06/12/2009

2009 OMSSA Learning Symposium, Ambassador Conference Resort Hotel, Kingston, Ontario. Friday, June 12, 2009.
Peter Hume, AMO President and
Councillor, City of Ottawa
Presentation at the 2009 OMSSA Learning Symposium 
Friday, June 12, 2009 at 11:00 a.m.
Ambassador Conference Resort Hotel
Kingston, Ontario
 
(Check Against Delivery)

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

I want to take this opportunity to congratulate OMSSA on yet another successful conference.  

I’ve joined by my daughter Helen – she is 10 years old.

People who help other lead better lives.

Looking over the program, it’s clear that the last three days have provided great opportunities to learn from one another – and inspiring examples of what human services can make possible for people of Ontario.  

Municipal leaders and social service administrators share the goal of recognizing those possibilities province-wide.  

Working as partners, AMO and OMSSA have made great strides to communicate a shared vision of improved social policy.  

Last year’s highly successful Poverty Reduction Forum is an important example. 

Bringing experts together from across the province, the Forum highlighted the municipal role in poverty reduction, and showcased important CMSM and DSSAB initiatives.  

Our joint policy paper, “Government Makes a Difference: Working Together Towards Poverty Reduction” is another example of what we accomplished together.  Combining knowledge and expertise, we were able to develop practical recommendations for improved social policy in this province. 

The paper has been widely circulated among Ontario’s municipalities, OMSSA members, and the Province and has been well received and continues to attract attention in the right circles. 

That kind of partnership – partnership that results in practical, consensus-based recommendations – is what stimulates real change for Ontarians.

In the current economic crisis, achieving success is more important than ever.

We, at our conferences, often speak to our changing times.  However, during the past year we truly have seen our world change. 

The global economy has seen the fastest and deepest decline in generations.

Industry titans are struggling.

And governments – worldwide – are pouring billions into kick starting economic growth.   

I know -- every good municipal politician, knew the people in this room are on the front line of this economic storm.  

You see its human face every day in the form of communities devastated by plant closings, families struggling to stay afloat, and individuals faced with job losses and limited employment opportunities.   

Last year at OMSSA’s Housing and Homelessness Symposium, I spoke about my experience meeting Philip Mangano, the former Executive Director of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness.  

I had the privilege of going to Washington DC to see Mr. Mangano deliver his message on Housing First and 10 plans to end homelessness to a nationwide audience.  It was inspiring.

His message was a simple one:  It costs more to manage homelessness than to end it outright. 

It can cost up to $1,500 each time a homeless person visits a hospital emergency room.  That same $1,500 could house them for a month and keep them out of the most expensive part of the healthcare system.  

Personally, I have been pushing, leading and advocating in my home town (Ottawa) to end homelessness.  Because if we get that right, we do more than just help people find basic shelter.

We will increase employment, improve public health, strengthen families, improve education, give kids a better life, and cut down on crime.

If I were the Mayor or running for Mayor, not only in Ottawa, but anywhere in Ontario, I would make ending homelessness in a single 4 year term, the defining issue.

Likewise, tackling poverty head on is the key to both economic and social development and our prosperity in a Province.

Poverty costs everyone through increased social and health costs – as well as the lost potential that results when people lack meaningful opportunities to succeed. 

The time for accelerated action is now. 

I’m calling for a National Poverty Reduction strategy and a National Housing strategy – one that benefits from the expertise of every order of government.

Engaging the federal government in a national housing strategy is a top priority for AMO.   And it’s a priority for every provincial government in Canada.

Experience demonstrates that when orders of government work together, we get things done. The citizens we jointly serve reap the rewards.

Last August, Minister Watson and I called for Federal Investment in housing.  I’m pleased that Federal Government is now investing in Social Housing – finally it’s about time.

We recently completed the Joint Provincial and Municipal Fiscal and Service Delivery Review. Two years in the making, it is a consensus-based plan to achieve a more sustainable balance of fiscal responsibilities.

Apart from the financial uploading it secures - which is long overdue and will take awhile to accomplish - the Review points the way to some of the most important and progressive social policy changes that we have seen in the province in years.  

I’m talking about:

The integrated human services planning, 
outcomes based accountability, 
the streamlining and modernization of social assistance, and 
the consolidation of more than 20 housing and homelessness programs, to name a few.

This was achieved through the work of the Service Delivery Accountability Table, which benefited immensely from the hard work and expertise of OMSSA’s Brian Hutchings, Janet Menard, Patti Moore and Adelina Urbanski and others.  

