04/17/2009

2009 NOMA Conference, Memorial Sports Centre, Fort Frances, Ontario. April 17, 2009.
Peter Hume, AMO President and
Councillor, City of Ottawa
Friday April 17 at 2:30 p.m.
Memorial Sports Centre 
Fort Frances, Ontario

AMO President’s Speech at the NOMA Conference 

(Check Against Delivery)

Thank you for the opportunity to be here today.

At about this time yesterday, I was at Queen’s Park, to appear before the Standing Committee on General Government.  

The Committee is considering Bill 150, the Green Energy and Green Economy Act.

The Bill has significant implications for municipalities... and... as is often the case... it raises different concerns for different municipalities.

Some are most concerned about its impact on planning and municipal authority; some are most concerned about its environmental impact; and others see it as a great opportunity to promote, and perhaps even supply, local power generation.

For years, Northern municipalities have advocated local generation as a means to create jobs, reduce energy costs and spur economic development. Bill 150 proposes significant strides in that direction.

It has broad implications for municipal planning and energy regulation – two areas that are already complicated – and it is essential that municipalities respond with practical, well-informed advice.

AMO was there to deliver just that on behalf of all Ontario municipalities.  

While I would like to say that I researched and prepared AMO’s submission all on my own, most of the credit has to go to our policy team, which is very strong.

It is headed up by Brian Rosborough, who many of you met this morning. I understand that his presentation to this conference touched on the Fiscal Review, and a number of other policy issues. 

AMO is active in a wide variety of policy issues. The knowledge and hard work of our policy staff is a tremendous asset to AMO’s Board and the policy positions that we adopt.

With respect to the Board, I want to take a moment to recognize the contribution we receive from our Northern colleagues.

Dryden Mayor Anne Krassilowsky as Chair of NOMA, plays an important role in ensuring that northern concerns and proposals are considered by all municipalities and in our dealings with the Ontario Government and the federal government.

She sits on AMO’s Northern Caucus, which she co-chairs with Mac Bain. Mac is Chair of the Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities and a Councillor in North Bay.

Other members include:

 Michael Power, Mayor of Greenstone;
 Madge Richardson, Mayor of Schreiber Township; 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.

Last, but not least, Bill Vrebosch serves as a Chair of AMO’s Rural Caucus. He is the Mayor of East Ferris, not far from North Bay.

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.

Fort Frances, one of the oldest communities in Northern Ontario, has a motto: "Industry and Perseverance."

Any town that chooses those words has weathered tough times before.

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 you have faced for several years now.

These challenges aren’t academic. You have seen them in your streets. You have seen their effects in your communities and I expect that each of your families has been touched by them personally in some way.

Ironically, on the whole, municipalities have seen unprecedented gains during the same period. 

As Brian Rosborough outlined this morning, the Provincial-Municipal Fiscal Service Delivery Review resulted in the upload of a net $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.  

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

Through the Fiscal 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 the most important and powerful outcomes of the review.

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.

It knows that roads and bridges account for half of our needs.

It knows that the bulk of our infrastructure needs relate to prudent, life-cycle management of the assets we already have.

And it knows that the highest burden of cost, per capita, is in North Western Ontario.

Much of the Provincial infrastructure spending we are seeing today can be traced to the Fiscal Review and the rest has been greatly influenced by it – including billions of dollars more from the Federal Government.

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

It 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 has been tripled.

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

 Social service cost uploads;
 More fiscally sustainable municipal government; and,
 Massive Federal and Provincial infrastructure investment.

As municipalities, our fortunes have improved a lot in a short time.

However, the kind of economic challenges that many of you have faced for some time have spread across Ontario and around the globe.

The top priority now – for all three orders of government – is to get our economy on track.

The Provincial and Federal governments have risen to the challenge and Municipal governments will match their funding.

The Premier had a message for municipal leaders 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.

A month later he is promoting a transformation to a smarter, greener economy – and making significant changes to taxation.  

The Ontario and Federal governments are both taking bold action – and they expect no less from us.

As bad as things may be now and tomorrow, we know that a prolonged recession would be extremely hard for municipalities.

Ironically, now that we have secured a plan to upload Provincial costs, 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.

AMO always argued, correctly, that in a poor economy, municipalities would be hit with a combination of increasing coats and declining revenue.

Many have looked to AMO to sound the alarm and call for Provincial Government intervention.

It’s important that I speak to AMO’s understanding of the Province’s commitment coming out of the Fiscal Review process. 

Our understanding is 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. 

Let’s face it, anyone who gets though the next few years without a heavy load on his back, isn’t working hard enough.

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.

All three orders of government are investing billions into infrastructure to kick-start recovery. 

The parties at Parliament Hill have cast aside brinkmanship in favour of a more cooperative relationship.

Federal and Provincial relations have improved remarkably.

Jim Flaherty’s recent Conservative budget had more in common with a Bob Rae budget than a Mike Harris budget – and last month, Premier McGuinty introduced a budget that set aside differences and supported Minister Flaherty’s call for lower business taxes.

Thankfully, the desire to work together is growing.

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 NOMA, FONOM 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.