08/20/2012

2012 Annual AMO Conference, Westin Ottawa Hotel and Congress Centre, Ottawa, Ontario, Monday August 20, 2012.
(Check Against Delivery)

Good morning everyone -- and welcome to the 2012 Annual AMO Conference!

This is AMO’s showcase event each year and we are always grateful that so many people join us. Many of you have come a long way and we appreciate it.

C'est vitrine de l'AMO chaque année et nous sommes toujours reconnaissants que tant de gens se joindre à nous. Beaucoup d'entre vous ont parcouru un long chemin et nous l'apprécions.

Before I get too far into my remarks, I want to make sure that Dr. Shapiro is sticking around.  We may want to make him an honourary member of AMO’s negotiating team.

This conference is about good ideas.  

We all have lots of ideas about what ought to be done… what needs to be fixed… and what could be better. 

We look for what’s broken and we fix it.  Life isn’t perfect, so we will always be busy.

Having said that, I’m proud of how far we have come.

A decade ago, AMO’s vision was to create more fiscally sustainable municipal governments… so that we could focus on our core responsibilities, invest in infrastructure and work with our Provincial and Federal peers as respected partners.

As logical as that may sound now, AMO’s vision was audacious ten years ago.

Whenever we did get to sit down with the Province, much of the time was spent arguing about whether the affects downloading were real.  

Meanwhile, we were all deferring infrastructure investment, year after year, to pay for downloaded social service costs that we couldn’t afford.

Our relationship with the Federal government was almost non-existent.

This conference was important, but it was a shadow of what you are about to participate in.

Everything about AMO is stronger and more dynamic – just as Ontario’s municipal governments are stronger and more dynamic.
 
Over the past decade we have earned the respect of our Provincial and Federal peers.

Today, by law and for good reason, the Province is is required to have government to government consultation with AMO.

Through this we have forged a frank, honest and productive relationship. 

We tested that relationship in 2005 – at this Conference – when we called on them to work with us to create ‘a substantive and practical plan to restore fiscal sustainability for municipal government, and to end the Province’s dependence on municipal property tax revenue.’ 

One year later, also at this Conference, they agreed to carry out the Provincial Municipal Fiscal and Service Delivery Review.

Completed in 2008, it confirmed that downloading was harming Ontario’s communities, and it mapped out a plan to upload significant Provincial costs over ten years.

Over the past five years, the Agreement has uploaded a cumulative total of $3.1 billion in Provincial costs for social services and court security.

About $1.2 billion in annual costs will be uploaded in 2012, and the upload is scheduled to grow each year until 2018.

We meet with the Ontario Government on a regular basis. The conversations are often challenging, but usually, AMO has an opportunity to say its piece.  They know exactly where we stand… and we have a much better understanding of where they stand.

Sometimes we agree... sometimes we agree to disagree.

We’ve used our progress with the Province to forge better relations with the Federal Government and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities has been a helpful partner.

AMO’s most obvious success is Ontario’s Federal Gas Tax Fund.  It includes a signed agreement between the Government of Canada and Ontario’s municipalities – through which, $746 million in annual Federal Gas Tax revenue flows to you directly, without having to go to the Province.  
 
Ontario’s model is the envy of every other Canadian municipality. We have it because we earned the trust and respect of both our Federal and Provincial partners.

This trust and respect served us well when the recession hit – and all three orders of government agreed to invest in municipal infrastructure on a scale that hadn’t been seen since the 1970’s.

So again, our world is not perfect.  There are plenty of things we’d like to fix.  But Ontario’s municipal governments are in a much better position than they were a decade ago... and AMO’s in a much better position to make a difference.

Our work is taken seriously – and given current seating arrangements at Queen’s Park, AMO’s working its butt off to make sure that municipal perspectives are understood and factored into decisions.  

We are working to hold onto what we have gained – and to create new opportunities.

Last summer we presented “12 Asks”, or priorities that we wanted the Ontario government to adopt.  Today we are making some form of progress on almost all of them – and we are working on several dozen other government proposals, task forces and initiatives. 

AMO’s top priority is to make sure that the Ontario government honours its upload agreement.

To date we have succeeded, but we cannot afford to rest.

The Ontario Government agreed to upload because Ontario will only succeed if our communities succeed.  

Municipalities agreed to be patient – and to accept their word – even though we couldn’t afford to keep paying for their programs.  

