12/04/2007

OMSSA 2007 Fall Training Seminar, Hilton Hotel, Toronto, Ontario. Tuesday December 4, 2007.
Doug Reycraft, AMO President and 
Mayor of Southwest Middlesex
Tuesday December 4, 2007 
9:30 – 9:45 a.m. 
Hilton Hotel, 145 Richmond Street West  
Toronto, Ontario

OMSSA 2007 Fall Training Seminar

(Check Against Delivery)

Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here.

I have looked at the Program and see that today’s training sessions are opportunities to learn from each other…I hope that my time here this morning is as well… Working together - you as partners in OMSSA - we as partners in service delivery – together we can strengthen the delivery of municipal social services and serve the people of Ontario better. 

These are goals that AMO shares – and we look forward to continuing to build on our relationship with OMSSA in order to achieve them.

I believe that AMO and OMSSA have many shared interests. We both want to ensure that social programs build better lives and improve the quality of life in our communities.

We are a rich province in a rich country. Yet, we have people and families in our communities who struggle to make ends meet.

According to the Ontario Association of Food Banks, over 330,000 Ontarians are served by food banks every month; a figure that has risen by almost 20 per cent in the past five years. It’s not what one would expect in a rich province in a rich country.

In the year ahead, you will hear more about AMO’s efforts to advance progressive social policy in Ontario.

We will seek to raise the profile of the poverty issues that exist in this province. And we are engaged in specific initiatives to do that.

We began this advocacy work with the distribution of two social policy papers … "Poverty and the Property Tax Burden in Ontario"… and “Beyond Bricks and Mortar: Important Considerations in the Future of Social Housing in Ontario”.

Both of these papers were launched at the AMO Conference in August – and both have generated strong interest in the right circles.

AMO is well known for its efforts to change Ontario’s provincial-municipal fiscal policy. We all want communities that are financially sustainable. Because so long as our communities remain on an insecure financial footing, we can do little to make our communities stronger, more accessible and more inclusive.

Achieving these goals will require all orders of government to work together. It will require communities to work together, and it will require sustained partnerships within our communities. We cannot do it alone.

You have probably heard AMO complain about the issue of high property taxes in Ontario. Some people have questioned why that has been such a strong focus for AMO.

Consider this. Property taxes in Ontario are $237 per person higher than in the rest of Canada. At the same time, provincial government spending on health and social services in Ontario is $258 per person lower than the rest of Canada.

What that means is that property tax payers are paying about $3 billion a year for health and social services in Ontario and the Province is able to spend about $3 billion less that it would otherwise need to spend.

It’s a good deal for people paying income tax to the province. It’s a very bad deal for people paying property tax.

What’s the difference you might ask? We are all familiar with the adage: “There is only one tax payer”. There is a view out there that municipalities are just trying to force the province or the federal government to raise taxes instead of doing it themselves. But, there is a difference. The difference is that many people and families in our communities don’t have to pay income tax at all – their incomes are simply too low. But those same low income families and seniors on fixed incomes – whether they rent or own their own homes - all have to pay property taxes – the highest property taxes in the country. And that’s the difference.

Consider that Ontarians on social assistance who pay property taxes are actually paying into these programs themselves. And for far too many families in Ontario, escalating property taxes will make the difference between keeping their homes and losing them.

As you know, when people lose their homes, or are at risk of losing their housing, for whatever reason, it is a crisis that affects all of us.

Better access to affordable housing is a new priority for the Government of Ontario, and it’s a priority for municipal governments in every part of this province.

Ultimately, we need an approach to housing where both the provincial and federal governments live up to their responsibilities to people in need.

And that must extend beyond housing to other aspects of human services.

We need to work together to ensure that all orders of government understand that addressing poverty, and fostering full participation in our communities and in our labour markets, will enhance the prosperity of all Ontarians and all Canadians.

In these and other areas, our associations share a number of common goals:

• We want quality human and social services that truly help people;
• We want them to be accessible to those who need them; and
• We want them to be flexible enough to fit local circumstances and benefit from local experience.

You have heard a lot of talk about municipal infrastructure in the past few months. The week before, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities released a report on the infrastructure problem, and it is significant, $123 billion. It’s a massive and daunting problem. But very little attention has been given to the declining state of Ontario’s social infrastructure and the related costs of allowing our social infrastructure to deteriorate further.

So we need to start talking about Ontario’s social infrastructure deficit and what it means to our communities.

AMO believes that we need sustained and strategic investment in social infrastructure in Ontario – but municipalities are the order of government that can least afford to make that investment.

We have been – actually, you have been – filling the vacuum left behind when both the province and federal government have withdrawn from their responsibilities in this area. We know that the situation is not sustainable, and we need to make sure that history is not allowed to repeat itself in the decades to come.

AMO believes that sustained investment in social infrastructure in Ontario will provide returns for all Ontarians by improving outcomes in our communities and by reducing the social and economic costs of doing too little.

Of course these objectives depend on adequate and stable funding to make it all possible. AMO’s work on the Joint Provincial-Municipal Fiscal and Service Delivery Review is focused on exactly that objective. By the way-regarding the PMFSDR - to answer those who’ve been asking why we didn’t buy a vowel-they’d downloaded those too-along with many other provincial responsibilities.

Let me take a minute to update you on where we are in that process.

I can tell you that all parties are working well together to identify solutions that make sense. That includes a number of people in the audience today, including OMSSA President Brian Hutchings, who, along with a number of your colleagues, has been an invaluable resource at the Service Delivery and Accountability table.

Our goal is consensus-based recommendations on how to make sure that both orders of government can deliver quality services affordably and accountably – and we are making progress.

We celebrated an important milestone when the Province announced in August at our Annual Conference, it would upload the full costs of the Ontario Drug Benefit program in 2008 and the full costs of ODSP administration and benefits by 2011.

This will save municipalities about $935 million a year – funding that can be put back into the core municipal services that people in our communities depend on.

It is no secret that AMO advocates the uploading of Provincial health and social costs. Throughout the rest of Canada, and beyond, income redistribution programs are funded through income tax revenue. It’s good public policy and it’s good fiscal policy.

That does not mean, however, that social service delivery should be uploaded.

We have always recognized that municipally managed services are closer to the people in our communities, and most likely to recognize what will work best locally.

The cities, counties, regions and districts of this province are all very different places. It is not reasonable to expect the Ontario Government to develop generic approaches that serve them all well.

We should have the flexibility to deliver programs that address the specific needs of our unique communities.

You are all in the front line of that process. You have a better opportunity than anyone to identify what works – and what doesn’t – for the populations you serve.

That expertise is essential to what we are trying to achieve.

However, changes in funding responsibility are needed to ensure that social services are adequately resourced, particularly in communities that face economic challenge.

Concluding these discussions – and getting the recommendations right – is AMO’s top priority between now and early 2008.

With a re-elected government, we are able to continue this work almost seamlessly.

AMO is often perceived as an Association focused on bottom line numbers and improving municipal finances. Achieving fiscal sustainability for municipalities is an important part of what we do – but it’s not the whole story.

AMO’s members are Ontario’s communities. Our success, and our members’ success, will be measured by our ability to deliver quality programs and services that meet real needs locally.

It’s a job description that will undoubtedly sound familiar to many of you.

It’s important that we continue to work together- you as members of OMSSA - we as municipal associations- to share information, and benefit from each other’s expertise.

I am very pleased to have been invited to speak with you again this year. On behalf of AMO, I want to acknowledge and thank you for the important work you do in your communities.

I also want to thank you for your time today.

And I would be happy to answer questions if you have them.