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Oshawa not the "middle of nowhere" in 2012

The world didn’t end and the news kept pouring in: 2012 could be called a lot of things, and eventful should definitely be one of them.

If Oshawa were a machine it would be a dredger, constantly unearthing new stories within itself to be heard and shared. Every week brought a new cause, a new protest, a new fight and new triumphs to light.

From Jann Arden dubbing Oshawa “the middle of nowhere;” to an ethanol plant being dropped in the city; to the unexpected and as of yet unexplained saga of former City councillor Robert Lutczyk, the hits just kept on coming.

But there was more agreeable news as well. A successful round of negotiations between General Motors and the CAW kept thousands of residents at work; Harman Park Arena dodged the accountants’ axes; and Lakeridge Health had a new CT scanner bestowed on it through hard work and charity.

Oshawa continues to be a community that churns out news above its weight class. Sometimes the bad news outweighed the good, and sometimes the city edged closer to purgatory than paradise, yet the show went on.

There were dull moments, but 2012 will still remain a notable year.

It refused to let itself not be.

Incinerator issue continues to simmer

Just as it was in 2011, Clarington’s Energy-From-Waste (EFW) facility was in the minds of many with several issues surrounding the incinerator making headlines.

Lawsuits, labour disputes, costs, construction updates and resident concerns were all hot topics when it came to the $283.9 million project that is currently being built.

First there was DurhamCLEAR’s (Citizens Lobby for Environmental Awareness and Responsibility) lawsuit against Covanta, the company building the incinerator, and the Region of Durham, that presented itself in January and continued to be an issue throughout the summer until it was dropped in June.

A judge announced in 2011 that the environmental group would need some “skin in the game” if it wanted to continue its lawsuit against Clarington’s Energy-From-Waste facility. The group claimed the land the incinerator is to be built on was not zoned for what they see as a privately built and run facility; and should therefore not be used to construct the facility.

During the legal battle, the Region stated that DurhamCLEAR should have to provide “security of cost” to bring the case to court – to the tune of $40,000. The judge agreed.

Long delays with the courtroom process and ultimately the $40,000 price tag marked the demise for DurhamCLEAR’s cause, as they attempted to appeal the ruling but legal fees got in the way. Despite several attempts to raise the money, the group announced it would end its legal action this past summer.

But while DurhamCLEAR tried to continue its crusade before it was kyboshed in June, local contractors also tried to fight, albeit for an entirely different purpose. They didn’t want to see the project nixed completely; they wanted to be included in its construction.

Around February, Terry Dorgan, business manager for Local 894, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), claimed Covanta approached him with guarantees members of his union would be used for the construction. Region staff said the buy local condition was never included in the contract and Covanta also released information stating it had selected Courtice Power Partners as the general contractor for the incinerator.

The matter carried over into March, where council directed Regional Chair Roger Anderson to deliver the message loud and clear the Covanta needed to hire “a many local skilled workers as possible.”
Joey Neuhoff, Covanta Energy’s vice president of business development reiterated that the company is not contractually obligated to use any local labour but will find the majority of its workers from in the area.

“A majority of the work will be local content, local labour,” he explained.

In October, Covanta hosted a tour of the facility for reporters. Located off Courtice Road, the project at the time was nearly 15 per cent complete. The incinerator will handle 140,000 tonnes of post-recycled waste per year. It is scheduled to be fully operational by December 2014, and will be able to create 17.5 megawatts of energy, enough to power 14,000 homes, says Covanta, which already runs EFW facilities in British Columbia, Italy and throughout the United States.

In December, The Oshawa Express reported that some of Covanta’s dealings in British Columbia were resonating among Clarington incinerator opponents in Durham. The Ministry of Environment (MOE) for British Columbia is investigating after 1,800 tonnes of fly ash was dumped into a landfill after failing a toxicity test from a facility that Covanta operates in Burnaby. As a result of this news, Clarington council sent correspondence to Covanta stating that council “expects a much higher standard of accountability, transparency and due diligence with respect to the Durham/York Energy-From-Waste Facility.”

Covanta’s Media Relations Manager James Regan quickly pointed out the two facilities were much different and that the image of Covanta was being tarnished.

“We continue to be disappointed about the misinformation that’s being spread about our company,” sais Regan. “There has been an inaccurate portrayal.”

