05/03/2012

Remarks by Gary McNamara, AMO President and Mayor, Town of Tecumseh. May 3, 2012. Deerhurst Resort, Huntsville. 2012 OSUM Conference.
(Check Against Delivery)

 

Thank you for the opportunity to say a few words of welcome on behalf of AMO. 

I have been touring the Province lately, attending several conferences like this. 

I’ve attended AMO’s Urban Symposium, the NOMA Conference, FONOM… next I’m in Hastings County. It’s that time of year. And in between these events, there are many meetings at Queen’s Park. 

But as many of you know, OSUM feels like home to me. 

We know each other well. 

As Mayor of Tecumseh, I share the challenges of leading a small urban municipality every day. Some I welcome. Some I don’t.

I have attended many OSUM meetings for years. 

They provide us with an excellent opportunity to connect with one another, and learn from one another, so that we can serve our communities better. 

Quite frankly, they also offer us a good opportunity to get our act together – and I want to focus my attention there. 

All municipal governments have to realize that Ontario is starting a new chapter in its history. 

We are always talking about "change" at conferences like this – changes that we can bring to help our communities prosper. 

So what’s different? The current pace of change is unprecedented.

Our world – locally, provincially and globally – is changing quickly. There are more and more outside influences at play. 

People are worried. These are uncertain times.

Many people are frustrated – and they are letting us know.

The Federal government and the Province are both cutting back and looking to doing things differently.

Programs, services and related transfer dollars are being put under a microscope.

People have legitimate concerns about changes that are affecting them: 

  • Slots at racetracks
  • Funding for the Northland Railroad
  • Wind Turbines have been a particularly strong concern in South Western Ontario
  • Rural and urban schools are threatened.
  • OMPF Funding is falling.
  • Costs of policing are rising, and not just for OPP.
  • Job loss eventually puts more pressure on social assistance.

A long list of legitimate concerns – some local, some province-wide is being brought to AMO’s attention. 

Will the list of concerns get bigger? Likely. 

It is safe to say that the pace of change in Ontario will accelerate over the course of the next couple of years -- no matter the political landscape. 

The Drummond report predicts that balancing Ontario’s Budget by 2018 would require the McGuinty Government to cut deeper than the Harris Government did. 

Some of you may remember the pace of change that we saw between 1997 and 2000.

It would be easy to feel overwhelmed by that, but in some respects, it is a good thing. 

It taught us what questions to ask, what information is critical and most importantly, that we need to be at the table when decisions are made. It’s not good enough to just be consulted. The Ontario government needs to work with our governments to ensure that we have good public policy.

To achieve the results that Ontario communities need, we have to have good policies that are implemented well. 

Do we have to brace for what’s coming? You bet, but we also have to seize opportunities – on two fronts. 

Municipalities can help the Province to control spending … 

and we can help the government to grow our local economies and create jobs. 

If you just control spending, you risk strangling the golden goose. 

Tough times can provide the impetus for doing things better and cheaper. 

The iron is hot – and AMO is busier than ever. 

I could spend the rest of my time with you talking about the 2012 Provincial Budget. It was more eventful than most. 

From a municipal perspective, we fared better than others. We are doing considerably better than healthcare and education. 

The province is honouring the uploading agreement of 2008. 

We normally refer to this as an agreement to upload $1.5 billion in Provincial court security and social service costs by 2018.

However, we know that the total upload costs this year to the province is about $1.2 billion and it will grow. 

Social service costs have grown during the recession. The portion paid by the province has gone up and the portion paid by municipalities has dropped. 

For two decades, AMO warned that municipalities could not afford to fund rising social service costs, let alone during a recession. 

Consider that since the upload agreement in 2008, the total benefit costs for Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program alone has grown from $4.6 billion to $6.3 billion this year. 

Looking at the actual costs of these programs today, it’s clear that we were right in our strategy to remove them from the property tax base, and it’s clear that the upload agreement transferred these costs just in time. 

