12/12/2014

Remarks by: Gary McNamara, AMO President and Mayor, Tecumseh 2014 Ontario West Municipal Conference Friday, December 12, 2014 8:45 – 8:55 a.m. Best Western Lamplighter Inn London, Ontario
(Check Against Delivery)

Good morning. Thank you for the kind introduction.

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

I am glad to see so many new faces in the room.

Welcome to all of the newly elected councillors and mayors!
    
For some of you, this may be your first municipal conference.

As a two-time AMO President and the Mayor of the Town of Tecumseh for 11 years, I’ve been to a lot of them.

One piece of advice I can give you is to treat these experiences as opportunities.

Municipalities across Ontario are diverse.

Conferences like these strengthen our sector because they allow us to learn from each other and take that knowledge back to our own communities.

That’s a bit like the way that AMO operates. AMO believes that we are stronger when we stand together and learn from each other.

AMO recently applied these principles through our work on the 2014 Blue Box arbitration process.

This process was set up to decide how much money producers and manufacturers would have to contribute to the Blue Box program in 2014.

These businesses have been important partners in keeping waste out of our landfills.
By law, they are supposed to pay for half the cost of the Blue Box program. But, they almost never meet this obligation.

AMO and the City of Toronto represented the municipal sector during the arbitration process.

It took more than five months to complete, and there were more than 30 days of hearings.

The process finally wrapped up last week and the arbitrator decided that the producers should contribute an additional $15.6 million to the Blue Box program for 2014.

This decision is good news for municipal governments, and for waste diversion.

Thirty-nine per cent of Ontario’s recycled waste is kept out of landfills through the Blue Box program.

Over time, we all want to reduce and recycle even more waste.

This decision supports AMO’s belief that those who produce waste should pay a greater share of waste management costs.

That promotes waste reduction, it provides incentives to improve packaging and it treats property taxpayers more fairly.  This is just one example of how AMO works for you.

Bottom line - we work with members, with others and the Ontario Government to find solutions that make sense, knowing that a one size fits all approach doesn’t work.

At any given time, you can find AMO staff hard at work on dozens of policy files.
 
AMO will always seek to have a respectful relationship with Ontario’s government – we are driven to see outcomes that work, that make sense.

We truly believe that the public is best served when we work together.

In that spirit, we will continue to work with this government and we hope that they will continue to work with us.

We listen to what the province needs.

We will make sure that policymakers have the information they need to make decisions and hopefully they will take it.

It’s a majority government near the beginning of its mandate. They have a lot of work to do. They also want to balance the budget by 2017.

It won’t be easy.

It’s clear that the Province won’t be able to balance their books without making changes that impact municipal governments – and other sectors too.

We will need to mitigate and manage those impacts as well as we can.

At the same time, there are policies that the province can implement that will help us without putting pressure on the provincial finances.

Ontario can only succeed if our communities succeed.

Back in September, Premier Wynne delivered a mandate letter to each ministry. There are 30 letters in total.

We’ve reviewed the letters to determine how individual policies, programs and initiatives might impact you.

Individual programs or initiatives are often developed with good intentions like improved efficiency or greater accountability.

However, implementing these programs sometimes leads to unintended consequences that create confusion and more costs.  

Municipalities and their staff are currently dealing with challenges related to a new software system used to manage social assistance programs.

Simply put, the first payments to Ontario Works recipients was not a smooth ride.  Why is it that technology projects seem to be the proverbial Achilles heel?

Because municipal governments play an essential role in the delivery of these services, the issues had an enormous impact on municipal staff.  To the government’s credit, they have told us they will pay the additional administrative costs associated with the rollout.

The Ontario government and Ontario’s 444 municipal governments are remarkably “intertwined.”

That’s the term that Don Drummond used when he wrote his often quoted report of financial recommendations.

The Ontario government gets this – which is important.

AMO has been serving municipal governments for more than 115 years.

Most of the first hundred years was spent trying to ensure that our voices were heard.

During the last 15 we have made important gains.

