The Premier and Government of Ontario, Ontario Chamber of Commerce, and AMO, along with others, continued to press for fairness for Ontario.
Today, the Premier asked Ontarians to sign an online petition urging the federal government “to give Ontario a fair shake” and is asking people to raise the issue of fairness with federal election candidates. In addition, he has asked Ontarians to let all federal parties know that the province should keep more of its own money to invest in people and to make Ontario more competitive. Copies of the letter from the Premier to each party leader and each party candidate in Ontario along with the petition are available at www.fairness.ca

Why is fairness an important issue for municipal governments? This Alert describes elements of the fairness campaign and what it means for Ontario’s communities and citizens, as well as other key investments that municipal governments want and some ideas on profiling these matters locally within your community and with local federal candidates.

What Do Municipal Leaders Need To Ask Federal Candidates?

A) A Fair Share for Ontario

Immigration - In 2007, Ontario received 47% of all immigrants entering Canada and, by 2010, all of Ontario’s net labour force growth will be dependent on immigration. Successful settlement and language training of newcomers is needed to ensure that they are able to participate in the labour market and contribute to Ontario’s economy and communities. While the signing of the 2005 Canada-Ontario Immigration Agreement saw $920 million dollars committed to these services through to 2010, current spending of this funding by Canada is $156 million dollars behind where it should be.

Question: How would your party, if elected, ensure that all of the funding earmarked for immigrant settlement and training in Ontario is spent in a timely manner and that Ontario, the province receiving the majority of all newcomers, receives its fair share of funding for language and settlement services?

Employment Insurance Funding - If an unemployed worker in Ontario received the average EI benefit that an unemployed worker in another province receives, that worker would get $4,630 more each year. Across Ontario, the shortfall in EI benefits amounts to $2.1 billion each year. This means people end up on Ontario Works faster in Ontario as their EI benefits are exhausted sooner and municipalities and property tax payers pay the price in higher Ontario Works costs.

Question: Will your party treat the people of Ontario fairly if elected and end the discrimination against Ontario workers by restoring equal treatment for all Canadians under federal Employment Insurance rules?

Equalization Funding - Ontario contributes 41.5 per cent of the revenues that fund the Equalization program. The Equalization program in 2008-09 is almost 57 per cent more expensive than it was five years ago. Ontario taxpayers are paying for this increase in inter-regional transfers, even though the prosperity gap between Ontario and other provinces has been declining. Based on the most current estimates for 2007-08, Ontario taxpayers will contribute in excess of $20 billion more to the federal treasury than they receive in federal spending.

Question: Ontarians wants a new Equalization formula that is affordable for Canada and fair to Ontario. Will your party commit to a new system that creates the ability for all provinces and territories to deliver comparable services at comparable levels of taxation?

Regional Economic Development - The current budget of $934 million for regional and economic development in Canada sees only 4 per cent of this spent in Ontario. When other regions of Canada were facing significant economic challenges, the federal government used regional development agencies to help communities and businesses. There are no major regional development programs currently available in Ontario, except some assistance for the north through FedNor.

Question: Will your party commit to recognizing the regional economic development needs of Ontario including a commitment to match provincial investment in economic development funding to communities and businesses in Ontario?

Job Loss - The $1 billion federal Community Development Trust was created to assist workers in all vulnerable communities across Canada. However, these funds are allocated to each province on a per capita basis, even though most job losses have been in Central Canada. Ontario’s share – $358 million – is not nearly enough to properly assist workers in communities hit hardest by job losses.

Question: Ontario needs targeted federal programs to help workers find new jobs and help communities diversify their economies. How will your party respond where the need is greatest – here in Ontario?

Infrastructure Funding - Ontario does not receive its fair share of infrastructure funding from the federal government in previous programs and under the Building Canada Plan, Ontario is short-changed $970 million.

Question: If elected, will your party ensure that Ontario and Ontario municipalities receive the same per capita share of infrastructure funding as other parts of Canada?

B) The Municipal Infrastructure Deficit

Infrastructure - All estimates of the municipal infrastructure deficit agree that the problem is massive and growing. The Building Canada Fund including gas tax transfers is an important new source of funding for municipalities, but many municipalities will still not be in a position to reverse the decline in infrastructure brought on by generations of underinvestment by all orders of government.

Question – What will your party do, if elected, to ensure that municipalities receive the adequate and predictable infrastructure funding they need for transportation, environmental protection, such as water and sewer systems, to build liveable communities, and to return Ontario and Canada to a position of economic competitiveness?

C) Housing and Homelessness

Housing – Ontario property tax payers contribute more than $1.2 billion a year to social housing and that figure will increase dramatically if the federal government implements planned reductions in federal housing funding. Municipalities are deeply concerned about the possible expiry of all current federal programs in March 2009, including the Residential Rehabilitation Assistant Program (RRAP), the Homelessness Partnering Strategy (HPS) and the Bill C-48 housing trust funds (a total of $2 billion over two years).

Question: Will your party commit immediately to a national housing strategy, preserving current federal funding, to ensure that people in our communities have access to adequate shelter, and ensuring that Ontario property tax payers are not left to shoulder the burden of this national problem?

What Can Municipal Leaders Do To Ensure That These Issues Are On The Election Agenda?

  1. Talk to your local media and ensure they know what matters to municipalities, communities and property tax payers.
  2. Discuss municipal priorities for the 2008 federal election at Council and endorse the positions put forward by AMO and FCM.
  3. Attend all-candidate meetings and ask questions about party positions. Some important questions to ask are set out in this Alert.
  4. Ask when your local candidate or party leader will be responding to the Premier’s letter asking for fairness for Ontario.
AMO will continue monitor federal election issues, evaluate the positions of the parties on key municipal matters and keep members informed of development they need to consider.