04/17/2008

2008 NOMA Conference, Victoria Inn, Thunder Bay, Ontario. Thursday, April 17, 2008.
Doug Reycraft, AMO President
and Mayor of Southwest Middlesex
Thursday April 17 at 10:15 a.m. 
Victoria Inn
Thunder Bay, Ontario 

AMO President’s Speech at the NOMA Conference

(Check Against Delivery)

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

I would like to welcome everyone to this year’s NOMA Conference.   

The theme of this year’s conference is Partners in Motion which I believe is an apt description of municipalities today – not only with respect to the partnership we have built with each other, but also with the one we continue to build with the Province.

The municipal-provincial relationship has never been more transparent, respecting and generally productive than it is today – and the communities we jointly serve are reaping the benefits.

Working hard and working together, the over 400 of us who have joined together as AMO, have taken more steps towards achieving long-term sustainability in the past year than in the entire decade before it.   

That kind of progress depends on two things: 

1. The political will to develop a productive partnership between orders of government; and,  
2. Advocating sound and practical changes to public policy.

The Premier’s Office has demonstrated genuine interest in developing a cooperative partnership, which we solidified through the MOU process.  AMO responded to the opportunity with hard work, practical recommendations, and at times, a certain amount of patience – and it is paying off.

And your representative, Dryden Mayor Anne Krassilowsky as Chair of NOMA, plays an important role in ensuring the northern lens is ever-present at those meetings.

Although AMO’s $3 billion gap campaign, municipalities sent a powerful message that sustainable funding, infrastructure investment, prosperity and quality of life all go hand in hand.  

The obvious extension of that fact is that all three orders of government should be working together to achieve them.  (Although, that doesn’t always appear to be the case.)

The Ontario Government has taken this to heart.  And last month’s Provincial Budget was a powerful indication of that; allocating $1 billion for municipal infrastructure, including $400 million for roads and bridges, and a variety of other initiatives that benefit Ontario’s municipal governments. 

This most recent investment builds on the significant steps that had already been taken to achieve fiscal sustainability for municipalities and repair infrastructure throughout Ontario.  

Steps that include:

• The phased upload of the costs of the provincial Ontario Drug Benefits program and Ontario Disability Support Program. Once fully implemented, this step will save municipal tax payers $935 million each year
• Guaranteed stable funding for the 2008 Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund;
• An additional $450 million in infrastructure funding through the Municipal Infrastructure Investment Initiative; and, if possible, 
• Dedicating a portion of a 2007/08 budget surplus toward municipal infrastructure funding on a per capita basis.

These investments have resulted directly from our work with the Province on the Provincial- Municipal Fiscal and Services Delivery Review. We are working together – which is good news for taxpayers and for Ontario’s competitiveness. 

I believe in giving credit where credit is due – and the Province deserves credit for the strides it has taken towards a more sustainable provincial-municipal fiscal framework. But everyone in this room deserves credit as well.

Municipalities are succeeding because we are working together to promote policies that are based on reliable information, good public policy, and pragmatism. We succeed because each of us advances issues in our own communities and spreads a unified message that cannot be ignored.  

Today, the public, and politicians of every stripe, recognize that diverting municipal resources from core municipal services to subsidize provincial programs is simply bad public policy.  

Achieving that recognition would have seemed an insurmountable task not too many years ago. However, by standing together and staying focused on our common goals, we are achieving far more together than we ever could as individual communities.

In June, the Provincial-Municipal Fiscal and Service Delivery Review will release consensus-based recommendations on how to make sure that both orders of government can deliver quality services affordably and accountably. 

As we enter the last leg of work on the Review, it’s more important than ever that we continue to stand together. It will also be important to keep our perspective on both our short-term and long-term objectives.

Where the recent budget demonstrated significant one-time investments, the Provincial- Municipal Fiscal and Service Delivery Review is designed to provide a sustainable destination and a road map that gets us to where we are going. 

The process has taken time. However, I would prefer that the Review achieves our actual needs, based on sound information and thorough analysis rather than meeting artificial timelines. 

Ontario is large and diverse. It’s important that we take time to incorporate reliable information and analysis to get the fundamentals right for all municipalities.

The announcement that the costs of the Ontario Disability Support Program and Ontario Drug Benefits Program would be uploaded was a key milestone in that process – and a significant one - but it was only a milestone. It is not the end of the journey.

Ultimately we are working towards a complete package that provides a much better fiscal framework than we have today.

That framework needs to go beyond what municipalities pay for provincial health and social service programs and the multi-billion a year municipal infrastructure deficit that has accumulated, in part, as a result of current fiscal arrangements.  

