10/02/2006

Counties, Regions, Single Tier Municipalities and District Social Services Administration Boards Annual Conference, Delta Pinestone, Haliburton, Ontario. Monday October 2, 2006.
Doug Reycraft, AMO President and Councillor, County of Middlesex
Monday October 2, 2006
8:40 a.m. – 9:00 a.m.
Delta Pinestone, Haliburton, Ontario  
Counties, Regions, Single Tier Municipalities and District Social Services Administration Boards Annual Conference 
 
(Check Against Delivery)

Thank you… and welcome to this year’s conference.

It is a pleasure to be here and to have the opportunity to make the scenic drive to Haliburton in the Fall. It’s no wonder the area is a hotspot for sightseers this time of year.

Of course, the Autumn colours are a sign that we are heading into fall, the summer is ending and people across the Province are back to work in full swing.

I’m feeling this acutely as I settle into my role as AMO’s President. I consider it a great honour and I thank you for the opportunity to serve you in this capacity.

I did not seek this position because I felt the Association needed to change. I am here because I want to ensure that the good work of my predecessors continues.

In the past few years alone, AMO accomplished a great deal under the leadership of Roger Anderson and Ann Mulvale. AMO has laid a strong foundation of positive change and I intend to build on it – with your assistance.

It is no secret that I believe that all municipalities should be working together in common cause as much as possible. Together we are stronger than the sum of our parts, and together we can achieve far more than we could achieve as individuals.

When AMO succeeds, it is often due to the fact that it adopts practical public policy positions that are supported by vocal, determined and mobilized members.

I know this, you know this – and it is your leadership that helps AMO make things happen.

Everyone in this room today is pursuing the same fundamental goal.

Namely, to provide the services that our communities need in order to achieve success in a manner that is fiscally sustainable. The challenges that arise from this pursuit are shared by Counties, Regions, Single Tier Municipalities and DSSABS across the province.

The next three days are an opportunity to work together, learn, exchange experiences and share ideas. It’s a chance to evaluate what we have accomplished to date and to reaffirm our commitment to the next steps.

Our most recent victory is the Province’s decision to have the LCBO introduce a bottle deposit return system.

We had planned to promote our Blue Box strategy paper though a news conference at Queen’s Park in late September.

However, thanks to the combined work of the Association of Municipal Recycling Coordinators and AMO’s Waste Policy Task force, the Province had all the information needed to make a sound judgment on this issue.

Our policy paper had been circulating within the government for several months and it appears as though they were reading it carefully.

The LCBO sells about 110-thousand tonnes of bottles and containers in Ontario annually.

And while the people of our municipalities are diligently putting up to 90 per cent of these bottles into blue boxes, only a small portion of them are ever recycled.

The remainder is sold at loss, used to manufacture products such as asphalt and concrete, or sent to municipal landfills.

And this wastefulness comes with a heavy price tag for municipalities. In 2003 alone, Ontario property taxpayers shouldered an estimated $23 million to collect, process and market glass containers sold by the LCBO.

As of February 2007, municipalities can begin reallocating those millions in a manner that better serves our communities.

Once again, I question whether we could have achieved this policy change without a united voice to advocate for it with conviction and well thought out proposals.

The proposed LCBO deposit return system is just one of a number of successes that we have achieved in recent years.

To fully appreciate that, you have to understand where we have come from.

Just a few short years ago, we were fighting to be listened to and treated with respect. Through AMO, we have achieved that and more.

It began with the acknowledgement that municipalities are a respected order of government that should be empowered.  And this sentiment was expressed in the Province’s Memorandum of Understanding and the MOU protocol that AMO signed with the Province in 2004.

The Memorandum of Understanding and our regular MOU meetings with the province continue to be a great step forward for both orders of government. Our role at these meetings is to provide insight on how a proposed government policy might impact municipal governments and our property tax payers.

Sometimes our advice is taken and sometimes it is not, but the meetings always allow us to share ideas, coordinate efforts more effectively, and help reduce surprises.

Ultimately, the MOU meetings are achieving their real objective – which is better informed government decisions.

During the past year, some of this work has related to Municipal Act amendments that the Province introduced in June.

The proposed changes would move Ontario toward a more mature relationship with municipal governments by reducing Provincial micro-management and by providing broader, accountable authority for municipal governments.

Broader authority and less prescriptive regulation reflect the Province’s appreciation that municipal governments are respected, responsible, and accountable.

The commitment and hard work of everyone here resulted in another milestone this summer when the Province answered our call for a joint fiscal review of service delivery in Ontario. The Review is an opportunity to begin addressing the provincial-municipal fiscal imbalance and to identify a new fiscal and service delivery partnership for the 21st Century.

It won’t be easy. We are a diverse group. It will be essential for us all to be committed to the overall goal – which is to look forward and to build a more sustainable fiscal architecture for municipal governments and their property tax payers.

Many members within the municipal community remember what adequately funded municipal programs and services look like.

Progress will be measured by the initiative’s success in restoring effective and fiscally sustainable programs and services – and success will be measured by the ability of Ontario residents to see positive changes in their communities.

The end result should be more than simply an agreement. It must be supported by the legislative changes needed to implement the Review’s recommendations. 

I am well aware that the timeline is a concern for some. However, these are complicated arrangements and they are going to take time to sort out and get right. 