“We’re a member of the community now. We look forward to operating a world-class facility there.”

Harman Park Arena stays open

It took all night, but City council eventually voted to keep Harman Park Arena’s doors open to the public.

A study done by outside consultants had indicated the City had an oversupply of around two ice pads. Staff recommended to council that closing Harman Park Arena could save the City money needed for repairs on the aging facility.

It took an all-nighter, featuring testimony from local sports teams and passionate residents before council voted to keep the rink open by a razor-thin 6-5 margin.

City council now has to find a way to pay for repairs to the rink, estimated at around $3 million.

Oshawa’s first homicide of 2012 occurs on Celina Street

The first homicide victim of 2012 was 61-year-old David Walker. He was found murdered inside a home on Celina Street.

Police say they were called to the home at 190 Celina Street in the early morning hours of January 29, 2012 for an unknown trouble call. A friend of the victim found him unresponsive inside the home and then called police.

At first the death was ruled suspicious but after investigators from the Major Crime Homicide Unit and the Major Crime Forensic Identification Unit continued to investigate, his death was ruled a homicide. Results from an autopsy determined “an obvious sign of sharp force trauma,” which contributed to the victim’s death, police said.

The case remains unsolved.

Ornge deal turns sour

In 2011, Ornge, a provincially funded medical transport agency agreed to station one of their helicopter bases at the Oshawa Municipal Airport.

It was not to be.

Financial scandal at the agency, over high salaries and for-profit ventures, plagued Ornge all year. The provincial government, auditor general and police launched investigations into its operations.

In January, Ornge decided it would review its decision to locate one of its bases in Oshawa.

Later in the year, Mayor John Henry was called before the Ontario Legislature’s Committee of Public Accounts regarding the agency’s decision and the incentives being offered it to relocate. He was one of several witnesses who discussed the viability of an Oshawa base.

By July, Ornge’s new board of directors decided against any change in its current bases, effectively axing the Oshawa base. In September it was confirmed Ornge was selling the hangar it purchased at Oshawa Municipal Airport.

Port authority starts up

The old Oshawa Harbour Commission finally gave way to the Oshawa Port Authority at a grandiose announcement.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and Oshawa MP Colin Carrie announced the transition in February. Immediately questions were asked about the relationship between Minister Flaherty, former Harbour Commission Chair Gary Valcour – chair of Minister Flaherty’s riding association and who would also become the port authority chair – and FarmTech Energy Corporation, which is planning to build an ethanol plant at the harbour.

The port authority has governed the harbour since; and begun preparations to renovate the east wharf.

Region and City approve tax hikes during budget time

With 2013 budget talks set to start soon, it’s no surprise that budget decisions hit newsstands and the pocketbooks of residents in 2012.

The Regional portion of property taxes was approved in February at 2.35 per cent in 2012, which meant residents were paying about $53 more is their home was valued at $319,000.

The 2012 budget of $1.015 billion included all Regional departments, police, Durham Region Transit (DRT) and any special contributions Durham makes including the $800,000 given to Durham College for its Whitby campus expansion and the $3.26 million to Lakeridge Health and Rouge Valley Ajax Pickering Hospital.

A 2.75 per cent tax increase has been set as a guideline for the 2013 budget talks.

This means Durham Region residents could be paying around an extra $64 on their property tax bill based on a home that is valued at $319,600. The matters still need to go before council.

The City of Oshawa approved a tax increase of 2.3 per cent in March of 2012, the lowest among Durham municipalities. Reductions were made to the budgets of the City’s advisory committees, the General Motors Centre and winter control. Under the City’s multi-year budget projection, 2013’s property tax increase would be 2.9 per cent, if council wanted to keep current service levels and capital costs.

City workers in hot water for alleged sex acts

Two City of Oshawa employees were fired for “unacceptable behaviour” as accusations in a February letter described acts of sexual activity, allegedly filmed in the workplace.

The letter was addressed to Durham police, but was released to the mayor, councillors and the media, and stated “sexual exploitation and acts of sexual intercourse of underage minors has occurred at Legends Centre Recreation Complex on Harmony Road in Oshawa during working hours.”

