was out at the time. Another truck was sent instead, arriving more than seven minutes later. Thankfully, nobody was hurt. A city report was released which explained that while the infrastructure was constructed to house the generator, the generator itself was left out. And while the project held a $19,000 surplus, it still required approximately $81,000 from the city’s fire equipment reserve to make up the difference.

A life-saving warning

It took more than five years, but the City of Oshawa finally made good on a commitment to instal pedestrian safety gates at the Wilson Road level crossing following a tragedy on the tracks in 2012.

In 2012, 16-year-old Jacob Hicks was struck and killed at the crossing, which previously had descending gates for cars, but nothing blocking the sidewalks for pedestrians to warn of an approaching train.

Following Jacob’s death in 2012, the city immediately set aside funds to the tune of $87,000 to pay for its share of the improvements. The responsibility is shared between the railway company that uses the line, the municipality and Transport Canada. However, when a city report listed other cheaper options than the electronic gates, it was uncertain as to whether the project would move ahead.

Now, the gates are complete and in August, the city put the final touch by spray painting wide logos reading “Look. Listen. Live” across the ground on either sides of the tracks.

Apartment blitz moves forward

A move toward proactive enforcement for property standards and fire code violations at the city’s apartment buildings was a step in the right direction earlier this year.

In the fall, the city launched the pilot project that saw three apartment buildings inspected to make sure they were up to snuff when it came to the city’s bylaws.

The three buildings chosen for the project were 275 Wentworth Street East, 155 King Street East, and 222 Nonquon Road, all of which sit in a priority area identified under the Region of Durham’s Health Neighbourhoods Mapping System as having serious deficiencies related to health and wellness of the individuals living there.

The inspections resulted in the common areas of all three buildings being inspected with the task force finding violations in the fire code and property standards bylaw in all three locations as well as violations to the lot maintenance bylaw at 275 Wentworth.

Now, the city is looking at the possibility of repeating the program in the new year with two more such building audit projects.

 

NOT

Europe on the tax payers dime

Something started to smell a little off with a regional trip overseas when it was revealed by The Oshawa Express early in 2017 that some pleasure trips were paid for with taxpayers dollars.

According to documents obtained by The Express in February, regional staff signed off on covering the costs for a trip for two to the Palace of Versailles, a 17th century French palace located in a wealthy Paris suburb, a sightseeing cruise for three in Paris and a trip and audio guides for nine at the Sagrada Familia Basillica, a 19th century Catholic basilica in Barcelona.

Nine representatives from the region were in France and Spain in early July 2016 to investigate anaerobic digestion, which sees compost used to generate biofuel. The cost of the trip, according to an estimate provided by the region’s travel agent prior to the excursion was just over $90,000.

“These trips were not tours of waste related facilities, however, that does not mean that they are not properly the subject of reimbursement. Some of the expense claims involved group activities and…were approved as appropriate,” said Susan Siopis, the current works commissioner for the Region of Durham.

Council appoints new member

It didn’t take long for council to get on the wrong side of public opinion in 2017.

The sudden death of long-time councillor and former mayor Nancy Diamond led to what could still be the most contentious decision of the council term thus far as the majority of councillors opted for appointments instead of a byelection in order to fill the council vacancy left behind by Diamond’s passing.

Filling the gap resulted in two appointments that took place in March. First, council voted 5-3 to appoint city councillor Doug Sanders to fill Diamond’s regional and city councillor role. Following that, Gail Bates, the next runner up on the city councillor election ballot, was called up to fill his place.

However, before the decision, nearly 10 delegates appeared before council with their thoughts on what should be done. There were calls for a byelection, and for the appointment of former regional and city councillor Tito-Dante Marimpietri to fill Diamond’s seat as he was the runner up on the regional/city councillor ballot, less than 150 votes behind Councillor Bob Chapman.

“This has to be the most egregious violation of democracy that I’ve ever seen at any level of council,” said former councillor Brian Nicholson following the decision.

Conant sewage backups

The City of Oshawa and Region of Durham really stepped in it when their response to repeated sewage backups in the Conant Street area of Oshawa left a lot to be desired.

Starting in the summer months, plagued by heavy rainfall, one resident was left considering legal action against the region when repeated calls for help in fixing the problems were met with no solutions.

“I kept telling them something was wrong. They didn’t believe me,” says Conant Street resident Szilvia Tarkanyi, noting that, there was no appropriate municipal action until she spoke about her issues with the media.

What followed was a back and forth and finger pointing between the city and region.

“First of all, if there is an issue with a street, the region should let the municipality know as soon as possible,” said Mayor John Henry. “There needs to be a better level of communication. This should be used as an example so this type of situation doesn’t happen again.”

Fighting with the IPC

The province’s top privacy watchdog had some strong words for the City of Oshawa and its seeming reluctance to search for information requested by residents.

The slap on the wrist came this fall when a public report from the Information and Privacy Commissioner (IPC), labelled the city’s tactics as a “collateral attack or abuse of process” in trying to get off the hook from searching for further emails linked to the controversial hiring of an independent investigator in 2013.

At issue, was the release of emails between the late councillor Nancy Diamond and investigator George Rust’D-Eye, hired in 2013 to investigate claims made by former auditor general Ron Foster in his report AG-13-09 that detailed allegations, many of them against senior employees of Oshawa, claiming their actions compromised the process of the acquisition of 199 Wentworth Street East for the new depot used to house city vehicles and many of the city’s operations staff.

Previously, the IPC ordered the city to release early emails between Diamond and Rust-D’Eye. However, when the city did so, it was clear that something was missing. For that reason, former Oshawa resident Rob Vella, the man behind the appeals, has called on the IPC for help once again. And once again, the IPC took his side.

“In light of the recent findings, the City is doing a better job of recording the search efforts undertaken by staff such that the IPC is more fully informed about the nature of the search undertaken from the outset,” said city clerk Andrew Brouwer.

Changes to South Oshawa bus routes

Many residents of South Oshawa were crying foul earlier this year over proposed changes to the Durham Region Transit’s 403 bus route. At the time, the bus made its final stop at the Oshawa GO station. However, changes saw that final stop pushing west to the Whitby GO Station and bypassing Oshawa’s station altogether.

The proposed change had many residents furious that the services were being removed from Oshawa’s south end, an area that perhaps needs the transit more than most.

Representatives from Durham Region Transit told The Oshawa Express the changes stem from previous customer feedback and Durham Transit’s planning department’s vision to offer “enhanced mobility throughout the region and through connections in our communities.”