This is what we heard at the AMO Annual Conference – if you were not there, this is some of what you missed…
On Municipal Governments and the Provincial Deficit: The Premier agreed that there needs to be better and on-going discussions so that our respective interests in fiscal wellbeing might be met. The comment was made in response to a question at the Ministers’ Forum about the need to end budget surprises for municipal governments (of which there were a number in the 2014 Budget), and to evaluate any potential fiscal changes in a cumulative manner, particularly as the province looks to its plan to balance its budget by 2017-18.
On reducing the cost of policing: The Premier said that it is a conversation she's willing to have; “We recognize we now have to do that work with the municipalities.” The Minister of Community Services and Correctional Services, the Hon. Yasir Naqvi told delegates that in early fall he will be receiving the report of the Future of Policing Advisory Committee (a committee which includes AMO and police service boards but mostly made up of representatives from police management and union associations). He assured municipalities that it would not languish on the Ministry’s shelf. AMO’s Modernization of Policing Task Force will work to provide further input.
On joint and several liability: The Attorney General, the Hon. Madeline Meilleur advised that she was not going ahead with any of her Ministry’s proposed solutions to provide some reasonable limits on the impacts of joint and several liability. In the spring, all Parties in the Legislature (including the Liberals) passed a motion which called on the government to implement a solution by this summer. The province is offering no lifeline for municipal governments when it comes to this matter and is siding with the trial lawyers and Law Commission of Ontario. (The Commission only reviewed joint and several liability in the context of the Ontario Business Corporations Act, legislation which does not apply to the municipal circumstance.) Delegates were extremely disappointed with the news, after a year of solid work to arrive at a potential solution that would help address a portion of the challenge. AMO has advised the government that it will not be easing up. Municipal governments cannot afford to be the insurer of last resort when at minimal fault or to assume the responsibility of others’ mistakes.
On interest arbitration: The Minister of Labour, the Hon. Kevin Flynn, advised that the government is prepared to deal with parts of this issue - namely shortening the timelines and process related to decision-making. However on the key municipal issue of ability to pay, the Minister advised he needed “more clarity”. AMO has provided and will continue to provide the needed clarity. Of interest to this issue is polling that Nic Nanos undertook for his presentation, one question related to fire and police personnel wages/benefits. 59% of those polled felt that fire and police personnel should have the same increase as other employees of the same municipality (32%) or a wage/benefit freeze (27%). Only 32% supported a sector to sector approach regardless of the municipal size. (Check out the AMO website for the entire Nanos Presentation and municipal issues polling results.)
On tools to collect POA fines: AMO and delegates pressed the government to re-introduce and pass this legislation in the fall legislative session. In 1997, we inherited responsibility for the administration of Provincial Offences Act however, without some additional collection tools, million upon millions of fines cannot be collected. AMO will continue to message the importance of progress on this and we are hopeful that this ‘ask’ will be realized sooner than later.
Improving Municipal Infrastructure: Premier Wynne announced the roll out of two funding sources – the Ontario Community Infrastructure Fund (OCIF) and Build Canada Fund – Small Communities Fund (BCF-SCF). The OCIF is a permanent $100m fund for municipalities with less than 100,000 population and Northern Ontario cities. It will provide $50m on a formula basis to them and $50m on an application basis for critical infrastructure projects (roads, bridges, water and waste water) identified under asset management plans. A Guidebook is available now which sets out how the formula portion is to be calculated for allocation purposes, and the grant application process which begins with Expressions of Interest due September 19th. In addition, the Small Communities Component of the Build Canada Fund is now open for applications in Ontario. That process is also described in the Guidebook. The BCF-SCF is a 1/3rd share program with a total federal and provincial contribution of $544 m for municipal governments under 100,000 population. The eligible project categories are much larger.
Double Hatter Firefighters: Full time firefighters bring substantial experience to fire services in many rural and small communities that they call home. However, if challenged by a local union, they often resign their volunteer work for fear of losing their permanent job. All volunteerism, including fire prevention and suppression by double hatters, should be celebrated, not litigated. AMO is seeking intervener status in a case that is going to the Ontario Labour Relations Board. The issue of double hatters has been a systemic issue for a number of years and can no longer be tolerated. AMO will keep its members updated.
The Accountability Act (Bill 8): The Premier and Deputy Leader will be meeting with AMO in the near future to discuss transparency and accountability and the policy approach within the Bill.
Power Dam Payments: The Premier acknowledged the “bad process” associated with the government’s plan to begin scaling back $4.4 million in payments over four years. She also indicated that the government would consider re-instating the municipal authority to tax these facilities to recover municipal revenue losses.
These are some of the highlights of policy matters discussed during the conference and at the Ministers’ Forum. Check out AMO website over the coming days for presentations of both plenary and concurrent speakers on a range of current and emerging issues.