It further alleged that two City of Oshawa employees “committed various sexual acts on city time with underage female casual employees… The matters became known when the shift supervisors videotaped the sexual acts and began bragging to others. Since then several female casual employees have complained.”

Durham police detectives later determined no crimes were committed involving the City employees. 

“Any acts that were sexual in nature between the involved parties were consensual and involved those over 16 years of age,” police stated at the time.

What’s more, the City’s own internal investigation in late January didn’t uncover any of the activities outlined in the February letter. It was simply stated that the employees were “in violation of the respect in the workplace policy particularly with regard to harassment and bullying as defined under the Occupational Health and Safety Act and the Human Rights Code.”

Oshawa’s second murder of the year shocks community

Just one day after Valentine’s Day, Oshawa police were on scene for Durham’s second homicide of the year.

Oshawa resident Claudio Cara died of “sharp force injury,” at his Waverly Street North home, where neighbours were left shocked. The 56-year-old’s death was largely a mystery, with police appealing for any leads in March that could help find the man’s killer.

Then in October, Cara’s daughter made an emotional plea for more information during a press conference held by police. The General Motors retiree had been living a quiet life, she stated. He was teaching his daughter Italian and had just purchased a new truck with the vanity plates “CARA01”. Throughout the press conference the police made assurances they had not given up on finding his killer.

In November police revealed that charges had been laid in the case. The son of Cara, 28-year-old Francesco “Frank” Cara, was indicted in connection with his father’s homicide.

He was charged with second-degree murder. His case is currently before the courts.

Regional chair elected, not appointed

After much debate and discussion the public will elect the Region’s top dog in 2014, instead of being appointed by council.

In January 2012, the minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing gave the go-ahead for the Region to “exercise its power under Section 218 of the Municipal Act to change the method of selecting the head of Council.”

A public meeting was held in April where several delegates spoke in favour of direct election. Regional council agreed with 24 councillors voting in favour. This meant that the process could go to the municipalities for yet some more voting. 

According to the Region, the bylaw to enact this change had to pass a “triple majority.” That meant that a majority vote from the eight lower tier municipalities, meaning five would have to vote in favour of the change by September 1. In May triple majority was achieved.

Now, come election campaign time, candidates will have to vie for the spot, just as any other candidate for council will. Currently, the Regional Chair is Roger Anderson. He didn’t say for certain whether he would run or not for the position.

CAW Local 222 celebrates 75 years

In March of 2012, the CAW Local 222 commemorated a special milestone, the day the local union came to be, March 2 1937.

Dozens of union members, retirees, local politicians and curious residents ventured to the special historic open house at the hall on Philip Murray Avenue, commemorating the union’s 75th anniversary. While the open house was one way to celebrate, the CAW Local 222 also made sure significant historical moments were forever captured through its book “A 75-Year Retrospective - In Our Own Words.”

A special section outlining several momentous occasions throughout the union’s history was featured in the February 29 edition of The Oshawa Express and provided a glimpse at what the book had to offer.

Oshawa: The middle of nowhere?

During March, Jann Arden and her dog – Via Rail only allows service animals in its passenger cars –  were booted off a train in Oshawa. Reacting in horror, Arden quickly tweeted she was stranded “in the middle of nowhere.”

Oshawa did not take it well.

Arden wound up apologizing for what she termed a figure of speech, and in turn received an apology from Via.

“(L)ove me some Oshawa…it was the middle of nowhere for me just for a second…know what I mean?” tweeted Arden. “We were dumped off…that’s all.”

Three schools become one

The Durham District School Board brought to a close the lives of Duke of Edinburgh, Ritson and Harmony Public Schools.

The triad was collapsed for a new school being built on the site of Duke of Edinburgh. A contest to select a new name for the school eventually chose Olympian hero Clara Hughes for the new moniker.

Clara Hughes Public School will open in September 2014.

Councillor’s performance earns her LGBTQ love

Councillor Amy England, at a PFLAG fundraiser, took to the stage in drag to sing a Bruno Mars ditty. PFLAG is an organization dedicated to assisting those struggling with issues of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Some local media outlets and residents framed the conduct as unbecoming of a councillor and attacked Councillor England for her performance.

In response, the local lesbian, gay, bi, trans and queer (LGBTQ) community packed the council chamber and hosted a NO Hate Silent Rally that circled the downtown core to show their support for Councillor England.