Today, legislation requires the Ontario Government to consult with municipalities before they make changes that affect us.

There are some exceptions. For example, we have to wait to see the Provincial Budget, just like everyone else.

However, we DO meet with the Province regularly, in what are known as MOU meetings.

MOU stands for Memorandum of Understanding – and ‘understanding’ means that we both understand the need to share information and speak frankly.

We don’t always agree on everything, but these meetings have created opportunities, prevented mistakes and avoided misunderstandings.

With the release of the Ministerial mandate letters, the government has sent a clear signal that it will be more open and as we know, the Premier wants to hear from Ontarians so consultation is most definitely a hallmark.  

AMO will meet that undertaking and will help its members as well in this endeavor by keeping you informed.

AMO provides updates on our work in a few ways.

You can sign up for our free “Watch File” publication. These are sent by e-mail at 10:00 AM, every Thursday. It gives you a snapshot of what is happening at Queen’s Park, Parliament Hill and across the sector.

We also send members Alerts on breaking news, such as major announcements or budgets or Policy Updates that focus on particular current or emerging issues and what you need to do locally to help our advocacy.

You can follow AMO on Twitter. Our Twitter handle is @AMOPolicy.  

We have a tremendous amount of information on our website www.amo.on.ca. There are literally thousands of pages of information on work spanning more than a decade. Priority topics are featured at the top of the page.

Most of our priorities involve dollars and common sense.

For example, all Ontario communities need to have access to affordable and effective emergency services.

That’s more than a “nice to have” – It’s essential, and it is a serious challenge.

Ontario has the highest per capita policing costs in Canada.

It’s the biggest item on most municipal budgets.

We have succeeded in forcing discussion about this among provincial policy makers and the policing community.

Wages and benefits make up the lion’s share of the cost, so we have to look at that as well.

Wages and benefit increases for emergency service workers continue to go up and up all throughout Ontario. Costs cannot continue to grow unchecked.

Part of the solution is a fair and balanced interest arbitration system.

The current system means that employees who can’t strike get much richer settlements than employees who can. It’s not fair and it’s not balanced.  

When arbitrators make decisions, they need to focus on the community itself and the negotiated agreements that other municipal staff in that community have come to.

What they shouldn’t focus on is a settlement from an emergency service 1,000 kilometres away.

There have been five failed attempts to fix interest arbitration in the past two years.

We will keep pushing for Ontario’s legislature to act.

Interest arbitration applies to the fire service as well – and we ensure that all emergency services are affordable.

As part of that discussion, we have shed light on the union’s habit of targeting double hatter firefighters.

Professional firefighters who volunteer in their home towns during their off duty hours should be applauded, not punished.

Ontario is one of the only jurisdictions that fails to protect double hatters.

Recent media coverage has done a lot to expose what is happening to them – and we will keep the pressure on until the Province does the right thing and intervenes.

Back in August, I addressed the AMO Annual Conference right here in London.

And just like today, I spoke about, the need for changes to Ontario’s interest arbitration system and our support of volunteer firefighters.

I also spoke about the need to reform the Provincial Offenses Act.

Municipalities need tools to collect millions of dollars in unpaid fines.
In October, the provincial government introduced road safety legislation that will give municipalities new tools to collect those unpaid fines.

We will provide input where needed and we’re looking forward to support from all three parties to get this legislation enacted quickly.

I know that AMO’s Board is pleased with this progress.

As a result of October’s municipal election, we have some empty seats on our Board and we would like to fill them.

Being a board member is a lot of work, but I know that a lot of us sought positions on the Board for the same reasons that you might want to.

AMO Board meetings bring together some of the most accomplished municipal leaders from all across Ontario.

There is a lot to learn from their years of experience – and it keeps you on your toes.

I believe that some of Ontario’s future municipal leaders are here in this room. Southwestern Ontario, and Ontario’s entire municipal community need our best and brightest to step forward.

AMO welcomes you, your energy and your ideas with open arms.

Thank you and enjoy the conference.