08/19/2013

Ottawa Convention Centre, Canada Hall. Ottawa, Ontario Monday August 19, 2013, 9:45 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.

Check Against Delivery

Remarks for AMO President Russ Powers
2013 Annual AMO Conference

Ottawa Convention Centre, Canada Hall
Ottawa, Ontario
Monday August 19, 2013, 9:45 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.

I also want to thank Col. Hadfield for inspiring us today and throughout his time in space.

He is a great Canadian who aspired to reach the stars – and succeeded.

Each year at this time, we provide a summary of what AMO is reaching for – and where we want to go next.

The simple answer is that AMO is working on far more than I could explain in ten minutes.

Before the last Provincial election, we outlined 12 Asks.

Even if I just focused on them, ten minutes doesn’t give me enough time to capture the progress that we have made since then.

The good news is that we have secured many of them, we are making progress on most that remain, and we are bulldogging away where needed.

The 12 Asks relate to some of the most obvious policy areas that we are working on.

But there are dozens and dozens of other topics that require our attention.

The list only grows.

Given recent tragedies, people want to know AMO’s views on rail safety and exotic pets.

These are fair questions – and AMO needs to provide well-informed answers.

For years we fought to make sure policy makers listened to municipal governments.

I appreciate that some of you may feel that you aren’t getting that opportunity, but those of us who have been around a while know how far we have come.

We work with our Provincial -- and Federal – colleagues in respectful and direct terms.

We do not always agree with one another, but we share our perspectives and they know where we stand on the issues.

Tomorrow we will renew the Ontario Government’s Memorandum of Understanding agreement with AMO.

It is the foundation that ensures that we have an open door to Queen’s Park.

It commits the province to prior consultation with us on proposed Provincial changes to legislation and regulations that will have a significant financial impact on municipalities and the negotiation of agreements with the Federal government on specific matters that have a direct municipal impact.

While the MOU agreement is important, I know that you didn’t come all this way to watch me sign it.

You have come here to find solutions.

You have come to learn and you have come to advocate on behalf of the communities you serve.

About 315 delegation meetings with Ministers are scheduled to take place over the next three days.

Over the weekend, we held Board meetings here in Ottawa.

Our Board includes representatives from most of Ontario’s municipal associations, and they are all here, along with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

The Premier is here with most of her Cabinet. The Ministers have brought senior policy makers.

Both opposition leaders are here.

The Federal government is well-represented.

We’re all here – as we should be.

And we are all talking with one another – as we should be.

And yet, there are frustrations.

We should be frank about that.

These are difficult times.

Our communities face real challenges.

Many of you have come here with high hopes.

Your delegation meeting is important – and you have prepared for it.

You need to return home with the feeling that the trip was worth it.

I can tell you right now that most of those delegation meetings are going to have something to do with money.

A lot of them will have something to do with infrastructure.

Most of us want to either find money – or save money – so that we can fix our infrastructure.

We understand that money is hard to come by at the moment.

We don’t understand why we are not getting more help to control costs.

We can’t afford our OPP contracts.

We can’t afford the wage increases that the OPP is about to get.

We can’t afford the precedent that it sets for our local police forces.

We can’t afford fire halls that house six-figure salaries.

We can’t afford – or understand – Ontario’s interest arbitration system.

It’s awarding double digit increases to emergency workers, while our other unions accept the need for restraint.

We can’t afford to pay high insurance settlements for other people’s negligence.

The health of the OMERS Pension Plan is questionable – but we’re the only ones who question it.

These preventable problems are inflating the cost of municipal government – and they are beyond our control.

Looking at each of these things in isolation – some may be tempted to say that we can always raise property taxes.

Well, higher municipal property taxes cannot and will not be the answer.

Ontario already has the highest property taxes in Canada.

Funding for emergency services, insurance and pensions are going to have to come out of other municipal programs and services.

They are going to be funded at the expense of things that provide social support, create jobs and promote economic prosperity.

I hope that asset management and infrastructure investment are not the first to suffer.

We are frustrated because it is preventable.

The Ontario Government has taken action to control its own wage, benefit and pension costs.

The Budget boasts that they have done a better job than we have.

Give us the tools.

The Province needs to do its part to address the rising costs of emergency services.

In addition to mitigating the impact of the OPP contract, it needs to restore balance to the interest arbitration process.

AMO has already put a lot of work into proposing fair and reasonable improvements – and we have communicated them clearly.

It’s time to stop pretending that we can’t limit municipal liability in Ontario.

Saskatchewan has already done it.

You can learn how at 9 a.m. tomorrow. It’s in your program.

We expect all three party leaders to commit to the upload agreement that we signed with the Ontario Government in 2008. 

After carrying the burden of funding provincial programs for more than a decade, municipalities generously gave the Province another decade to accept responsibility for its own bills.

We worked hard, in good faith, to establish the upload agreement. We are half way through it and the government remains firmly committed to it.

We need to know that all parties are committed to it.

Suggestions that the upload should be delayed further are unacceptable.

Solutions – That has to be our focus.

That’s what you came here for.

And we know that you are not just looking for them from the Ontario and Federal government.

You are looking for them from AMO as well.

That’s fair. We get it.

We are working hard to find solutions for you – and we need you to work with us to find them.

Help us to help you.

This room contains an army of influential voices.

We’re giving out marching orders.

There are three things that we ask of you.

First – Help us speak with a strong, clear voice.

If you like a position we have taken, spread the word. Let people know.

Second – We need you to be patient with us. 

Over the past year a number of Ontario communities have had pretty stunning displays of what happens when too much rain falls at once.

Pipes, culverts and ditches have limited capacity – and it’s not good to exceed that capacity.

You need to make sure that the flow is manageable.

For our part, we have had to accept the need to focus on province-wide areas – so that we are providing good analysis and advice, and making progress on key matters.

In practice…and regrettably… that means that AMO can’t take on everything that community groups and people want us to do.

In many cases, our members are helping us to shoulder the load… and we have had great support from Ontario’s other municipal associations.

That cooperation makes us all stronger and we hope to foster more of it.

The third thing we are looking for is your attention.

From time to time we need to have everyone paddle hard in the same direction – or simply take an interest in a particular concern.

For example, on Thursday, October 24 we are holding a Special Session on the OMERS Pension Plan. It will be held in Oshawa and we hope every municipality that pays into the plan will send someone to it.

There is no cost to attend it – and we believe it could be very costly for us all if you don’t.

That session will be provided in conjunction with our Counties, Regions and Single Tier Symposium.

It is one of the many learning opportunities that we create in addition to this flagship event.

We are proud of them all – but this Conference is special.

Over the next three days we will feature more than 50 different sessions.

We have worked hard to make them as relevant and informative as we can.

And in advance, I want to thank the AMO staff for their super-human efforts to organize this Annual Conference.

Last week we posted updated policy notes on many of the matters that you are most concerned about – and throughout the year we provide fresh updates through AMO’s weekly WatchFile and our Breaking News Alerts.

Our updates may help to strengthen your work at this conference.

Once again, we appreciate that you are looking to us for leadership and for solutions.

At the same time, AMO is only as strong as you make us.

On behalf of the Board of Directors, we thank you for your continued support.

Enjoy your conference.