AMO understands that local decision-making results in solutions.  You and I are best positioned to develop community solutions because we are on the front line of these services and face-to-face with the people who need them.  

In many parts of Ontario, municipal government is the only order of government with a local presence at all. 

As a result, local flexibility means more efficient implementation of programs.  We have examples where decision-making has been put in the hands of local experts — with tremendous success.  

I can tell you that AMO is extremely proud of this work, and that we are 100% committed to ensuring that these important advances in social policy are implemented successfully in the months and years ahead.  In partnership with OMSSA, we are also committed to achieving successful implementation.

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

The Province invested billions of dollars in municipal infrastructure last year alone – and the 2009 Federal Budget allocated more than $1.5 billion over two years for provincial and municipal infrastructure in Ontario.   

Collectively, these investments go a long way to address Ontario’s infrastructure deficit – which has been the top priority of municipal government for many years.   

Why talk of funding?

More substantive funding – and a more sustainable fiscal framework for municipalities – means greater freedom and resources to focus on other municipal programs.  

That leads me to the issue of Best Start.

The Best Start Initiative is a success story so far.  

Led by CMSMs and DSSABs, community stakeholders crafted locally appropriate implementation plans that met the broader mandate of expanding and integrating children’s services. 

With the impending March 31st end date for Best Start funding, we are very concerned about the impact of a shrinking child care system on families and communities in Ontario.

The Chair of FCM, Minister Watson and I agreed to work together to create pressure the Federal Government to do the right thing.

You should know that AMO is working with FCM and with the Province of Ontario to advocate for continued federal funding.

The recent announcement of an additional $18 million from the Province is very helpful but it does not provide a long-term solution. 
 
I want to assure you that this is a priority for AMO and we know it’s a priority for you.  We both know that municipalities cannot solve this problem on our own, and that the solution will have to be found through restored federal funding or additional funding from the province if necessary.  

Now another priority that I know we have in common is our mutual goal of achieving a long term, affordable housing strategy.  

The Province’s funding announcement in March was an important step.  It committed provincial funds to match the affordable housing investments included in the 2009 Federal Budget.  

That combined federal and provincial funding equates to $1.2 billion in affordable housing investments over a two year period.  It is expected to renovate approximately 50,000 social housing units and build 4.500 new ones.  

The result will be life-changing for thousands of Ontario families – but everyone here knows that thousands more will keep waiting.  

You know that getting the federal government back into the social housing business was no small order.  Right now, everyone seems to agree that in a serious recession, there is a good business case for investing in housing in our communities.  But OMSSA knows, and AMO knows, that there is always a good business case in investing in housing in our communities and investing in better outcomes for the individuals and families we serve. 

Colleagues, there is much more work to be done.  

We share the goal of breaking down the silos that stand in the way of effective service delivery.  

We recognize that provincial structures can hinder the ability of ministries to work together.  Different ministries often undertake different — and sometimes competing — initiatives — with little regard for other programs.   

The problem is further compounded when the funding streams themselves are tied to different provincial budgetary schedules. Improved social services is too important to our economic prosperity to be tied to political initiatives.    

AMO and OMSSA share a vision for reforms to Employment Insurance. The current system sees more than 50 per cent of people who require Employment Insurance classified as ineligible due to provincial rules and regulations.

The result is large numbers of people forced to use Ontario Works instead, creating an undue strain on Provincial and municipal funds. The process is unsustainable – particularly in a period of economic decline.    

But with continued partnership, we are well positioned to realise change and improved social services in Ontario.  

Working together, we have taken important strides – and the people of Ontario have reaped the rewards. 

OMSSA and AMO are different organizations.  An inevitable consequence of this is that we will sometimes have different priorities.  But the citizens we serve are all the same.  

When we work through those challenges to arrive at practical recommendations for improved social policy in Ontario, the message sent to other orders of government is difficult to ignore – and the people of Ontario benefit.  
  
I can tell you that the closing speaker, Russell Mawby, is not to be missed.  

I had the privilege of working with Russell when he was Director of Housing for the City of Ottawa and I’m pleased that he continues to help improve housing and social policy in Ontario and across Canada.  His insight and expertise has been profound for me and should be of great interest to you.  He is smart, dedicated and talented and I am pleased to call him my friend.

Thanks again for the opportunity to speak with you today.  On behalf of AMO, I want to acknowledge, and thank you for the important work you do every day in your communities.  

Do not forget we are with you!