Whitby fire claims three teens

While not in Oshawa, a fatal fire in Whitby was felt around the region.

Crews arrived on scene just after midnight April 29 at the home of 917 Dundas Street West. Three teenagers, one boy and two girls, were carried out of the home and later pronounced dead.

The one-and-a-half storey home had two units inside, one on second floor, and one on the first floor, which included the basement, Whitby’s fire chief explained at the time.

A total of 21 firefighters responded to the call and attempted to rescue those inside. Flowers and memorials were strewn across the lawn of the home as the teens were remembered.

Miniatures move to Niagara and settle in

In May 2012 the Cullen Miniature Village was packed and loaded up to make the trek to Niagara, its new home.

The 182-piece collection, which for many symbolized a holiday tradition in Durham Region, was bought by the Niagara Parks Commission (NPC) for $113,000 in 2011.

After years of trying to off-load the collection, which was purchased by the City’s former council in 2007 for nearly $250,000, the miniatures were to be displayed next to the Butterfly Conservatory in the Botanical Gardens. They were also to be fixed up after being left in storage in poor condition.

In November of this year, the newly restored pieces of the village were unveiled at the Floral Showhouse and Oshawa Mayor John Henry was there to see it all happen.

The NPC also included, “a plaque identifying the role of the City of Oshawa in keeping the collection intact and facilitating the transfer to Niagara Parks” during the opening.

This plaque was also unveiled during the recent opening.

“We’ve reached an end,” said Mayor Henry at the time of the not-so Miniature Village saga. “They’ve been moved to an area where they can be appreciated.”

Oshawa’s third murder victim from British Columbia

The third and final homicide victim of 2012 was Kamran Ahmadbeigi, 26, of Vancouver, British Columbia.

He was shot and killed outside a home on Stevenson Road North in Oshawa on May 25. Police said the shooting occurred around 8 p.m. that night and the man was rushed to hospital and later pronounced dead.

Canada-wide arrest warrants for second degree murder were issued in November for two men in connection with the case.

Airport runway extension shot down

All attempts to extend the Oshawa Municipal Airport’s runway from 4,000 to 5,000 feet experienced serious turbulence, eventually leading council to scrap the idea.

A pair of June council meetings was held to discuss the proposal. Many supporters of the extension said it would stimulate the local economy and help make the airport more financially feasible. Its detractors claimed the noise generated by the airport, and its business case, was untenable.

A peer review and gap analysis to look at extending the runway was voted down by council, first at a Development Services Committee meeting and then again at a regular council meeting. Even when a group of local investors said they would guarantee a $50,000 investment for the review and analysis, a majority of councillors refused to be swayed.

Later, a motion from the Oshawa Airport Advisory Committee criticizing council’s decision earned the committee a rebuke from council and a review of the committee’s role.

General Motors, CAW sign off on new deal

Rough and tumble negotiations between General Motors and the CAW punctuated the fall. Both sides managed to come to terms, signing a four-year deal.

As part of the agreement, General Motors agreed to postpone the closure of its Oshawa consolidated line to June 2014, instead of a year earlier as planned. The company also added a third shift to its flex line.

In return, the CAW agreed to a new wage system for new hires, starting them at a lower rate.

Gens ink new head coach, GM

The Oshawa Generals did some housecleaning in the offseason, signing former Peterborough Petes General Manager Jeff Twohey and Windsor Spitfires Assistant Coach D.J. Smith to serve as the team’s general manager and head coach, respectively.

In 2012, the Generals are second place in the East Division. As of the Oshawa Express’ deadline, their play has them heading into the playoffs as the third overall seed in the Eastern Conference.

Prime minister and premier pay visit

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Premier Dalton McGuinty arrived in Oshawa to celebrate an $850 million investment announcement by General Motors into its research and development wing.

Both praised the auto industry as a vital part of the economy and the investment for bolstering it.

The investment was one procured by the company during the 2009 auto crisis, when the governments of Ontario and Canada forked over more than $10 billion in financial assistance.

The money is to go expanding research on lightweight materials, mechatronics, software and communications while enhancing partnerships with automotive suppliers and developing “formal technology linkages” with Canadian universities, institutes and manufacturers.