We gave them time to plan and prepare.

In fact, we gave them a decade.  

We were very generous.

That is why we do not entertain any delays or changes to the agreement. 

We’ve done our part – and we are counting on everyone in the Legislature to make sure Ontario follows through, as promised.

The agreement has brought much needed stability – so that municipalities can make prudent, long-term financial plans.  

The Ministry of Infrastructure understands the value in that.  Last week they announced that up to $9 million is being allocated to ensure that smaller municipalities are able to make asset management plans.

AMO advocated for this – and infrastructure investment is been one of our top priorities.

Six months ago, the Premier said new funding for roads and bridges will have to wait as Ontario tackles its deficit.

In the meantime, last week’s announcement was welcome news. It’s phase one.  As OGRA put it, “a first step in a long journey.”

It included some money for urgent needs, such as bridge repairs. 

We are all dealing with an unspoken reality.

Our existing infrastructure is aging – and Ontario is growing. 

Most infrastructure is municipally owned – and we don’t have the resources to build what needs to be built.

Can property taxes, user fees and grants build the communities that we all want?

The only honest answer is “no”.

A few things will have to change.

It won’t happen in the short term, but I think the facts – and the public – support our belief that front-line municipal services warrant a greater share of the tax dollars that Canadians spend.

We provide most of the services that people use – and they use them every day.

Does it make sense that less than a dime of every tax dollar pays for them?  

Almost 40 cents goes to the Province – and more than half goes to the Federal Government.

Is that the ratio that tax payers want?  

Securing a greater share room won’t come easy and it won’t come soon.  However, it is a reasonable discussion for Canadians to have.

We need to continue to encourage financial stability and predictability, so that municipalities can take advantage of longer term planning and financing.

Funding programs should do the same.  

Canada’s Gas Tax Fund is a great example.  It’s stable, predictable, flexible and efficient.

The Federal Government has discussed the potential for a national infrastructure plan.  We need one – and a 10 year plan, or longer, would be best.

Ontario has headed in that direction. Their heart is in the right place, but we recognize that they have to get their fiscal house in order first – which brings us to the next and most immediate priority: 

We need to get control over areas that are driving up the costs for both orders of government, such as the rising costs of emergency services, and policing in particular.

We need to address rising insurance costs – and ensure that interest arbitration is fair and practical.

And we need to ensure that public pensions are affordable and sustainable.

I urge you all to attend the session on pensions that’s in this room at 4:30.

There is a strong link between controlling costs and building the capacity to invest in infrastructure.

Now is the perfect time to discuss cost control.  

Securing a greater share of the tax dollar, getting new funding programs, and new tools and long-term funding programs will take time.  

But every one of AMO’s major achievements has taken time – and AMO has achieved audacious plans before.

I believe that the Ontario Government is open to suggestions, and AMO is encouraging you to strike while the iron is hot.

We are launching an Ideas Campaign this week.

Municipal leaders know how to stretch a dollar – and you probably know a way to improve delivery of a program or service in your community.

We want you to send us your ideas to AMO.  We are looking for feasible and practical ideas we will forward them to the Province.  

You will learn more about this today and information is now available on our website.

Once a year, AMO’s hard work rises to the surface, and you see it… here… over the course of the next three days.

Everything, and everyone, connects at AMO.

  • More than 50 sessions and workshops.
  • More than 75 speakers.
  • About 2,000 people
  • 400 meetings between municipal leaders and their peers in the Ontario and Federal Governments.
  • Most of Ontario’s Cabinet participates; along with both opposition leaders and many MPP and MPs.
AMO’s hard work, and your participation, is going to help shape Ontario’s future for the better.

I’ll conclude by thanking you for supporting AMO as we continue to work for you.  

I believe we are at an important stage in Ontario’s history – and I believe that we need AMO to be as strong and effective as we all can make it.

I also want to thank you for the honour of serving as AMO President. 

The opportunity has introduced me to people and communities that have inspired me.  

I’m finding it easier to work harder and dream bigger, because I have seen your successes and witnessed your resolve.

On Wednesday, I pass the torch over to the able hands of Russ Powers, a Hamilton City Councillor, and I will support him in the way that several past presidents, and AMO’s Board, have supported me.

But… that’s two action-packed days from now.  This show is just getting started and I’m looking forward to it.

Thank you.