Remarks by Gary McNamara, AMO President and Mayor, Town of Tecumseh, February 29, 2012, Fairmont Royal York Hotel, Toronto, Ontario.

(Check Against Delivery)

Good morning.

First of all, I want to congratulate ROMA and OGRA for hosting another great conference. 

It’s been busy – as it should be. 

This is a critical time and there is a lot going on that we all need to take an interest in.

Ontario faces significant challenges. 

We are a month away from a critical Provincial Budget.

It will be introduced by a minority government.

There is a pressing need for fiscal restraint.  All the parties agree on this. 

The question is, “How will the province tackle its deficit?”

The Drummond Report that was released last month recommends 362 places to consider.

More than 100 of Drummond’s recommendations touch on programs or services that municipal government has an interest in.  That’s almost one third of them.

It would difficult for me to address all of these, but I will do my best in the brief hour that they have given me.

Just kidding…

I’ll keep this short.

In the coming days, weeks and months AMO will be working hard to ensure that municipal governments are well represented in discussion with the government and opposition members.

ROMA plays a key role in the process – and it is not alone.

AMO’s Board includes representatives from NOMA and FONOM in the north… OSUM, the small urban caucus… LUMCO, the large urban caucus… and AFMO, the francophone association… just to name a few.

There are 40 board members in all. 

We also work with at least a dozen other municipal associations, including OGRA.

All of these groups inform the work we do – and the consultations that we have with the Ontario government. 

Over the past decade AMO has worked hard to establish effective, government-to-government relationships with Queen’s Park.

We are not shy about it.  It makes sense. 

Contrary to popular belief, we are not smaller. 

Our governments serve the exact same population that their government serves – and we tend to deliver the services that people care about most. 

You know this... because you’re on the front line with us.

A message that we can all deliver is “tread carefully… and make sure you understand how your decisions will affect communities in rural and northern Ontario.” 

We’ve sent that message and we will continue to do so.

Life in Red Lake and Rockland is different than life in Richmond Hill.

I get that.  You get it.  But most people in Ontario live in larger, urban communities.

Working with ROMA, we recently created a discussion paper to help policy makers appreciate and understand our communities better.  

The discussion paper, called “A Voice for Rural and Northern Ontario” includes a tool that we call the “Northern and Rural Lens.”

We think that policy makers at the Province should look through that lens regularly.  We look through it at ROMA and AMO when we are developing policy positions.

It’s a one-page reality check that asks the basic questions that you hope are being asked – to ensure that policies are practical and more affordable.  It’s a path to better public policy.

We hope that our work is viewed by Queen’s Park as an asset – and I believe that it is.

We are pleased to hear the Premier re-commit to the uploads and OMPF schedule that is mapped out in the Joint Fiscal Review Agreement of 2008.

I believe the Premier realizes that Ontario’s municipalities have already been remarkably patient. 

Devastating costs were downloaded onto our shoulders in 1998.  We waged a 10 year fight to fix the obvious and get Provincial costs off of our property tax base – then we gave them another 10 years to do it. 

Municipalities have carried these costs for long enough.

At the same time, we know the Province has financial challenges. 

On Monday, we learned that we are going to have to wait for road and bridge funding.

That’s going to be tough for many of us.

We already have communities that cannot afford vital road and bridge work.

Obviously, we are going to put safety first... but our financial problems are going to start to show.

If we can’t keep a bridge safe, we can’t keep it open. 

I also know of paved roads that are about to become dirt roads, because communities can’t afford to repave them.

Ontario can’t afford to ignore infrastructure needs.

Infrastructure is essential to prosperity.

The Premier knows this – and he has committed to additional roads and bridge funding within this term of office.

We believe that all parties will support it – and Federal funding is possible.

AMO’s strong advice to members is, “get yourself ready.” 

For some time now, all orders of government have been stressing the need for asset management plans.  Those municipalities that have their affairs in order will have an advantage when Provincial and Federal assistance arrives.

That’s not very comforting, but it is honest.

No one can expect business as usual in the years ahead.

Ontario faces many of the same challenges as other Western economies.

We all have to work together to find solutions.

The Ontario Government is looking for them.  We would be wise to answer that call. 

If you are frustrated by approaches that you feel are ineffective, inefficient or too costly… it’s a good time to recommend better alternatives.

This is no time for complaints.  It’s time to propose solutions.

I can assure you that AMO is interested in them. 

Once again, one third of Drummond’s recommendations touch on municipal government in some way.  

Our two orders of government are “intertwined”, to use his language.

Well… municipalities also know a thing or two about stretching tax dollars. 

We are the most accountable and transparent order of government… we deliver the most direct public services… and we do it with less than 10 per cent of the tax dollars that people pay.

If you have ever said, “there has to be a better way,” now is your chance.

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

If you really want to change the way a government operates, you need to show them the problem, the solution and a credible plan to get there.

It’s harder, but it works.

AMO applies that principal to the work it does.

Normally, our staff works on about 50 policy files at any given time.  This year, there could be hundreds of them.

So we will take all the advice that we can get.

Help us, help you.

We are well aware that 75 municipalities are very concerned about wind-turbines. 

We need practical proposals that spell out what’s needed, a plan to get us there, and incentives for the Provincial to walk down that path.

The Province is committed to the Green Energy Act – and so are many municipalities.  We have to work with that to propose changes that have broad support.

If we can get to that stage, we can use the relationship that we have with the Province to present our ideas.

Municipalities have worked hard to open those doors – and we are committed to keeping them open.

Once again, we are at a critical time and we face a critical test of our relationship with the Province.

I hope that these challenges will inspire you to help us all rise to the occasion and demonstrate that Ontario’s municipalities belong at the table when Ontario’s future is discussed.

We will need your help... your input... your ideas… and your support – so that we can steer Ontario toward the right solutions, with one strong voice.

Our weekly WatchFile e-mails will provide updates.  We will provide a Breaking News report on any developments in the coming weeks and certainly when the Budget is released later next month. 

You will also see me throughout the Spring, providing updates at half a dozen smaller, regional conferences, right across Ontario.

Of course the most comprehensive update will come in August, at our 2012 Annual AMO Conference in Ottawa. 

One way or another, I know we are going to have a lot to talk about at that time.

Thank you again for the opportunity to provide this update from AMO – and safe travels as you make your way home today.