05/05/2011

Remarks by Peter Hume, AMO President and Councillor, City of Ottawa. May 5, 2011, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. Presentation to 2011 OSUM Conference.
(Check Against Delivery)


Good morning.

It is a pleasure to start off the day here in beautiful Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Each year, thousands of visitors from around the province – and around the world -- come to the shores of Niagara to soak up history, take in quality theatre or a round of golf.

Farm fresh local produce and award-winning wineries round out the offerings that have built this region into one of Ontario’s prime tourism destinations.

But it hasn’t always been easy, as I’m sure Councillor Jim Collard, a colleague on the AMO Board (and if in room, Mike Galloway CAO and current AMO Secretary-Treasurer) would attest. 

Encouraging and managing economic growth, preserving agricultural land, while retaining the unique character of a town is a balancing act that many Ontario municipalities face. Councils must often walk this tightrope, of local needs and provincial interests.  And all in the shadow of an increasing urbanization.

In fact, Niagara-on-the-Lake is the gateway to the Golden Horseshoe, which is well on its way to becoming the third largest urban region in North America – behind only New York and Los Angeles.

However, it’s some of Ontario’s smaller urban centres that have been growing at the fastest rate – here and across the province.

Managing growth and making the most of its potential is an imperative.  Whether you are new to council or a veteran, you know that the issues we confront are complex -- with competing interests and demands. There are no easy answers – and many late if not sleepless nights. But one thing I know is a safe bet – that at gatherings like this, we learn not only from speakers, but from each other.  Somewhere in this room you will find someone who can share an experience and a solution that will help you progress.

Fittingly the theme of this conference, Gateway to Great Ideas, calls into focus the idea that by coming together, we can learn from one another and take home the great ideas that will continue seeing our communities continue down the path to success. 

You know - that’s very much the premise of AMO. 

Through the association, municipalities can work together to achieve shared goals and to advance municipal governance, programs and service delivery. 
 
I’ve been privileged to be the President for almost 3 years and it is this singular objective that truly leads to making a difference. 

AMO provides policy advice and advocacy.... education and training... useful tools... and programs that help municipalities to stretch those limited taxpayer dollars.  While I know most of you want to hear about our policy advocacy work, please make the time to check out our Local Authority Services – that’s where you can most likely save money.

 
AMO’s policy development and advocacy seeks to ensure that that Provincial and Federal policies that affect municipal government are practical, flexible and where necessary, appropriately funded.

Our positions are guided by an elected board of 43 representatives from municipalities of all types and sizes, and from every corner of the province.

Would like to recognize other AMO board members, representing the Small Urban Caucus, at today’s OSUM Conference:
• Paul Grenier, Councillor, City of Welland
• Gary McNamara, Mayor, Town of Tecumseh
• Bob Kilger, Mayor, City of Cornwall
• Larry McCabe, CAO, Town of Goderich

While every community in Ontario may be unique, there are common challenges that we all face, and there are tremendous opportunities that we can create by working together.

Earlier this week, Canadians went to the polls.  As political junkies, each of us will no doubt have an analysis of the outcome and some of the ‘firsts’ that resulted from this election. 
I think we can all agree that this election was about change.  But one thing that has not changed is this Association’s government relations strategy – we always work with the government that is elected by the people and we will do that with FCM. . 

These elections are important opportunities for Canadians to shape their future. And they represent a key moment for us, as municipalities, to communicate our needs to federal and provincial leaders.  And when we gather in August at the AMO annual meeting, we will know what each provincial party’s platform will contain.

AMO has been clear in its discussions.  First and foremost, we expect a relationship based on mutual understanding and respect as an accountable and duly elected order of government.  Municipal governments are not stakeholders.  Government to government discussions are the nucleus of provincial-municipal relationship.

We deliver core, front line services to our communities. We touch the lives of our residents in countless ways – starting from the moment they turn on the tap and get clean drinking water, to the roads or transit they take to and from work and the parks where they go to relax.
 
And let’s face it – when they pay their property taxes, it’s not usually done once a year by the end of April! 

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities is an important partner for us and their leadership is focused on policy initiatives coming out of Parliament Hill. We share similar priorities, including sustained and continued federal funding for economic development, infrastructure, transit and housing. We continue to press for long-term predictable funding for municipal governments, such as a permanent Federal Gas Tax fund.

 
When the federal and provincial governments provided funding for economic stimulus and infrastructure investment, municipalities moved mountains to make it work.

Every dollar they provided was matched by at least one municipal dollar, if not more.  We identified opportunities quickly, we put the funds to use immediately, and almost without exception, we completed projects on time and on budget.

If the Federal Government wants a credible partner, they have one in municipalities.

That spirit of practical cooperation is also reflected in our relationship with the Ontario Government.

That relationship is guided by a Memorandum of Understanding that binds the Ontario Government to consult with AMO before making changes that affect municipal government responsibilities.

Through it, we work to improve provincial public policy and reduce unintended consequences. 
Sometimes the province listens and sometimes it doesn’t. But every day, between MOU meetings, AMO is advocating for your policy interests.

Unfunded mandates are a key concern for all of us -- again, we look at the costs and consequences of well-intentioned provincial requirements. For example, we are carefully watching the implementation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, or A-O-D-A.

