Remarks by: Russ Powers, AMO President and Councillor, City of Hamilton
2013 Ontario West Municipal Conference
London Convention Centre
London, Ontario

Friday, November 15, 2013
9:20 – 9:30 a.m.

(Check Against Delivery)

Good morning.

It is a pleasure to be here in London today on behalf of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario.  

I would like to thank the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing and staff at the Western Office for partnering with AMO on this important meeting.

I am not only AMO’s President, but I also have the honour of serving on Hamilton’s City Council – so this is also my regional municipal conference. It’s an excellent opportunity for neighbours to get together and learn from one another’s experience.

I am particularly pleased that one of the speakers today is Hamilton’s own Paul Johnson, who is driving the City’s Neighbourhood Action Strategy.  That strategy is all about building stronger neighbourhoods by bringing people together – community partners, neighbourhood groups and residents.

We all know that any real action depends on everyone pulling in the same direction.
That’s very much how AMO works, too.

Our communities may be unique, but we recognize that we have a lot of common challenges and interests.  When we come together at AMO, or at these conferences, we focus on working together, learning from another and engaging the province in important conversations.

Strengthening relationships is an apropos theme.
The Memorandum of Understanding formalizes AMO’s relationship with the province. It commits the province to consult with us on proposed changes to legislation and regulations that will have a financial impact on municipal governments.
We don’t always agree, but the MOU process does a good job of making sure that we understand one another.

At the heart of the MOU – and at the heart of strengthening any working relationship, is a willingness to talk and listen.

To be open to differences.

To be willing to disagree on some things, while making progress on others.

And we have made progress.

Many of you will be familiar with the 12 asks that we outlined during the last Provincial election.  

These were our priorities – practical and pragmatic. We have moved forward on many, if not most of them.

I don’t have enough time to give you an update on all 12, but we have posted a recent progress report on our website and have shared it with MPPs. I would encourage you to check it out.

There are discussions, proposals and even pending or passed legislation on every single one of our Asks.

We’ve found that we have made the most progress on areas where the government can act.

Importantly, we have secured the upload agreement to 2018.
In matters that require legislative change, though, progress moves more slowly.

We are urging provincial legislators to move forward on two key bills that are before them right now.

Bill 34 gives us the tools we need to recoup millions of dollars in unpaid Provincial Offences fines. It was introduced six months ago with support from all three parties – but still hasn’t received second reading.

The proposed Waste Reduction Act needs to move beyond second reading.

People don’t like to think about garbage.  But in a market driven by disposable goods, managing waste is getting more and more costly.

Businesses need incentives to improve their products to better protect the environment.

Moving this bill on to Standing Committee would allow for any amendments, and then move it forward to third and final reading.
If passed into law, it would provide property taxpayers some relief from rising waste management costs.

While people may not want to think about their garbage - they do think about infrastructure.

It starts the moment they wake up and turn on the tap, expecting safe drinking water. They travel to work, expecting roads in good repair. And they play, expecting fine community facilities.

They know infrastructure is expensive;

They know it needs to be maintained;

They know it has to be well planned;

...and they know there are serious consequences if these needs aren’t managed well.

I think it is safe to say that our shared interest in dependable infrastructure has helped to bring our three orders of government together.

The Government of Canada and the Province of Ontario know that when it comes to services that people use and rely on every day, municipal government is on the front line.

We own the most infrastructure.

We didn’t build it alone.

We can’t maintain it all alone… and our property tax base won’t meet our need to build more.

Everyone knows this, and over the past decade we have made great strides when it comes to working in partnership.

Together we have invested several billion dollars into new infrastructure.

We achieved this through our unique Federal Gas Tax Agreement and cooperation on shared funding programs like COMRIF and the Building Canada Fund.

More recently, the Ontario Government has committed to long-term support for rural, small urban and northern municipalities.

Another $100 million commitment started in October – and we have secured permanent Provincial gas tax funding for transit.

Provincial funding is helping many of you prepare asset management plans… and funds are being set aside for critical infrastructure needs.

AMO’s administration of Canada’s Gas Tax Fund in Ontario has been exceptional.

In 2012 alone, Ontario municipalities received $555 million for more than 1,500 projects. In total, these projects are worth $4.5 billion.

Going forward, the Gas Tax Fund will be permanent and indexed.  

It is the best example that we have of a long-term and predictable infrastructure program.

We believe it is the best example in Canada.

AMO will continue to work hard to create more partnerships like this.

We are looking forward to getting more detail on the provincial government’s new proposals on long-term infrastructure planning and the Trillium Trust to fund long-term infrastructure.

Public safety comes in many forms and undeniably, policing is a big part of that.  

We are working with members, the Province and the OPP to address concerns about the growing cost of OPP contracts and the need for greater transparency. Some 324 municipalities are serviced by the OPP.

We need you to be active in the current OPP consultation process.  In terms of the rising costs related to policing standards, we are asking for an interim report on the work of the Future of Policing Committee (FPAC) so far.

We continue to press for more sustainable policing costs for your communities.

And we continue to work on re-balancing the interest arbitration system.

Our position is clear: Interest arbitration will be working as intended when outcomes are consistent with the wage and benefit increases that other public sector unions negotiate, without striking.  

Yesterday, those of you who receive the unconditional operating grant – OMPF, found out your 2014 allocation.  The government did not take our advice to delay the $25 million reduction for 2014.  The 2014 formula spreads the pain – on average a 10% reduction in the north and a 15% reduction elsewhere.  OMPF was designed to help generally those poorer municipal governments with an assessment base that is not growing.  I cannot help but think of Leamington and area and the impact of the closure of its Heinz plant.  We get the deficit problem at the province.  But we know the province’s wealth is grown locally.  The $25 million reduction within the OMPF will hurt, and hurt significantly in parts of the province.

On the one hand, it’s great that Provincial and municipal governments are talking to one another actively and on many different issues.

On the other hand, we can see the potential to be overwhelmed by the volume of work, and outcomes that do not work for you.

The Ontario government is quite a bit bigger than AMO – and it tends to multi-task.

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

We often have to remind people that we work for you.

You give us direction and you put the wind in our sails.

AMO is only as strong as you make us.

We appreciate your continued support.

The work that you do together locally, through your caucuses and through other associations, along with us is making a difference.

On behalf of the Board of Directors, thank you for continuing to work with AMO on behalf of our communities.  Enjoy the conference.