12/05/2006

2006 Ontario Municipal Social Services Association (OMSSA) Fall Training Seminar, Hilton Hotel, Toronto, Ontario. Tuesday, December 5, 2006.
Doug Reycraft, President of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario
Tuesday, December 5, 2006
Ontario Municipal Social Services Association (OMSSA) Fall Training Seminar
Hilton Hotel, Toronto, Ontario 

(Check Against Delivery)

Thank you for inviting me to be here today.

I understand that your executive director could not be here this morning as she is at home with a new baby.  I have yet to meet Kira Heineck, but have it on good authority that she is a progressive thinker who has done great things for your Association.

On behalf of AMO, I wish her all the best with this exciting new chapter of her life. Actually, as I recall our own experience in raising two sons in Glencoe, it will be a new VOLUME of her life in which there will be many exciting – and challenging – chapters. In any event, we look forward to working with her and you - the members of OMSSA - as we work toward a more effective social policy agenda for Ontario, and the people who live in our communities.

Today I’m going to talk briefly about the provincial-municipal fiscal relationship, what it means for service delivery, and the recently announced joint Fiscal and Service Review. Overall, our relationship with the Province is positive and I believe the Fiscal Review offers great potential benefit for our communities and the people we serve.

Discussions of municipal finance rarely draw a big audience. I’ll do my best to make the next 10 minutes as informative as possible. I hope it will be interesting as well but I can’t promise that it will be memorable.

However, if you walk away with just one or two things based on my remarks, I would want you to know that AMO and its member municipal governments appreciate the work you do. We understand the value of the work you do, and we understand that municipal service providers are uniquely qualified to meet the social services needs of people in our communities. 

Police and Firefighters get headlines for saving lives, but we all know that many of you have saved lives through your work – and all of you have made people’s lives better.

Your work is vital to our communities and it’s valued tremendously.

So I will start with a thank you.

It is AMO’s hope that our organizations will work as cooperatively as possible in the hope that we can achieve as much as possible.

My interest in public service has always been inspired by my belief that politics offers us a means of achieving together what we could never achieve as individuals.

Our principal goals are the same. We want social services that work. We want quality programs that protect and care for those in our communities who are most vulnerable. And we NEED sustainable funding to make it all possible.

There are two basic principles that underpin what I am about to say today: First, AMO believes that local delivery of social programs and services makes sense; In fact, we understand that the success of programs like Ontario Works is due mainly to local innovation, municipal ingenuity and the relationships in the community and in the local labour market that only municipal service providers bring to the table.

And second, these programs must have adequate and sustainable provincial funding that does not compromise the ability of municipalities to fulfill their other responsibilities.

AMO believes that, as a rule, property taxes should be dedicated to conventional municipal services including services that protect and serve property, such as solid waste collection, water and wastewater treatment and police and fire services, roads and bridges etc. We also believe that municipal revenues should be available to invest in a wide range of services that make our communities better places to live, such as recreation, parks, cultural facilities, libraries, community centres and so on.

These are services that you and I know are essential complements to the work you do. You and I know that successful outcomes for young people, for families and seniors and for new Canadians in our communities require so much more than food, shelter and employment. Across Ontario, we have seen these so-called discretionary services decline while municipal financial resources have been reallocated to non-discretionary provincial health and social services.

The current arrangements are not sustainable and they do not work for people in our communities.

We believe that more dynamic income or sales taxes should be used to fund services that meet the basic needs of people and families such as housing and social assistance.

The question isn’t so much one of which order of government should deliver programs in the community.

Municipalities want to change the way they are funded. Property taxes do not rise with inflation and they can actually fall during periods of economic decline. Periods when your services are needed most.

In that regard, the province’s reliance on property tax revenues to fund social services is simply not sustainable. In fact, it threatens the quality and viability of your programs in the longer-term.

The value of social and community services is a subject that is close to my heart.

Before my present position as AMO’s President, I served as Chair of Middlesex County’s Community Service Committee for two years, and was a Board member of the London-Middlesex Housing Corporation for almost six years.