Let there be no doubt -- we embrace the idea of building accessible communities. In fact, municipalities have traditionally been at the forefront of these efforts.  
Are we there yet?  No, but progress is progress. 

At our Urban Symposium last month, we heard about mixed uses as the soul of neighbourhoods as well as planning communities for those that are age 8 and 80.  In doing so, we can build a place that works for everyone, while mindful of the timing and costs.  The last thing we want is tax increases that means discretionary services are eliminated or reduced, impacting the entire community -- including the accessible community.  This would be an unintended consequence of the Act’s standards and all partners have an interest in avoiding it.

 
In terms of budgeting, we were pleased to see that the 2011 Provincial budget followed through on the 2008 commitments to continue to upload social program costs to the province from the municipal property tax base.

The recommendations map out a schedule to upload an estimated $1.5 billion in annual general social assistance, disability, drug benefit and court security costs from the municipal property tax base by 2018. 

Maintaining this schedule and other commitments within the Review is vital to the wellbeing of our communities.

Significantly, Ontario’s municipalities provide a full range of community services with just 10 cents of every tax dollar – the rest going to the federal and provincial governments.  Without these agreed-upon uploads and commitments, that dime would be stretched even thinner.  As an example, the province had to add $31 million to reconcile the final social assistance costs to that which was projected in 2009.  Without the upload, property tax payers would be paying that bill.

We know that new, large funding programs are not realistic under the province’s current fiscal circumstances, so some of our current advocacy targets significant improvements that would cost the Province little or no money.

For example, we are working to ensure that arbitrators truly consider a municipality’s ability to pay before introducing emergency services contract awards.

Common sense dictates that arbitrators should consider among other matters how many local businesses have closed down, how property values have changed, and how great a property tax increase will be needed to fund the figures they have in mind.

 
In January, an arbitrator awarded firefighters in Fort Frances a 16% increase over 4 years, plus better recognition pay, and better retirement benefits.

The cost to the Town is equal to a 2% tax increase – and that’s just for their firefighters.

Last month Fort Frances announced that they are laying-off two of their eight full time firefighters.  That may seem small, but it’s 25 percent of their fire department.  They are also eliminating one of their police patrols.

 
They don’t want to do this.  What Council would?  But like us all, they have to make ends meet.

AMO is calling on the Province to ensure that arbitrated settlements take local economic circumstances into consideration and to have reasonable comparators – and to ensure that outcomes are realistic, affordable and sustainable.  Resolving this issue is a high priority for all of us and Provincial action is long overdue.

Another key policy area for all of us is Insurance reform.

 
Consider yourself lucky if your municipality’s premiums increased by only 10 percent this year.

In 2010, Essex County’s insurance rates increased by 47.5%.  This year they were hit with another staggering increase of 41%.  Once again, the financial impact is equal to a 2% property tax increase.  Municipal insurance rates are skyrocketing, due in large part, to a legal concept known as joint and several liability.

We are looking for legislative reform to this dated regime that is fair and respectful to municipalities and their property taxpayers.  
It can be done – it won’t be easy, but others have gone down this road. 

Another high priority for AMO is infrastructure funding.  In 2008, research concluded that Ontario’s municipalities needed $6 billion annually in new infrastructure investment, each year for 10 years. 

The investment gap for roads and bridges alone is about $2.8 billion -- of which 96% relates to life cycle investment.

 
We are not talking about expansion or new roads.  We are talking about the investment that’s needed to keep the bridges and roads we have in good repair, so that they have the longest lifespan possible.  Ideally, a long term funding approach is needed – not a grant program.  Predictable, sustained funding that we can count on.

We are anticipating the release of the Province’s 10 Year Infrastructure Plan in the near future—and we’ll let you know its release and our analysis of it as soon as it is out.  I can tell you that we’ve had several long and solid conversations with the Minister of Infrastructure and others.

One final priority that I want you to think about is waste diversion.

We are keenly interested in waste management and waste diversion policies.

Currently, taxpayers pay standard rates for waste collection – and there are few incentives to manage waste responsibly.  Industry pays little for the waste they generate.

Municipal property tax payers are saddled with most of the bill.

 
Not surprisingly, landfills are filling up. Building new landfills is a tricky proposition and they are not cheap. Neither is incineration.

We will all need the province’s assistance in moving even further toward an approach in which the polluter pays for the cost of disposal, or extended producer responsibility, as it is also known.  That program saw a setback last summer – an unfortunate one.  But we need to a system that rewards environmental product stewardship, and does not make property tax payers support those not so inclined.

 
To stay on top of these issues, and many others, I encourage you all to tune into AMO’s Weekly Watchfile.  We will continue to use it to keep you updated on both the federal and provincial governments’ activities and AMO’s.

We know that we can do better – if we work together.

For more than a century, AMO has demonstrated that truth, with your help.  Together we count.

In August we will be in London for the Annual AMO Conference—Our Communities, Our Potential. 

The City of London and the County of Middlesex are co-hosting with us -- and work is well underway to provide an outstanding program. Just weeks before the provincial election, it promises to be an exciting event.

Until then, I wish all the best to you and your communities.