It also needs to consider the full spectrum of municipal responsibilities, such as policing, land ambulance, court security, services to crown lands and so on.

No two municipalities are affected exactly the same by the current fiscal relationship. So advancements in any one of these areas will affect different communities in different ways. And, to be sure, I don’t think anyone could reasonably expect that the Review will solve all of our problems.  

It certainly will not solve all of our problems overnight.  

Each municipality’s challenges are unique but we all share one thing equally.  

Each of us represents the interests of our property taxpayers. And from our perspective, this process is about reversing a trend that sees property tax dollars diverted away from essential municipal services. 

And just as the problems of current fiscal arrangements affect different municipalities in different ways, the solutions to the problem with mean different things for different municipal governments across the province.

But I urge each and every one of you to keep your eye on the goal and to not be distracted by perceptions that your neighbour is more or less deserving, or perceptions that someone else is getting a better deal.  We will need to keep looking ahead at our goal, not looking sideways at our neighbours.  

At the end of the day, we need a new fiscal framework:

• That makes sense for everyone;
• That is equitable and accountable; 
• That focuses limited resources where the need is greatest; and 
• That rewards the innovation and the leadership that many municipalities have shown in the face of existing arrangements that simply do not work.

The common goal is a new and sustainable provincial- municipal financial relationship that is based on the principals of good public policy and good fiscal policy.

Municipalities are expecting a lot from this Review. We expect to turn the page on an era of unsustainable provincial- municipal fiscal policy. At the same time, one thing we can’t expect it to do is to erase the impact of history.  

Years of deferred investments have taken their toll on our roads, and on most of the systems and facilities our communities need to remain vibrant and competitive.

While there are varying estimates of how big the municipal infrastructure deficit is, all reports are unanimous in their conclusion:

• the deficit is too large for one order of government to bear alone; 
• it’s too large to address in one generation; and
• the burden will become untenable if we don’t take immediate action to begin addressing the urgent need for predictable and significant investments. 

A commitment to long-term multi-government funding for infrastructure will remain an imperative for a competitive, safe and prosperous Ontario. The 2008 Federal Budget commitment to make the Federal Gas Tax a permanent source of funding was an important acknowledgment of this. 

In 2008 this will deliver $375 million to Ontario’s municipalities -- and starting next year it will deliver $750 million annually on a permanent basis.

Supporting infrastructure that leads to cleaner water, cleaner air, or reduced greenhouse gas emissions makes sense. This funding has already supported more than 900 green infrastructure projects across the province since its inception in 2005.

Predictable and entitlement-based, this funding is making a real difference in our communities and it’s our responsibility to make sure that our communities know it. It’s also important to make sure that the Federal Government has reason to believe their significant financial support is appreciated.

AMO has developed a gas tax communications tool kit that is designed to help municipalities get the message out and publicize local projects.  

When gas tax funded projects are planned in your community, consider holding a news event, such as a groundbreaking or ribbon cutting, where appropriate.  

Showcasing these projects will increase the public perception that gas tax revenue should support local infrastructure – and it sends a message to the Federal Government that we value their decision to foster a more direct and independent relationship with Ontario’s municipalities

(Pause)

Partnering to amplify a message is one way that municipalities gain strength through numbers – partnering to create helpful tools and leveraging economies of scale is another.

In recent years, AMO has developed a number of programs designed to put our members on a stronger footing in the face of change. These have included municipal training sessions, and our electricity procurement program.

The new Energy Services Division of AMO’s Local Authority Services is offering new programs to help Ontario municipalities cope with rising energy costs and environmental impacts by developing dynamic procurement plans and integrated conservation and demand management regimes. 

I urge delegates to visit the LAS website or contact LAS staff to learn more about these exciting new programs.

Arming yourself with the best possible tools and programs is one way for municipalities to thrive in times of change – remaining flexible is another. 

Ontario municipalities are in a period of transition – and transitions are never completely seamless.  

At the same time, we have before us an historic opportunity to lay the groundwork for a fiscal and policy framework that delivers increasingly better results for citizens and communities. 

Now more than ever, we have to stay focused on our common goals.  

We are a diverse Province. That diversity is one of our greatest strengths – and it can also be one of our greatest challenges.

Despite our differences, municipalities north and south, urban and rural, share the common goals of good government, sound infrastructure and sustainable fiscal architecture.  

We are on the verge of implementing systemic changes that will benefit property taxpayers in municipalities of all tiers, sizes and geographic locations.  

Our challenge today is to stay focused on that fact in order to secure a framework that not only benefits us individually, but also supports a safer, more competitive and more prosperous Ontario.    

Thank you and enjoy the conference.