05/06/2009

2009 FONOM – MMAH Conference, Holiday Inn, Sudbury, Ontario. Wednesday, May 6, 2009.
Peter Hume, AMO President and
Councillor, City of Ottawa
Wednesday, May 6, 2009 at 3:30 p.m.
Holiday Inn, 1696 Regent Street
Sudbury, Ontario

2009 FONOM – MMAH Conference 

(Check Against Delivery)

Good afternoon and thank you for the opportunity to be here today.  

I want to start by recognizing the hard work of FONOM, Minister Watson and his staff at MMAH.

Minister Watson is addressing this conference later, so I will let him point out how great the Ministry is. 

However, we do share a very productive and respectful relationship with the Province. Obviously, we don’t agree on everything, but we don’t let that stand in the way of improving the lives in the communities we both serve.

Looking back over the years, it hasn’t always been that way. It’s important that we maintain that productive relationship and I want to thank the Minister and MMAH for their commitment to doing that.

When we meet with the Province, you are well served by the contribution of your Northern colleagues.

FONOM’s Chair, North Bay Councillor Mac Bain, plays an important role in ensuring that northern concerns and proposals are considered by AMO’s Board and communicated in our dealings with the Ontario Government and the Federal Government.  

Mac sits on AMO’s Northern Caucus, which he co-chairs with Anne Krassilowsky, the Mayor of Dryden and the Chair of the Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association.  

The remaining members of our Northern Caucus include:

• Michael Power, Mayor of Greenstone;
• Madge Richardson, Mayor of Schreiber Township
• Michael Doody from Timmons; and, 
• Alan Spacek, Mayor of Kapuskasing.

Three other northerners sit on AMO’s Board.

Lynn Peterson, Mayor of Thunder Bay, is Chair of our Large Urban Caucus, which includes Lou Turco, a Councillor in Sault Ste. Marie.

And, last but not least, Bill Vrebosch serves as a Chair of AMO’s Rural Caucus. As I’m sure you are aware, he is the Mayor of East Ferris, not far from here.

For the past several years these representatives, and others, have been urging for more action to address economic challenges, particularly with respect to forestry and mining.

Today, everyone is talking about the economy – and challenges that you have faced for some time now.

Most Ontarians think of the current recession in terms of the past few months. AMO appreciates that forestry was the canary in the coal mine – and that manufacturing communities are grappling with challenges that some you have faced for several years now.  

In some communities, I guess you could say that mining was the canary in the coal mine.

Our host, the City of Sudbury, has been as hard hit as anyone, due to plunging commodity prices.

The economic challenges we face aren’t academic. You have seen them in your streets. You have seen their effects in your communities. Many of you have been touched by them personally in some way.

Ironically, on the whole, municipalities have seen unprecedented gains during the past year or so. 

The Provincial Municipal Fiscal Service Delivery Review, which we completed last fall, is resulting in the upload of $1.5 billion in annual provincial costs from the municipal property tax base.
 
We secured this without having to take on new costs or program responsibilities.

Just as importantly, the bulk of these uploads target our greatest risks in a weak economy – welfare, the Ontario Drug Benefit, the Ontario Disability Support Plan and court security.

Uploading these Provincial program costs has been AMO’s top priority for years – because you told us it was your top priority.  

They robbed us of our ability to invest in our communities and infrastructure in particular.  

After years of sounding the alarm, other orders of government began to recognize that our inability to invest in infrastructure was undermining our local, provincial and national economies.

Federal Gas Tax sharing was an early recognition of that – as was the Fiscal Review. 

Through the Review we were able to sit down with the Province and make a comprehensive assessment of Ontario’s infrastructure needs. 

This appreciation is one of its most important and powerful outcomes.

The Ontario Government now knows that eliminating our current infrastructure deficit would require $6 billion in new investment, every year, for the next 10 years.

As a result, the Province made infrastructure investment the number one destination for available resources over the past 2 years.

The Province invested $10 billion in infrastructure last year alone – and the 2009 Provincial Budget confirms that Ontario will match the infrastructure stimulus commitments announced in the 2009 Federal Budget.  

The Review has definitely influenced the design of Ottawa’s stimulus package.  

The Federal Government’s last Budget allocated more than $1.5 billion over two years for provincial and municipal infrastructure in Ontario, including roads, clean water systems and public transit. 

The latest Federal investment is the Communities Component of the Building Canada Fund.

Thanks in large part AMO’s urging, Federal and Provincial funding under the first round of applications was tripled.

That’s more than $1 billion in new infrastructure spending in small and mid-sized municipalities, right across Ontario.

I would hope that all of you applied under the most recent intake, which was due May 1.

I am confident that many of your projects will be approved through the joint federal-provincial approval process. There is certainly no shortage of funding on the table.

The rest is up to us.

It is extremely important that we show the Federal and Provincial Governments that we can turn their stimulus funding into jobs and economic activity.

If other provinces leave any of their allocated funding on the table, AMO will push to get you access to those funds as well. 

We expect that the Federal Government would agree, rather than let the money sit idle. And we believe the Provincial Government would match the dollars.

Fast action will also encourage more funding in the future.

So we need to demonstrate the capacity to act.

The Premier said as much at the recent ROMA OGRA Conference:

He said, “We must be smart, not reckless – and always protect public safety, the environment and quality of life”. 

But having secured those, we must also do what it takes to secure a prosperous new future for Ontario.

We must adapt to the demands of a new economy – and we must create conditions that foster it.

Today Ontario is promoting transformation to a smarter, greener economy – and making significant changes to taxation.  