However, it is a situation in my personal life that best reminds me how these services really make a difference in people’s lives.

As a member of the Glencoe District Lion’s Club I have the pleasure of working with a young man who has been a club member since before I joined over 15 years ago.

As a young child he was in a serious car accident resulting in severe injuries, some of which have left permanent effects. As a result of those injuries and their permanent effects, it is difficult for him to do many of the things that you and I take for granted.

Thankfully he is and has been supported by programs in the community. With this extra assistance he is able to realize his full potential. He lives independently, was just recently married, and has been a very active member and productive fundraiser for our Club.

Not so long ago, people who suffered injuries like my friend’s were often institutionalized. At best, they were marginalized. Today it is difficult to imagine the Glencoe Lion’s Club without him.  Not only is his own quality of life quite normal, but he is able to contribute to that of others through his volunteer work with our club.

As a teacher I often worked with teenagers whose families were faced with adversity due to unemployment or health problems. Without support through social services many of those teens would have been forced to drop out of school. With that support they were able to get the education required to enable them to become productive citizens making a contribution to their community.

These kinds of success stories depend on qualified people and adequate funding.

Looking around this room today, I know that we have the first point covered.

AMO is working hard to make sure that the second half of the foundation is in place.

Under the current model, core municipal services are getting squeezed by the weight of provincial offloading. We are stretching our portion of the tax dollar as far as possible and then being asked to pull even tighter to fund health and social services.

Inevitably we’re going to reach the breaking point.

Ontario is the only province in Canada that subsidizes health and social services to this degree. As a result we have the highest property taxes in the country; we have a massive infrastructure deficit; and municipalities subsidize the Provincial treasury by more than $3 billion dollars per year.  

It’s time we made a serious attempt to fix a system that everyone knows is broken.

At our annual conference this summer the Premier announced that a joint Review would begin the process of doing just that.

The Review will be led by a table of Cabinet Ministers and elected municipal officials who will be supported by a table of experienced staff and advisors – some of them very well known to OMSSA. Frank discussions will follow and a final report will be made available to the public when the process is complete.

The commitment from all parties is for a consensus-based report that proposes a new fiscal and service delivery partnership for the 21st century.

AMO’s objective is simple. Programs that prove to work best when funded by municipalities should be funded by municipalities. And programs that work best when funded by the Province will be funded by the Province.

This Review builds on the more mature relationship that the Province has forged with Ontario municipalities. The change is reflected in the Memorandum of Understanding that AMO signed with the Province in 2004.

It requires the Province to consult with municipal governments prior to making decisions that can affect our budgets and our programs.

Sometimes our advice is taken and sometimes it is not, but the meetings always allow us to share ideas and help reduce surprises. Ultimately they are achieving their key objective of promoting more informed government decisions.

Some of this work has related to Municipal Act amendments that the Province introduced in June. The proposed changes would reduce provincial micro-management and provide broader, more accountable authority for municipal governments.

As a result of more open dialogue and greater understanding, municipalities have been able to get the province on board with initiatives that better serve our communities.     

And that brings me back to why I am here today.

It is my hope that OMSSA and AMO can work together to ensure that our communities are sustainable, and that our social and community services are effective in meeting the evolving needs of the people in our communities.

We may not agree on every detail, but we can agree that municipalities are stronger when there is cohesion and solidarity between the organizations that represent their interests.

I believe that our end goal is a shared one. We want adequate funding that enables us to provide effective programs and services for people in need, without diminishing the core municipal responsibilities that Ontario’s prosperity depends on. And I believe that, together, we can have a very positive influence on social services policy in Ontario.

I also want to say that the Fiscal Review is just one part of AMO’s work in the year ahead. We will continue to advocate for measures that benefit municipalities and better help us meet the needs of people in our communities.

And I want to thank many of you who are here today for the work you do with AMO staff and the expertise and experience you bring to a number of important AMO committees and task forces. It is a very important part of what we do.

I believe that, together, we can make important advances.

Please keep up your good work… and learn and share as much as you can at this conference.

On behalf of AMO’s over 400 members, thank you.