By Chris Jones/The Oshawa Express
Oshawa Mayor Dan Carter was hit with a bombshell right before taking office when General Motors announced the plant would be shutting down.
Since that election in 2018, it’s been a term fraught with upheaval. There’s been the amalgamation of the Oshawa Port Authority with that of Hamilton, the ongoing determination to fill the economic void left by GM, an opioid crisis, and then there was a pandemic.
Strife is nothing new to Carter who easily handles diversity. It is after all what shaped the man who makes no secret about his history with addiction. And he is
happy to be the mayor – especially the mayor of Oshawa.
“I love my job, and I love what I’m doing. The first 18 months have been a major challenge in a lot of different ways, but I’m proud that I’ve got this opportunity to be the mayor of this great city,” he says.
For Carter, while it was only days before he took office that GM made its announcement, he was pleased to see a $175 million investment eventually made by the company in Oshawa, as well as the autonomous vehicle track.
“That was a very difficult time to go through. To see the people that were affected, the families that were impacted, understanding that these decisions were made in the United States… that was really difficult,” he says.
The plant has even taken on the production of personal protective equipment to help Canadians through the pandemic.
With the disbanding of the Oshawa Port Authority, and amalgamation with Hamilton’s, Carter was thrown another wrench shortly after taking on the role.
He notes the decision made regarding the federally run port was out of the city’s control but they jumped in to negotiate with the federal government to be able to make sure the concerns of residents were heard.
Next the city moved on to the opioid crisis, where Carter himself witnessed an overdose on city property.
“We have made investments and partnerships with our regional government… to be able to meet the needs of those individuals,” he says. “But also seeing the effects [of the opioid crisis] in most cities across Canada… was pretty significant.”
In the meantime, Carter and city council put together two budgets in less than 10 months.
Finally, the world changed, according to Carter, as the COVID-19 pandemic finally made its way to Oshawa.
“I think the pandemic is changing the way we work, the way we communicate, the way we deliver services,” he says. “It’s been a major challenge.”
On top of everything, Carter also points to the fact it was a new council with four rookie councillors, as well as a rookie mayor dealing with these issues.
“To bring that team together and work together, and face the challenges that we had, managing the different personalities, has tested my leadership at every level,” he says.
But he reiterates, every time he walks into city hall, he feels proud to be the mayor of Oshawa.
“I know that we have major issues that we are facing, but I have always been confident that our community has always faced big challenges… and we have always found a way to move through them, to reinvent ourselves, and to be able to prosper,” says Carter.
He believes that today, as Oshawa and the rest of the world face down the COVID-19 pandemic, will show the strength of the city.
“We will prosper. We will do things differently. We will innovate. We will prosper in our economy and our health and our wellbeing, but it will be different,” says Carter.
Some personal highlights for Carter since taking office lie in the opportunities to be able to engage with the public, and to simply be the mayor.
“The amount of people that I’ve met, the interactions that I’ve had, some of the great stories about our young people in the community – I love the interactions with the public,” says Carter.
The mayor also says every day when he walks into his office and sees his name on the nameplate, he feels proud to lead the community.
“All around, the community has been very generous with me, very supportive of me, and the community is giving me the opportunity to be able to serve at the highest level. I don’t know if it gets much better than that,” he says.
With a little more than two years left in his term, Carter says he still has a list of goals in mind.
“Coming into office there was a couple things. One was making sure that we had strong finances at the city, making sure that we decreased our impact on our taxpayers, pay down debt, build our reserves, and continue to invest in infrastructure,” he explains.
Carter says he is a “fiscal conservative,” so he is very focused on finances.
“I’m proud to be able to say so far we’ve done a really good job on that. Even through COVID-19 our team has done an extraordinary job.”
He also hopes to see the development of local jobs and investment in the City of Oshawa.
There have been a number of challenges, such as the GM announcement, but Carter says there have also been a number of “great news” stories.
“We’ve seen a huge investment by our postsecondary educational partners… we have seen some great private investments… we’ve also seen investment from around the world come into the city, and I want to see that grow,” he says.
He was also pleased to see the provincial government approve the new Lakeshore East extension into Bowmanville, which will make its way through Oshawa with multiple stops.
He also hopes to see the downtown core continue to “flourish” as there is still more work to be done there.
“COVID has really impacted the family businesses downtown, and I’m quite worried about that,” he says, adding the Economic Task Force aims to put the right supports in place to be able to help those small businesses downtown.
“We still have a long way to go. We have to reinvest and continue to revitalize our economy,” says Carter. “Until everybody that wants to is able to have a job locally, I won’t be satisfied.”