We also intend to ensure that new Provincial investments continue during the review period -- and we heard that commitment from the Finance Minister at the Minister’s forum during the AMO Conference in Ottawa.

Municipalities did not enter into this review on the basis that funds and infrastructure investment for municipal government would be frozen at 2006 amounts. And we expect that the work of the review could help inform the 2007 Provincial Budget process.
  
As you know, AMO and the Ontario Government signed a gas tax revenue sharing agreement with the Federal Government that secures almost $1.9 billion for Ontario municipalities over 5 years.

Money began to flow in 2005 and we are now seeing investment in all eligible categories, including roads and bridges, transit, water and wastewater, and community energy, including energy efficiency retro-fits for municipal buildings.

In addition, effective this month, Ontario municipalities will now receive a full 2 cents a litre of provincial Gas tax revenue for transit. That is more than $300 million a year in sustainable, long-term transit funding.

The principle of gas tax sharing is important. Municipalities are largely responsible for roads and public transit and there is a public expectation that gas taxes should be used to support them.
 
Nevertheless, the allocation of gas tax revenue to municipalities was a break through. Now, it needs to be complemented with a stable provincial funding program for roads and bridges.

Another major breakthrough was the Province’s commitment to pay its fair share of ambulance costs. At AMO’s urging, it increased its funding for land ambulance services by a total of $300 million over the next three years.

These are undeniable successes, but we still have a lot of work to do.

We continue to face huge capital replacement costs for social housing and other priorities.

These will be priorities that we hope to address through the fiscal review – if not sooner.

Shifting gears slightly, I want to address the issue that is stealing headlines in recent weeks – waste management. For some time now, AMO has been sounding the alarm that Ontario is facing a waste disposal crisis.

In an effort to help address the problem, AMO has taken it upon itself to propose an integrated waste management strategy for the Province. This comprehensive policy paper proposes practical solutions to the central challenges that we face.

It would require some tough decisions to be made – but municipalities are faced with tough decisions as it is. We cannot afford to sit back on this issue.

I encourage all of you to familiarize yourself with AMO’s waste strategy – which is available on its website and will be a part of a plenary session here on Wednesday morning.
 
AMO’s integrated waste strategy advocates:

• Incentives and penalties to encourage industry to reduce, reuse, recycle, and recover useful products;
• A simplified regulatory environment;
• A provincial plan to achieve 60% waste diversion and viable solutions to address the remaining 40%;
• Development charges Act to fund waste management facilities;
• A greater commitment to Waste Diversion Ontario (WDO); and,  
• The production of energy from residual waste.
 
AMO believes that the current system stifles innovation, investment, and the development of new waste management capacity.

Waste management is a top concern in the province of Ontario, and the Ontario government should be stepping up to the plate to help us address it appropriately and responsibly.

And we will be emphasizing as much in our regular discussions with the Provincial government.

Another area of concern is the Public Health Capacity Review, which has issued a final report of recommendations to restructure aspects of the public health system.

And while we agree with many of the recommendations, we have significant concerns in the area of governance.

We believe that governance models which are currently working well should be allowed to continue their work, while remedies should be negotiated for models that are demonstrating to be under-functioning.

Where autonomous boards of health continue to exist, municipalities should be permitted to appoint representatives to their own boards. And we reject provincial approval of budgets. Instead, we recommend that local boards of health determine local public health needs, pass budgets to meet them and forward them to the Province for approval.

If the Ministry considers the possibility of amalgamations, this should only occur in dialogue with municipalities. Any discussion of transition needs to include a review of the case for local integration.

AMO strongly believes that the funding of public health is a key component to a successful system and that is why public health should be fully funded by the Province. The current arrangement is fiscally unsustainable and an example of poor public policy. Municipalities should not be funding programs that are a provincial responsibility from the local property tax base.

This does not preclude municipalities from delivering public health at the local level. Moving towards a more sustainable funding model does not imply changing the parts of the system that are already effectively serving the needs of our communities.

Overall, our relations with the Province are strong and productive. It is no secret that we have had disagreements, but we continue to make progress wherever we can.

The most obvious of those disagreements in the past year has been Bill 206 – the OMERS legislation – and we will be working hard to minimize its effects.

In addition, the passage of Bill 206 has fundamentally changed AMO’s role from one of advocacy to one of representation. It’s not a role we asked for, but it’s one we cannot turn our back on given the inevitable consequences of inaction. And the support expressed by AMO members in this regard is very encouraging.

The theme of this conference is the art of nature -- and that artistry is well expressed in the hills around us. The leaves are changing and a new season is upon us.

Our political landscape changes to its own rhythms – and they are, arguably, just as colourful.

Ontario will see a new round of municipal elections a month from now and riding associations across the province are preparing candidates for the next Provincial election.

With the joint fiscal review we have been given a chance to return to the drawing board and evaluate the very basis of our fiscal relationship with the province.

In that regard, it is safe to say that the leaves of the current fiscal relationship are turning brown and change is in the air.

Come what may, all three political parties at Queens’ Park agree that municipalities are struggling to finance their responsibilities and that the current system fails to serve the best interests of Ontarians.

For those of you who are running next month, I wish you all well and commend your decision to serve in public life. It’s a worthy endeavor. I know that you’re here for the right reasons.  

Those elected to serve for the next four years will be a part of an important time in the future of municipalities. And I know that each and every one of you will work hard to make the very most of this opportunities before us.

Thank you and enjoy the conference.