05/03/2007

2007 Ontario Small Urban Municipalities Annual Conference, North Simcoe Sports and Recreation Centre, Midland, Ontario. May 3, 2007.
Doug Reycraft, AMO President 
And Mayor of Southwest Middlesex
May 3, 2007 
The Ontario Small Urban Municipalities Annual Conference 
North Simcoe Sports and Recreation Centre 
Midland, Ontario 

(Check Against Delivery)

Thank you for having me here today.  Midland is a beautiful town and I appreciate this opportunity to meet with municipal representatives from all across this diverse province.

I want to use this opportunity to talk about the progress that municipalities have made to date – and also to outline the objectives that we are still working to meet.

I will start by saying that I believe that this is a very important and pivotal period for our communities. Given the work underway with the fiscal review, it might very well prove to be a historic one as well.

Our relationship with the Province is a positive one – partly because there is widespread acknowledgement that the fiscal structures that define that relationship are not working.

The province deserves credit for the work that it has done to improve relations with municipalities, for empowering them with revisions to the Municipal Act, and for beginning to address at least some of the fiscal pressures that municipalities face.

The Municipal Act was an important accomplishment – the full scope of which will only be fully realized in time. It replaces prescriptive legislation with broad and permissive powers, allowing municipalities to tailor innovative new solutions to their local needs – without running to Queen’s Park for approval every step of the way.

This really is a fundamental – and historic – shift in our relationship with the Province. Municipalities realize, and appreciate, the acknowledgement that we are a respected order of government. More importantly, we value the ability to move our communities forward by addressing local needs in a timely fashion.

I am interested in learning about the ways that councils use this legislation to better serve their communities, but I also want to remind everyone that it has taken us more than 100 years to secure this level of empowerment – and we could lose it in a fraction of that time if we fail to use it well.

The onus is on each of us to demonstrate that the new legislation truly serves the best interest of Ontario’s communities. We will achieve this by using it responsibly. To help in this regard, AMO is presently offering a Municipal Act training program to help councils understand the legislation and use it wisely.

One aspect of the Act that has not yet been proclaimed is the investigation process to determine whether or not a closed meeting complied with the list of legislative requirements. In the absence of a Council appointing an investigator, a complaint about Council’s reason for going into a closed meeting will investigated by the provincial Ombudsman. AMO has been approached by a number of municipalities about the possibility of establishing a collective investigator services through our Local Authorities Services Corporation.

We are researching the opportunities, and sent out a survey to all heads of council and administration earlier this week. If we get enough solid interest, we expect to be able to make this a reality and provide this service to our members.  

I recommend that you visit the AMO booth today for more information on this and the many new programs we are offering to our membership. There is a lot going on in terms of services and products to help you make the most of your taxpayers’ dollars. This includes:
• Two new investment portfolios for municipalities to get a higher yield; 
• The bulk purchasing of electricity to smooth out and get predictable costs; 
• A province-wide 3-1-1 call initiative to provide greater access to municipal information and services locally; 
• A planned new Energy Services Department – to help you in initiatives to conserve; and, 
• Our Municipal Information and Data Analysis System – MIDAS. 

MIDAS allows municipalities to evaluate their performance in a number of service areas by comparing them year over year and comparing them to other municipalities across Ontario. It will also help us transfer ‘best practices’ as we continually learn from one another.  

Following its official launch at this year’s AMO conference in August, MIDAS will be provided free to our members, but I understand that Deborah Hannah in the AMO booth will demonstrating it today for those interested in taking a sneak peak.  

In addition to making important revisions to the Municipal Act, the provincial government has also provided increased revenue to municipalities in a number of key areas since its election in 2003.

Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund money is assisting in many communities – and I think it is important to note that the province has wisely not implemented potential OMPF reductions as one might have expected when the program was announced. We have also seen about $300 million in provincial COMRIF funding, $400 million in one-time Move Ontario funding in the 2006 budget, and another $140 million for rural infrastructure projects announced at the end of March.

Structurally, we gained ground when the public health cost-sharing formula was changed to 75-25, and when the Province agreed to live up to its obligation for 50-50 ambulance funding. Today the first $100 million of the $150 million promised is in our communities and it is making a difference. 

Ontario municipalities appreciate any and all positive steps that the Province takes. At the same time, these measures have tended to be in response to overwhelming need and to address but a small fraction of the problem. Often they are application-based, lottery-style and short term. 

They do not provide the strong and stable foundation necessary to support strong communities.