On the whole, these proposals are positive.  They reflect positions that AMO has advocated for years, particularly with respect to waste management and energy conservation. 

Changes are coming.  Things we do today will be done differently tomorrow.

Ontario has set a course to become one of the greenest jurisdictions in North America.

The flagship of the effort is the Green Energy and the Green Economy Act, which is headed toward final reading and passage by the Legislature.

It proposes changes to planning authority that many municipalities are concerned about – and AMO has raised them with Minister Smitherman.

Green Energy is important.  But it is just as important to ensure that people have a say when it comes to planning and development in their neighborhoods and communities.

Recent amendments to the Bill would expand consultation with the public and municipalities when renewable energy projects are being considered.  

The Province has agreed to consider local infrastructure priorities and both human and environmental health when reviewing applications. 

And, importantly, AMO has been invited to participate in an inter-Ministry working group on standards development.  

We will use that process to help the Province achieve green energy while looking out for local interests, such as protecting existing municipal infrastructure and properties near renewable energy projects.  

Another positive change is the addition of a provincial program to ensure municipalities can recover costs that relate to renewable energy projects. Decades from now, when facilities may have to be closed down and cleaned up, municipalities can’t be left holding that bill.

Finally, the Province is amending the Bill to appointment an independent academic who will review the health and environmental impacts of renewable energy projects. Across Ontario, many people urged municipal councils to raise their health and environmental concerns. Dozens of municipalities supported that effort and the Province listened.

While I have no doubt that there will still be critics of this Bill, AMO welcomes much of it. For example, municipalities would be able to generate new revenue through renewable energy projects, or generate electricity for their own use.

Municipalities are the second largest consumer of energy in the Province, after pulp and paper. Each year we spend approximately $680 million on electricity and $275 million natural gas.

AMO has seized on that fact to increase our presence in the energy sector. We have dedicated staff to it and we are offering new energy related programs and services to our members.

Energy conservation, ‘green-collar’ jobs and renewable energy is in Ontario’s best interest and AMO’s vision for the future is a greener energy sector.

We also need to make sure that our response to the Province’s Green Energy Act is consistent with our other policy work. For example, AMO has pushed for and secured tremendous gains when it comes to changing Ontario’s waste management policies. At our urging, the Province has:

• Increased waste diversion; 
• Removed LCBO glass from our waste streams;
• Increased producer responsibility for waste management costs; and; 
• Provided greater incentive to use recycled materials. 

These changes will reduce municipal waste management costs significantly, provide significant incentives for smarter consumer packaging and extend the life of our landfills.

And, they will make Ontario a North American leader in responsible waste management.

(Pause)

Before I conclude, I want to speak to social service caseloads in this difficult economy.

Today we are seeing the perfect storm that we have warned about for years:

• Rising unemployment;
• Increased social service costs;
• Falling property values; and,
• Declining municipal revenue.

Coming out of the Fiscal Review, it is our understanding that the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund, or OMPF, should continue to respond to increased social assistance costs – just as it is expected to respond to any decreases in social assistance costs that result from uploading.

AMO will work to ensure that the Province understands the importance of reconciling OMPF allocations with actual costs again in 2009, as it has in previous years.
 
The Province has a good track record of reconciling OMPF allocations with actual costs, and we have no reason to believe they would reverse this practice now.  We all recognize that now is when it is needed most.

With respect to the Review as a whole, I know that there are many who would have liked it to go further and faster. 

However, we achieved much at a time when our province was preparing for tougher times.

We cannot forget that downloading was the means by which the Province balanced its books during the last recession.

Yes. We will have to weather some tough times as these uploads progress. However, that is a burden we will have to shoulder. 

Looking at the big picture, we asked for the Review and we got it.

We committed ourselves to making the most of that opportunity and we did.

The net results have been:

• Significant uploads in the right areas, with no new cost-shared programs,
• A mutual understanding of municipal challenges,
• Provincial investment in infrastructure, and
• A stronger working relationship with the Province.

Nevertheless, these are tough times.

Many of you live in tight-knit communities and you know that in tough times it pays to band together, look out for one another and work together to face challenges.

You know how to make the most of what you have... and you know from experience that municipal government, local businesses, other public institutions, and community groups can all achieve more by working closely together.

I see it in your approaches to problems such as the delivery of community services, doctor recruitment and economic development. And I have seen it in your efforts to support the forest industry.

Your communities know that everyone has to roll up their sleeves and work together to succeed.

Thankfully, in these tough times, an appreciation for cooperation is spreading throughout our province and our country.

AMO recently created an Economic Development Task Force that is bringing together representatives from all orders of government, several economic development agencies and the Ontario Chamber of Commerce.  We hope to work together to improve teamwork and coordination.

This model, and its membership, can be applied locally and regionally.  

Increasingly, municipalities understand that competing with one another for economic development offers less hope and less opportunity than working in partnership to grow regional economies and a prosperous province.
 
As an Association, AMO promotes cooperation by working closely with our members, other orders of government and other municipal organizations – and by supporting the work of regional associations, such as FONOM, NOMA and ROMA.

Several of us have come to this conference to meet with you. 

We have come to share information that we hope will be valuable to you – and we have come here to listen.

We have also come to inform you about services that are available through AMO and Local Authority Services, or LAS.

Our own annual conference is taking shape and in the coming weeks we will be finalizing the agenda. 

Your aspirations are as important to us as your challenges, and we want to support you as best we can.

In short, we want to be part of the team when your community looks for and creates opportunities.

And we want you to be an active part of our community.

Thank you.