Ethanol plant receives approval

After months of speculation the Oshawa Port Authority had a closed vote in August to approve the construction of an ethanol plant at the harbour.

The decision flew in the face of City council and local activists, who had argued against the facility being built near the waterfront and the protected Second Marsh.

FarmTech Energy Corporation, building the plant, says the plant will bring jobs to the area and help local farmers find markets. Mayor John Henry and council had suggested Brock Township as a better location for the plant.

Earlier in the year FarmTech had removed its application for federal funding from Agriculture Canada, causing some to believe it had abandoned its plans. These assumptions were proven wrong with the port authority’s approval.

The reaction to the move was swift. New Democratic MP Olivia Chow, with the support of Oshawa City council, wrote Canada’s ethics commissioner asking for a full investigation into the Oshawa Port Authority’s board of directors and their ties to Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and FarmTech. The investigation was denied, but opposition to the facility continues, especially by local grassroots group Friends of Oshawa’s Waterfront. 

Construction is scheduled to begin on the plant soon.

Global crime ring brought down by police

Durham Region Police busted an international group of thieves specializing in “distraction-style” thefts in September.

More than 400 people were involved in the heists, which usually swarmed convenience store clerks and seniors while robbing them. The robbers either belonged to or were recruited by a Roma organized crime group operating throughout Southern Ontario, say police. 

As part of “Project Mansfield,” officers managed to arrest 34 suspects and press 263 charges against the group, which had wired around $1 million overseas and collected $2 million in social service money for its recruits.

New CT Scanner for Lakeridge

October 2012 saw a new CT Scanner Suite delivered to Lakeridge Health Oshawa.

Harry and Elizabeth Mellow left their entire $1.5 million estate to the local hospital.

The money went to good use, with the brand new Harry and Elizabeth Mellow CT Scanner Suite.

This is the third CT scanner at Lakeridge Health. There is one existing machine in Oshawa and one at the Lakeridge Health Bowmanville site. Approximately 27,000 people receive a CT scan at Lakeridge Health every year. The first scans are already taking place. The $2.3 million project was made possible with money raised by The Oshawa Hospital Foundation as well.

Mellow relatives Marion Pearson, Mary Helen and Sharyn Sargent were thrilled to see that new suite and happily cut the ribbon for the official unveiling.

McGuinty calls it a day

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty caught many flatfooted when he announced his resignation.

The premier and the Liberal party had won a minority government in the 2011 provincial election, but the premier apparently decided enough was enough and decided to walk away.

Blaming the opposition for “holding Ontario back,” McGuinty also prorogued the Ontario Legislature. He remains as premier until the Ontario Liberals elect a new leader at the end of January 2013.

McGuinty started as premier in 2003 when the Liberals toppled the Ontario Progressive Conservatives and their leader Ernie Eves.

Former councillor faces kidnapping and explosive charges

In the hours following an October 15 Oshawa City council meeting, City Solicitor David Potts was allegedly abducted in front of his house and driven to Whitby by the assailant.

Police managed to track down Potts and his kidnapper, resulting in a brief chase, during which the lawyer escaped unharmed. The kidnapper then fled into an industrial building in Whitby, holding out from police for 27 hours.

The standoff ended and Robert Lutczyk, a former Oshawa councillor, was charged with kidnapping, firearm and explosive offences.

Lutczyk served as a member of Oshawa City council until his loss in 2010. Police called the dispute between he and Potts business related but declined to elaborate.

Lutczyk has been in custody since the kidnapping, undergoing psychiatric evaluations at Ontario Shores. His court appearances have been brief and he has yet to undergo a full bail hearing.

Meanwhile, Potts has returned to work at City Hall.

Camaro pulling out of Oshawa

Just before the holidays, General Motors dropped a bomb on local autoworkers: The next generation Chevrolet Camaro will not be built in Oshawa.

The company made the decision to move Camaro production to Lansing, Michigan decision based on a “comprehensive business case,” that included consolidating its rear-wheel drive assembly.

Camaro production will wrap up at the end of its current lifecycle, which the CAW estimates to be late 2015 or early 2016. The Camaro is built solely in Oshawa and accounts for around a quarter of GM Oshawa’s production.

Union leaders are predicting 1,000 job losses could occur as a result – not including those losses in spin-off industries, like auto parts manufacturing.

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