The Big Ask: FCM’s Long-Term Infrastructure Proposal
Tuesday, February 26, 2013, 4 p.m.
Canadian Room, Fairmont Royal York Hotel, Toronto, ON.

Presentation with FCM’s Clark Somerville at the 2013 ROMA/OGRA Combined Conference.

(Check Against Delivery)

Thank you for the introduction Clark. 

Ontario’s infrastructure is under pressure. Much of it was built 50 to 60 years ago and needs to be upgraded or replaced. For many of us, that means investing in vital roads and bridges that keep our communities safe, prosperous and connected. 

Regardless of an individual municipality’s unique needs, one thing is clear – municipalities own more infrastructure than any other order of government and we do it with only 9 cents of every dollar collected. Municipalities in Ontario need long-term, predictable and stable sources of funding to make sure that our infrastructure is safe and well maintained. 

One way that AMO is helping municipalities close the infrastructure gap is through our administration of Canada’s Gas Tax Fund. 

Each year, municipalities across Canada invest two billion federal Gas Tax dollars into environmentally sustainable infrastructure. But not all municipalities receive the fund in the same way. 

In Ontario, AMO administers the Gas Tax Fund to municipalities and you receive a cheque or transfer from us twice a year. We can administer the fund in this way because of our unique agreement which has created a direct, respectful relationship with the Government of Canada. 

You have responded to our unique arrangement by demonstrating that we are a mature and accountable order of government. You have done this by meeting federal goals in a transparent manner. And because of it, we can point to each and every dollar of funding and show the progress the municipal sector has achieved together.

What has AMO’s administration of the Fund meant for you? 

It has meant excellent customer service and predictable funding transfers. 

It has meant an extra $1.85 million that was paid out to you in January 2010. This was interest earned by AMO as we waited for municipalities to sign their agreements.

It has meant an award winning online municipal reporting system that is easy to use and efficient. 

It has meant that your municipal association, AMO, can meet its reporting requirements, further demonstrating the municipal sector’s reputation as a trusted partner. 

Most importantly, it has meant that the Agreement and the way the program is designed, continues to meet the needs of Ontario’s communities. 

The Gas Tax Fund terms and conditions are flexible and local Councils are able to identify local needs, plan over the long-term, and direct funding to where it is needed the most. 

Municipalities in Ontario can direct Canada’s Gas Tax Fund into priority projects without filling out an application form and without competing with their neighbours. As AMO’s President, I’m proud of this arrangement. 

Now, you may not have thought that the way Ontario municipalities receive funding is special. But, it is. 

Compare the twice a year, predictable funding transfer that we’re used to in Ontario to the way municipalities in other provinces receive federal Gas Tax funding. 

In British Columbia, funding is carved up, and municipalities must apply for their share. In the most recent application process, for every project that was awarded funding, five applications were received.

Communities in BC only had a one in five chance of being able to invest Canada’s Gas Tax Fund into their local infrastructure projects.  

In Saskatchewan, municipalities had to submit investment plans before any funding was given out. This meant that 25 per cent of Saskatchewan municipalities didn’t receive funding on time. 

In Nova Scotia, municipalities must complete climate change plans in order to receive funding. 

But, there is a better way to deliver infrastructure funding to municipalities and it’s happening right here in Ontario with Canada’s Gas Tax Fund.

Ontario is the only place in Canada where municipal allocations are provided twice a year, on a per-capita basis. This predictability helps you to plan for the long-term. All of this is because AMO is at the table with the Government of Canada. And AMO will continue to be at that table making sure that any changes to our unique arrangement continue to work for you.

In December 2011, AMO and FCM’s goal of making the federal Gas Tax permanent was realized. For this we thank the Government and Minister Lebel.

What’s next for Canada’s Gas Tax Fund? 

As Clark mentioned, we expect that Canada’s Gas Tax Fund will be a very important component of the new federal long-term infrastructure Plan. 

And when it is time to sit down with our federal counterparts and negotiate a new Gas Tax Agreement for Ontario, AMO will be ready. The changes that we would like to see will make the way we deliver and use the federal Gas Tax Fund in Ontario even better. 