Simply put, municipalities need a fiscal relationship that works – not programs designed to hold together a system that doesn’t.

The need is overwhelming and it cannot be ignored – particularly with respect to the state of Ontario’s infrastructure and the ability of communities to invest in the municipal services our residents want.

This deficit is evident in our streets and highways, with our transit systems and inside our community centres. In far too many cases, the significant capital projects in our municipalities were undertaken in a previous decade, if not a previous generation.  

It is not what one would expect of the Province with the highest property taxes in the world.
 
Today Ontarians pay $237 per person more in property taxes from the rest of Canada, yet the Provincial government spends $258 less than the rest of Canada on health and social services programs.

We can do better, and we owe it our communities to make sure we do.

We cannot prolong a partnership where the province advances what it believes it can afford, while municipalities are left to endure funding relationships that they cannot.

This truth is well known – and increasingly appreciated by the two other orders of government. Political parties of all stripes have expressed interest in tackling the problem.

The Ontario Government’s response has been the joint Fiscal and Service Delivery Review which seeks to find a sustainable balance between the funding and service delivery responsibilities of our governments.

When I met with Premier McGuinty in February, he told me that there had been considerable reluctance from some Cabinet ministers and senior government officials about committing to the Review.  

He said advisors had voiced concern that municipalities would want a great deal and would offer nothing in return.

I think his advisors were partly right.

We do want a great deal from the Province – a much better deal than we have received from previous governments. Quite frankly, we need a better arrangement in order to do our jobs preserving Ontario’s reputation of being home to communities that are among the best in the world in which to live.   

But I disagree that we have nothing to offer in return. In return for sound and sustainable fiscal policy, municipalities are offering:
• Financially sustainable communities;
• Stable and affordable property tax rates;
• Growth that is fully financed by development;
• Safe and well-maintained communities with access to recreation; and
• Communities where families choose to live and work and businesses choose to invest.

In return for good public and fiscal policy, we offer competitive communities to support a competitive Ontario. And that should be paramount on every government’s list.  

This time Ontario’s municipal governments will settle for nothing less than new fiscal arrangements that put our communities back on a secure and sustainable footing. 

Our work has begun – and I can tell you that your municipal representatives in the review, both elected officials and senior municipal staff, are working well together in common cause.  

We have a strong team in place to make sure that all our needs are met, but our work will not wrap up until February 2008.  

In the meantime, we will have a provincial election.  

As we approach October 2007, all parties need to know they would be ill-advised to use the timelines of the Fiscal Review as an excuse to put off obvious reforms that have been deferred, to the detriment of our communities, for far too long.

In your own communities, provincial candidates of every stripe will be soliciting your support. Make sure they know what it will take to get it.  

Ontario is ground zero for unstable provincial-municipal fiscal arrangements that harm our communities, undermine our competitiveness, and hit our most vulnerable residents the hardest.  

Today, you will not find a Board of Trade in Ontario that thinks that property tax payers should be subsidizing provincial health and social programs to the tune of $3 billion a year.

You will not find a Business group or a Bank economist that thinks current provincial –municipal fiscal arrangements are sustainable. And you will not find a Taxpayers group, a social policy agency, or an academic that thinks this is good public policy.

This is a compelling story – and it’s ours to tell. Telling it with a strong, united voice will make it a difficult story to ignore.

Tomorrow, Ministers from the Province will stand before you. As always, we will be respectful but firm. We owe it to our communities, and the future of our province, to ask the tough questions that must be asked.

I’m sure the Ministers who have been good enough to come here expect nothing less from us.

The communities and property taxpayers we serve deserve good public policy and sustainable municipalities. They’re certainly paying for it.

I have tried to cover a lot of information today in a short period of time, so if you are only going to take one thing from this presentation, it should be this:

Municipalities have made important progress in recent years, but our key objective still lies ahead of us. That objective is clear – we want fiscally sustainable municipal government in Ontario – and we want to see concrete measures to achieve it over a manageable period of time.

I have always believed that politics is the process of working together to achieve what we could never achieve as individuals. Ontario municipalities have seldom had a better opportunity to put that principle into practice.

This really is a critical time for municipalities – one that may very well set the course for provincial-municipal relations for quite some time.

Our expectation is fiscal sustainability for municipalities in Ontario – and we are serving notice to all parties as they prepare their platforms that we will be taking a very close look at their strategies to achieve it. 

Thank you for inviting me here today.  I look forward to seeing you again at AMO’s annual conference in August.