The upload agreement also provided for a reduction of OMPF funding over time. This has caused heartburn for some. 

The OMPF was designed in part to help municipalities manage downloaded costs. The Province is not going to agree to keep paying OMPF, business as usual, as it assumes responsibility for uploaded costs. 

The Budget calls for a Review of OMPF funding – and it commits to AMO’s input. We understand the Province wants to be able to communicate changes to municipal governments in advance of their 2013 budget work.

The urgency of the OMPF review says a lot about the times we are in… and the length of AMO’s To-Do list tells the rest of the story. 

Remember the 12 Asks that AMO proposed to all the parties last summer? 

The government has committed to implementing more than half of them, and they have shown an interest in most of the rest. 

As I said, they will honour the upload of social service and court security costs. They did not take the Drummond’s Commission advice to slow down the upload. 

They say they won’t download new costs – and we are watching them like a hawk. 

They have confirmed that they will provide new funding for roads and bridges in future years –we are disappointed it isn’t now. 

We have been promised permanent provincial gas tax revenue of about $318 million for public transit. 

Thanks in part to the Drummond Report, they are keen to reform some parts of the arbitration process. 

They are warming up to the need for insurance reforms, in part because their own Minimum Maintenance Standards for roads and bridges are under siege in the courts. 

They have committed to continue on the path to extended producer responsibility for waste. 

The Budget promised tools to help collect Provincial Offences Act fines and progress is being made;

They are expected to consolidate housing programs; 

And they have announced changes to energy policy; 

In fact, a review of the Development Charges Act is the only one of our 12 Asks that has not received support. 

A lot of things are changing, and they are changing quickly. 

We don’t stop here. 

The Budget calls for a review of jointly sponsored public pension plans. By any measure they are in trouble.This has huge implications for us, because of OMERS.

Last year OMERS increased contribution rates by just one percent. That one percent cost Ontario’s municipal taxpayers about an extra $150 million. This isn’t sustainable. Funding the current deficits of pension plans must also look to reduction in prospective benefits. 

The review of joint employer/employee public sector pension plans was announced in last month’s budget and input to how to build legislation has already begun. 

Thankfully, AMO’s decision to create the Municipal Employer Pension Centre of Ontario, MEPCO, will ensure that we will bring qualified expertise to this review. 

We have a huge amount on our plate. 

More than ever, municipalities must ensure that AMO is strong. 

We know from experience that AMO is strongest when hundreds of Ontario municipalities come together, speak clearly, and advocate for changes that are both positive and practical. 

There will be plenty of issues that have the potential to distract us and divide us. 

To paraphrase Robert Kennedy, "Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but together we can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation." 

We will have to choose our battles wisely and we will have to stay focused on them. 

So we will need to be thoughtful, well prepared and strategic.

We can’t expect to put our hand out to the province for programs or services that are not planned for in the budget. And if we do ask, we have to be ready to explain what funding envelop it will come from. 

Are we going to be able to please everyone? That is a very high bar in difficult time. AMO is going to have to count on its caucuses and other associations to help us do some heavy lifting. 

Some of the concerns that I mentioned at the beginning of my remarks fall into that category. 

We all have to get our heads around how best to seize a bright and prosperous future. 

From experience, we know that complaints and criticism don’t get us very far. 

If we really want to influence Provincial or Federal decisions, we need to identify the problem, propose a practical solution and lay out a credible plan to implement that solution. 

That is harder, but it works – and the Ontario Government seems wide open to credible suggestions. 

The iron is hot. Let’s be smart. 

We appreciate your continued support of AMO, OSUM and resources such as MEPCO. 

I look forward to reporting back to you on our progress at our annual conference in Ottawa this August. I have no doubt there will be plenty to talk about. 

In the meantime, AMO will continue to communicate to members through our weekly WatchFile emails. If you are not already receiving those, please let AMO staff know that you want to be included and we will add you to the list. 

Enjoy the conference.