By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express
Rosemary McConkey is no stranger to council chambers, but come December she’ll be on the other side of the railing.
Over the past decade, McConkey has been involved in political activism at both a city and regional level.
Some of the causes she has been heavily involved with include successfully advocating for streaming of Oshawa and Durham Region council meetings, safety improvements at the intersection of Ritson Road and Winchester Road, and efforts to ensure the Highway 407 extension did not stop at Simcoe Street.
It was issues like this which inspired McConkey to run for and win the city councillor seat for Ward 1, which includes Oshawa’s bedroom communities of Columbus and Raglan.
She previously ran for mayor in 2014, finishing third behind John Henry and John Gray.
McConkey is happy the city returned to the ward system for this term.
“We have a great ward in Ward 1, but like all of us have our own unique problems,” she says.
With the at-large system, she feels it was difficult for citizens to know who to reach out to.
“It was either all or nothing, but most of the time I found you’d be falling between the cracks as a resident with issues. Now you know you have two for each ward,” she says.
McConkey notes it was apparent the ward system was confusing to some voters as she spoke with residents at the doorstep.
During this year’s municipal election, the Town of Ajax hosted a number of debates, and McConkey feels this was lacking in Oshawa.
Leaving the onus on community organizations and other groups, who already have other responsibilities, is not the best option in her opinion.
“It’s unfortunate this past election with the low voter turnout. I think in the next election the city really needs to step in and make sure that there are opportunities to have debates in the community centres,” she says. “I just truly believe in engaging as many people as you can, especially young people.”
Town hall meetings with council are something else she wants, calling them a rare occurrence during the past term of council.
One issue at the top of McConkey’s mind is traffic.
“I’m hearing so many issues, not about just the congestion in getting around in the ward, and in their immediate areas, but also parking in front of schools and parking on both sides of the road where there is a bend has caused issues.”
To her, many areas in Ward 1, and throughout the city, need better traffic management mechanisms such as four-way stops, speed limit signs and increased enforcement.
McConkey’s platform also includes numerous measures to promote financial stability.
She’d like to see an immediate freeze of the remuneration and benefits of council members, and the elimination of stipends for chairing and co-chairing committees, and gas expenses.
In addition, she’s calling for any tax increases to be limited to the rate of inflation.
Other suggestions include hiring staff on a contract basis, especially performance-based agreements in economic development, placing a cap on staff overtime hours and ending the practice of reimbursing Highway 407 expenses.
She’d also like to see changes made to the budget process, including listing expected revenue and expense increases and decreases in the documents made available to the media and public.
“I have an issue with the way it’s laid out…it’s very simple to correct, and should be more transparent,” McConkey says.
The first-time councillor wants to analyze the best practices of other municipalities.
An example of this is snowploughing of sidewalks, a service that McConkey says is offered very efficiently in municipalities such as Whitby and Newmarket.
In Oshawa, seniors can have their name added to a registry, and if they require their sidewalk to be ploughed, city workers will come.
However, McConkey notes residents are required to re-register every year. She claims if there are multiple requests for ploughing on a street, workers will sometimes only clear in front of those specific homes.
She would like to see a phased-in approach and have up to 100 per cent of all city sidewalks ploughed by 2022.
To help improve tourism, the city should better promote attractions such as the Robert McLaughlin Gallery, Canadian Automotive Museum and Parkwood Estate.
“We need that tourism attraction. Everybody is busy and we only have so much time, but if we can attract them, it benefits everyone,” she says.
With budget just around the corner, the incoming council will have their hands full right off the bat.
McConkey has met with a number of city staff already and has been reviewing the last four budgets.
She is hoping to have a mock council meeting before council is sworn in on Dec. 3, as she feels it would be good practice.