2012 OMSSA Annual Conference “Human Services Integration in Practice: Realizing the Vision,” November 6, 2012.
Russ Powers, AMO President and Councillor, City of Hamilton
Tuesday November 6th, 2012 at 1:15 pm to 1:30 pm 
Marriot Toronto (Downtown Eaton Centre)
Toronto, Ontario

(Check Against Delivery)

Thank you for the kind introduction.

One of the great privileges of being AMO’s President is that I get to travel across the province, meeting with my colleagues in their unique communities – from large urban to rural communities in all four corners of Ontario.  I, myself hail from the City of Hamilton.

I want to thank OMSSA for putting this important program together and for inviting me to speak to you today.

AMO is delighted to be a part of your annual conference “Human Services Integration in Practice: Realizing the Vision.” 

Our organizations have together made great strides in recent years to communicate a shared vision of improved social policy and integrated human services.  

This effort is grounded by important foundational work harkening back to 2008, when our joint Poverty Reduction Forum brought experts together to highlight the municipal role in poverty reduction.  

That partnership continues through to this day.  Right now, AMO and OMSSA representatives also continue to work together on implementing the recommendations of the joint Provincial-Municipal Fiscal and Service Delivery Review, which we completed with the Province in 2008.   

Yet, there still is much work left to be done.

As you are well aware from your work on the ground, there is a great deal of change underway in the way that municipalities will deliver social and human services in our communities. This is the result of a number of concurrent provincial initiatives underway, expected or recently completed.   A number of these changes require a significant effort to plan and manage community expectations on the ground. You all will be at the forefront of this effort. 

Associations like OMSSA and AMO have both had to ramp up to stay on top of these changes.

OMSSA ramped up by stealing Petra Wolfbeiss from us.  I don’t need to tell you that you have a cracker jack new Policy Director.  

AMO responded in kind, by stealing Michael Jacek from the City of Toronto to fill her shoes.

Bench strength is important.

In all seriousness, these moves are positive for us all.

We are happy to see Petra move into a role that allows her to focus on what she loves and does best.  And her arrival here provides a strong bridge between our associations.

She will be the first one to tell you that Michael is a great addition to our team, and that we have been able to maintain a solid, uninterrupted commitment to municipal social service matters. 
Together, we are managing dealing with changes to discretionary benefits and the elimination of the Community Start-up and Maintenance Benefit. At the same time, we are anticipating potentially transformative changes to Ontario’s social assistance system in the wake of the release of the Social Assistance Commissioners report on October 24th. 

The Province is moving forward with the housing programs consolidation, and we are assessing the potential impacts while bracing for the challenge in your communities associated with the end of federal operating agreements for social housing.

OMSSA members are developing French Service Language plans to better serve Ontario’s francophone community.

You are the cusp of a new emerging child care modernization initiative undertaken by the Province.

Much of this change is positive and will ultimately yield beneficial results for both municipalities and the Province. However, AMO shares OMSSA’s concern about the pace and scale of change.  I don’t need to tell you that the system is complicated.  

And right now we have changes happening simultaneously at different ministries, on matters that are interconnected. 

In line with the theme of this conference, we need to make sure that these links are acknowledged and strengthened. If anything we should have greater human services integration, not less.

AMO is always quick to remind policy makers that this was a central thrust of the Fiscal Review process. 

We want to tear down silos, better integrate services, use limited resources more effectively and achieve better outcomes for those who need our support. 

From our blended perspective, AMO and OMSSA are working with provincial ministries to look at human services as a package rather than as a menu of services. 

Specifically, we worked with the Province to consolidate some of the housing and homelessness programs.

Consolidation was welcomed by the Province and we continue to work together to advise the Province on implementation challenges and opportunities.

There is much more work to do to move toward an integrated model for delivering employment services, and more efficient ways of delivering assistance programs in Ontario.  

We have an opportunity to act on the report released just two weeks ago by the Commission for the Review of Social Assistance in Ontario.

The Commissioners found that the system is not working well for recipients, administrators (including municipalities) and Ontarians. 
They said it is:

  • Too complicated;
  • Too confusing for recipients; and that, 
  • It places an excessive administrative burden on administrators.
It won’t surprise you to hear that AMO and OMSSA agree with their assessment. 

I believe the Province does as well.

We have an opportunity to move forward with recommendations that make sense for municipalities, the Province and most importantly, for social assistance recipients who are among the most vulnerable residents in our communities. 

Ontario’s municipalities are heavily invested in the delivery of social assistance. When the government is ready to move on any of the recommendations, AMO and OMSSA should be deeply involved in that policy development. Our shared interest is that any potential changes are well-planned, adequately resourced and allow local flexibility to achieve success.

AMO is well positioned to convene working groups with ministry staff to explore potential implications of the recommendations.

We will work closely with OMSSA to assess the potential impacts to municipalities and advise what will work well for social assistance recipients.  

Understanding the practical elements of the Commission’s proposed changes is one of the lenses that we will use in reviewing the report’s 108 recommendations. This will take time to get it right, and we look forward to an engaged, thoughtful dialogue. 

We can help the Ministry understand the reality on the ground and the municipal role in many other human service delivery areas, from Ontario Works to housing to child care to public health – to name but a few.   

Again, we believe that integration of human services and holistic approaches are key to its possible success.

This is true across the social and human services spectrum. 

We all want to reduce homelessness on a year by year basis, with an eye to one day ending homelessness altogether. This can only be achieved through an integrated social and human service approach.  Dealing with clients and programs in isolation won’t get the job done.

Improving and expanding access to high quality and affordable child care for residents in our communities is key to removing barriers and enabling people to enter the labour force and earn a decent living. 

When you consider all this, we are working together to develop the most significant social policy changes that Ontario has seen in decades. This is a pivotal and an exciting time.   

Of course, it is a pivotal time and exciting time for political pundits.  We do not know what Ontario’s Legislature will look like within a year.

An election is coming and we have to be ready for the prospect of new partners and policy makers.

What will that mean for you – and for the work that we are doing?

The honest answer is, “I don’t know.”

But… AMO has been around for more than a century and it has seen many governments come and go during that time.

We are prudent, practical and non-partisan.  Our members include politically active leaders of all party stripes.

As such, we tend to pursue policies that will have broad support across the broadest of the political spectrum.

If the government changes, we will be ready to state the municipal case to whomever we will be working with.

We are pursuing policy changes that make social service delivery more efficient and successful.  We are striving to make better use of limited tax dollars. 

And we are striving to achieve better outcomes for those who not only need our help, but who tend to draw even more heavily on government assistance when they do not get that help. 

We are confident that we are pursuing the right policy direction -- and we believe it is a compelling direction for whoever we are working with at Queens Park a year from now.

As I start the beginning of my two year term, this is the first time that I have spoken at an OMSSA conference as AMO’s President, but it’s my sincere hope that I can come back before you again at your annual conference or other forums to celebrate our shared successes as we move forward together to further the vision and reality of integrating human services for the benefit of all Ontarians in various communities across this great province of ours.   

AMO is very pleased with what we have accomplished together with OMSSA over the years, and we look forward to a continued partnership to improve human services in Ontario. 

In closing, I personally want to acknowledge the extraordinary professionalism displayed by OMSSA’s Executive Director, Kira Heineck in her dealings with the AMO staff. Her grasp of the issues assists us in putting forward an informed and forceful case to the Ministry…Thank you, Kira.

Thank you and enjoy the conference.