I’d like to share those ideas with you. 

Along with our partners at FCM, AMO is asking for three things. 

One – Index the Gas Tax Fund. As mentioned by Clark, indexing is essential so that the fund grows over time to meet inflation and the rising costs of construction. 

Two – Make the Fund even more flexible by expanding the eligible project categories so that there are more and different types of projects where you can invest federal Gas Tax dollars. Greater flexibility will mean that municipalities can invest the Fund exactly where they need it the most. 

Three – Broaden the focus of the Fund to include economic outcomes. We want every Gas Tax dollar invested to benefit the environment, and also to create jobs and drive growth in Ontario. 

The fact that Canada’s Gas Tax Fund is a very important part of the Long-Term Infrastructure Plan is good news.

It means that our accomplishments are being recognized. It shows us that both municipalities and the federal government can benefit from funding agreements that do not need applications. It shows us that stable, predictable funding can improve our ability to plan for the long-term. And it shows us that our direct partnership with the Government of Canada is beneficial to meeting the needs of our citizens.

But we must remind our partners that we need an indexed Gas Tax Fund that is even more flexible than it is now, so that our communities can start building infrastructure that will facilitate the jobs and growth of the future.

So, what can you do to help make this happen?

Earlier I said that Ontario municipalities are meeting federal goals in a transparent manner. We can account for every single federal Gas Tax dollar spent and the resulting community benefits. 
But, we’re lacking in one area. Communications.

Ontario municipalities need to do more to let the community, local Members of Parliament and the Government of Canada know just how important the federal Gas Tax Fund is to building and maintaining municipal infrastructure. 

AMO is responsible for promoting the Fund across the province, and we do so through our website. Visit gas tax at work dot ca to see our map of every project funded through Canada’s Gas Tax Fund.

And through social media.

We also help municipalities with more traditional communications activity like media events and news releases. 

But In the end, it’s the local impact of this 2 billion fund that matters. The stories about how the fund has improved the quality of life in your community will be felt the deepest. 

The Municipality of Wawa is a great example of how some simple communications tools can go a long way. 

In 2011, Wawa invested the Fund into the installation of solar panels on five municipal buildings. The project is expected to generate about $53,000 per year for the municipality. 

To promote the benefits, Wawa, AMO and the Government organized a simple communications event. A Member of Parliament came to Wawa to learn more about the project, and Wawa invited the local media to take some photos. 

A news release was posted on Infrastructure Canada’s website and AMO did its part by sharing the news through social media. 

The benefits of a relatively small project, in a relatively small community, ended up making the news. 

Look around your community and ask the question – what does Canada’s Gas Tax Fund mean to you? It might mean that your children or grandchildren can now rely on a new water treatment system or that local farmers are using a critical bridge to get their products to market, faster and more efficiently than they could in the past. 

Sharing these stories is simple. It’s never been easier to share information than it is today. 

You can tell your story by hosting a local media event or asking for AMO’s assistance to draft a news release. 

You can invite your local MP to council to learn more. 

You can promote Gas Tax funded projects in a newsletter or on your website. 

You can even engage with AMO on Twitter. 

I think that it’s only when we start to have this conversation – and more importantly, when we are caught in the act of having this conversation, that the Government will truly consider the changes we want to see happen so that Ontario municipalities can continue to benefit from Canada’s Gas Tax Fund. 

To get started, I’m asking you to do one simple thing. Find out where your Gas Tax funds are being invested in 2013 and beyond. We’re specifically looking for projects under construction now, or projects that will begin soon that will make a difference in your communities. When you have identified these projects, let us know.

AMO and Infrastructure Canada can highlight and promote these critical infrastructure improvements in your rural communities. But, you have to tell us what’s happening first. 

Once this is done, we’ll do most of the heavy lifting. 

We need to do more to let the federal government know just how important the Gas Tax Fund is to Ontario municipalities. And together, we will make sure that the local benefits of our infrastructure are shared across the province and the country. 

Thank you.