02/26/2013

Tuesday, February 26, 2013 at 9:50 a.m. Canadian Room, Fairmont Royal York Hotel, Toronto, ON. Presentation at the 2013 ROMA/OGRA Combined Conference.
(Check Against Delivery)

Good morning. 

First of all, I want to congratulate ROMA and OGRA for hosting another great conference. We had a great day yesterday and we have a full day ahead.

We’re meeting in the middle of an important and dynamic time for Ontario’s communities. 

The provincial legislature has reconvened under Ontario’s new Premier Kathleen Wynne. 

Her leadership campaign, her Throne Speech – and her remarks to us yesterday – spoke to the importance of addressing rural concerns. 

In fairness, we understand that it may take some time to assess what that will look like in practice – but we are hearing one message loud and clear. 

The Premier says that she wants to work with us, as partners, to serve Ontario better. 

In fact, we are hearing a similar message from all the party leaders.

There are a lot of politicians here today. 

We know what campaigning looks like. And we understand it. 

Nevertheless, many of you have come a long way to be here -- and you came because you have immediate needs.

Tomorrow you will make the long trip home, and it would best if you had something to show for your effort.

You have a tough job to do, and it is easier when you know that you are not working alone.

In the absence of action at Queen’s Park, we are all working alone.

When I look out at the communities that are represented here today, this is what I see:

Most of you have bridges that need to be repaired or replaced. 

Either right now… or all too soon. 

I see people that need good roads.   

Have you found them here?

I see people that are competing with one another for infrastructure grants… gambling precious time and resources in the hope of success. 

All too often, grant applications don’t pan out... and the effort is wasted.

I see people who agree with the chorus of voices who want to control costs, and they need better tools to do it.

I see people that are worried about how to pay for their community’s emergency services -- without having to reduce them or lay any employees off.

The interest arbitration tools that we have… have not worked.

We know what tools we need – but we cannot implement them alone. We need Ontario’s Legislature to work with us – yes us!

We can’t do it alone. We need the support of the entire Legislature. 

We have proposed the most reasonable approaches possible to restore faith in interest arbitration – where arbitrators do math and show their math.  

Why shouldn't they be held to account for their decisions? 

Everyone else who raises and spends taxes is held to account. 

Tell me, what’s wrong with accountability and transparency?  

On the interest arbitration file, that’s what we are looking for… and we will gauge the parties and the legislature by their commitment to this.

When I look out, I also see people who are trying to juggle increases in their operating costs, let alone trying to make infrastructure improvements with a shrinking tax base and reduced OMPF funding.

I see people who are trying to understand why OMPF is not even being reconciled anymore.

I see people who are confused. 

The Province – and all the parties -- need to understand that its finances will never truly be balanced until it lives up to the responsibility of paying its own bills.

I see people who worry about how strongly our colleagues at Queen’s Park appreciate the significance of our 2008 upload agreement.  

Incredibly, some eye it as new fiscal room to accommodate other provincial regulations or programs!

I see people from growing municipalities who scratch their heads and wonder why we can’t levy development charges, so that growth pays for itself?

And I see people from other municipalities who are not growing. 

They are trying to figure out how to improve their prosperity, take care of their seniors, and inspire new generations.

I see people who can and do work with whoever is willing, to create local employment opportunities.

I see people who are doing whatever they can to build their local economies and to diversify their tax base.

I see people that want to invest in green energy – and I see people that don’t. Both are frustrated.

I see people who want to make their communities more accessible, but fear the prospect of closing recreational trails and removing playgrounds because they cannot afford to satisfy the Ontario Government’s new AODA standards.

I see people that want to protect water quality, but they cannot afford the cost of the Source Water Protection Act.

I see people that support environmentally sustainable forestry and new energy policies – to get Ontario’s lumber mills working again.

It does not make sense for you to be driving home from this conference, anticipating that solutions may be found ‘in time’.

The time is now. We can’t wait. Our communities can't wait. The world around us won't wait. 

We all need to focus on what we can achieve, for our communities, right now.

This room is chock full of elected officials and municipal leaders from every part of Ontario.

Dare I say, the politics is literally ‘all over the map.’

But, we won’t let that get in our way.  

When there is a problem in our communities, we fix it.

When we see that there is a problem in Ontario, we get together, roll up our sleeves and fix that too.

That’s what success looks like.

Success… is fixing the problems that we have… today.

Success will be measured by the extent to which all of our Provincial colleagues work with us, and one another, to fix the problems that inspired you to run for council.

Success will be measured by our ability to keep promises and pay our own bills.

Success will be measured by our ability to efficiently pool our resources…. and build the infrastructure that Ontario needs.

Success will be measured by the sustainability of the decisions we all make – and when I say all, I include the interest arbitrators who set wages and benefits  for our essential service employees. 

Ontario will succeed more often and better when the mindset truly reflects “here is what we can do together, right now.” 

But at the same time, we cannot deny the need to look forward, work harder, be smarter, trust one another and show some guts. 

Ontario’s municipalities need to look forward.

AMO's door is always wide open to everyone who is interested in working with us. And we are working with others – including business leaders, other associations and service providers that extend well beyond the municipal sector.

We need to work harder. 

The AMO Board does this for all of its policy work. 

You’ve already seen this in our infrastructure position - an evidence based position that demonstrates need across the province.  It’s a $60 billion dollar challenge that will need both federal and provincial partnerships.

Have a look at the work that we recently put into our Interest Arbitration proposals. We have made sure that our proposed changes are as reasonable as possible – and we have done the homework to back them up.  

We have to work smarter.

Municipal governments across the Province are diverse. But we cannot let our differences divide us. 

AMO works closely with all other municipal associations and we support them. And when the time comes to act with strength, we need to ensure that AMO is providing one, strong and unified voice. 

We have to trust one another.

Taxpayers expect us all to work together cooperatively – and we owe that to them.

And we have to be brave.

I appreciate the hard work that you are doing at home in your communities. You have my promise that your Association will be as bold and courageous.

AMO works for you. That’s our role. 

However, we are only as strong as our members make us.

Please take an interest in our work, and help us to advance good public policy. 

Help us to channel your frustration into meaningful conversations and opportunities to achieve the changes we need.

Make sure your local MPPs -- and MPs -- know that Ontario’s municipalities will work with them.
 
We need them to sit down with us… build solutions together… and make them happen.

In a minority Legislature, every MPP needs to have that mind-set. 

Don’t let partisan politics restrict progress.

You can also help us by staying on top of the latest developments. 

AMO shares information each week through our Breaking News emails direct to your in-box – these are specific items where we need you to help. 

Here’s what I know to be true – top down and bottom up advocacy is generally the most successful. So you have a real role to play. 

And read our weekly Watch File – it gives you highlights of what is going on that week provincially and federally and what new programs and training we have to support you in your decision-making role at Council. 

If you don’t get the AMO Watch File every Thursday morning, sign up for it. It’s free. 

Ontario’s municipalities all achieve more when we work together and stand together.

That is why AMO makes a point of having other municipal associations represented on our board, and it’s why we are pleased to work with ROMA and OGRA to support this conference.

We appreciate the participation of our provincial colleagues at this conference.

We hope this opportunity will be valuable for you – and for Ontario as a whole.

Thank you.