By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express
With students across the region returning to the classroom this week, local politicians will be doing the same with the fall’s first regional committee of the whole meeting on Sept. 6.
A number of important reports and decisions are on the docket for council.
Perhaps at the top of the list is the final business case and future plans to address a potential move by the province to ban all organic materials from landfills by 2022. A preliminary business case was presented to council at the last meeting before summer break.
At that time, Michael Cant, principal of solid waste for GHD Ltd., the consultation firm preparing the business case, said all options available to the region would result in “significant capital expenditures and increased operating costs.”
Jim Clapp, the region’s director of finance, estimated capital costs could range between $170 and $210 million, although he warned those figures could increase in the final business case.
As reported earlier in The Oshawa Express, there are two options for the region in terms of future organics management.
The first, in-vessel management, would build on the region’s current process by adding mixed waste pre-sorting, which would increase the current system’s capacity for additional organic wastes.
The second process, anaerobic digestion (AD), is described in the business case as providing “a robust system which will be able to sort and process cross-contaminated materials from the single and multi-family residence waste streams.”
Durham regional chair and CEO Roger Anderson believes this business case and the “waste policies and positions” that result from it will be a “big issue” for council to address.
Seniors issues will also be at the forefront of council’s attention. With the region’s Age-Friendly Durham Strategy and Action Plan finalized earlier this summer, the next step will be the creation of a Council on Aging.
This group will feature membership comprised of residents, regional staff, representative of area municipalities and industries related to the needs of seniors.
“We are not getting younger across the region. Age-friendly issues, to me, are as important as accessibility issues,” Anderson says. “If you can’t open the front door or get in the front door of a business, you’re not going to be spending money there. If you can’t get around your communities in an easy and efficient manner, you’re not going to live there.”
Another anticipated report will be delivered by the Affordable and Seniors’ Housing Task Force, which was established to review Durham Region’s current rental housing supply.
In preparation for releasing its analysis to council, members of the task force met with residents and industry representatives, including landlords, developers, and operators of non-profit and housing providers.
Ahead of this week’s council meeting, The Express reached out to Oshawa’s regional councillors to gauge what they perceive as the important issues this fall.
Comments from councillors Bob Chapman were not received as of the Express’ press time.
Regional council’s first full council meeting takes place Sept. 13.
Mayor John Henry
Henry is calling for “proper funding for infrastructure from the provincial and federal governments”.
“Proper and fair funding, that is the big challenge. We can’t continue to meet the needs of our residents simply off the backs of taxpayers,” he says.
Oshawa’s head of council wants senior levels of government to replace the current application-based funding formulas with an allocation-based formula.
“Only the big, big cities are going to get [funding that way], this isn’t only about Ottawa or Toronto.”
Henry says it is crucial regional council also keeps a close eye on North American Free Trade Agreement renegotiations, adding that Durham Region would be significantly impacted by changes to the auto industry.
“We make a lot of cars here and it employs a lot of people,” Henry states.
Councillor John Aker
Firstly, Aker wants to see a conclusion to a dispute between The Region of Durham and the City of Oshawa over $8.9 million in unfunded pensions and benefits for former Oshawa Transit employees after the region took control of city transit in 2006.
Aker says in the past decade, the region has racked up more than $700,000 in legal bills “without coming to any conclusion.”
“This has been ongoing for more than 10 years,” Aker says. “It’s is very important for us to settle this dispute.”
Secondly, Aker says with Oshawa “booming and thriving”, the region has its own role to play to help continue that “dynamic growth.”
“It has to be a priority, the region has total control of water and sewer,” Aker says. “We are proactive in Oshawa in terms of planning, but that doesn’t do anything if you don’t have the water and sewer to construct residential units.”
Aker notes there is a number of residents employed at businesses along the Wentworth Street corridor, but “people have challenges getting to or from work and “there has to be sufficient transit routes along Wentworth Street.”
Councillor Amy McQuaid-England
The aforementioned Wentworth Street corridor will be on McQuaid-England’s radar this fall as well.
In a collaboration between the region’s transit and economic development departments, staff will be conducting an ’employment survey’ along the corridor.
“We will be asking all employers and employees how they use transit, and how they get to and from work,” McQuaid-England says.
The Oshawa councillor is hopeful the region will utilize this resource in the future when planning transit routes.
McQuaid-England will also be calling on the region to host a town hall meeting for those who have faced racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination to voice their concerns and experiences.
She plans to bring forward a motion to see the region set aside a one per cent tax increase to deal specifically with climate change issues while assuring she also wants to address homelessness and housing issues.
Echoing the sentiments of Aker, Neal wants to see the transit dispute between the region and the city of Oshawa come to an end.
“It’s a terrible situation,” Neal opines.
Neal says for years he has been encouraging the two sides to come together and hash out their issues on transit.
“Both sides are spending huge amounts of taxpayers money on expensive law firms and it is still ongoing,” Neal says. “Oshawa taxpayers especially are being hosed on this one, as they pay both region and city taxes, so we are suing ourselves?”
A secondary issue that Neal voiced his concerns about is the removal of two Oshawa seats on regional council after the current term.
“It’s especially disappointing because we are supposed to the fastest growing city in Canada and the housing, economic and educational centre for the region so for regional council to take away two representatives from Oshawa makes absolutely no sense.”
Sanders, appointed to regional council in March to replace the late Nancy Diamond, believes alterations to certain transit routes will cause challenges within the region.
“Sometimes you are dealing with seniors and people with disabilities who have to walk further [due to route changes],” he says, adding that he is unsure if the “proper approach” was taken in changing those routes.
In the past few months, a number of residents on Conant Street in Oshawa have been plagued by sewage backups. Sanders says he is interested to see what caused the problems and how the region will address this situation and similar ones in the future.
For Sanders, it is important that when sitting in the regional council chambers, that councillors “take off their city hat” and look at issues with a wider view.
“The biggest thing for me is to make sure those less fortunate are represented,” Carter says.
As part of the task force that will be making recommendations on affordable and seniors housing, Carter says he wants to see action right off the bat.
“With the recommendations of the Task Force moving forward, I’d like to [as a council] make commitments to funding and building,” Carter says.
“If we can get that done in the next year to have a plan move forward and actually see those dollars put aside, it will be great news. That is my number one priority.”
Carter also wants to see increased ‘mobility’ for those in neighbourhoods identified as high priority by the region, “so we can really meet the needs of those who are economically challenged.”
“If we are looking after those who are less fortunate than we are bringing in jobs,” Carter says.
Looking down the road to budget deliberations, Carter says it is important council is “very sensitive to the impact on taxpayers”.
Councillor Nester Pidwerbecki
Pidwerbecki lists the Pickering Airport at the top of his list of priorities.
“That is something the region should be striving to get a commitment on [from the federal government],” Pidwerbecki says.
The veteran councillor believes the region “could definitely use another airport” but wants to see a decision either way.
“If not, let’s gone on with what we need to do. A decision needs to be made.”
As the chair of the region’s Works Committee, Pidwerbecki is also looking to see more investment in local roadwork, noting that “climate change has had a lot of impact on the asphalt.”
Finally, Pidwerbecki believes the province should expedite the expansion of rail service in the area.
“Move the schedule ahead…there is a need because of the building that is going on in the east end of Durham Region. Both North Oshawa and Courtice are booming.”