2014 - 61st OSUM Conference and Trade Show, Town of Parry Sound April 30-May 1-2, 2014.
Remarks by:
Gary McNamara, on behalf of AMO

2014 Ontario Small Urban Municipalities Conference
Bobby Orr Community Centre
Parry Sound, Ontario
Thursday, May 1, 2014
9:15 a.m. – 9:30 a.m.

(Check Against Delivery)

Thank you for the warm welcome and introduction.

I am stepping in today for AMO President Russ Powers, who is in Toronto for release of the provincial budget.

It is one of the biggest days in the provincial calendar and this year, by far, it is one of the most anticipated.

You can follow AMO’s reaction to the budget in real time on Twitter and I encourage you to keep an eye out for email updates as well, as AMO policy staff review the budget and parse out what it means for the municipal community.

Here’s a snapshot of we are looking for.

#1 is Ontario’s agreement to continue to upload its social services and court security costs.
After carrying the burden of funding provincial programs for more than a decade, municipalities generously gave the Province a decade to accept responsibility for its own costs.

We’ve done our part. Now, everyone in the Legislature needs to be perfectly clear on where they stand on honouring this agreement.

Failing to honour it will cost municipalities hundreds of millions of dollars every year.

When people start talking about how to balance Ontario’s budget, we cannot lose sight that it will never be balanced until the Ontario government pays its own bills.

Another top priority is infrastructure investment.

Earlier this month, the Ontario Government announced that the provincial budget would allocate $29 billion in funding over ten years for transit and transportation infrastructure across Ontario.

AMO had been quick to point out the need for an equitable arrangement for all of Ontario’s communities.

What we know so far is that $14 billion will be earmarked for areas outside of the GTHA.

Today, AMO will look for the details on how much of this funding will flow this year and over the entire 10 years, as well as what process and eligibility criteria will be attached to it.

The Province has said it agrees with AMO that transparency is a top priority when it comes to allocating this funding.

We are looking forward to seeing how this transparency takes shape. And like you, we will be monitoring the debate on the 2014 Budget Bill.

By now, you know our mantra on infrastructure:  permanent, predictable and long-term. These are the keys to effective funding from our perspective.

On the federal side, Canada’s Gas Tax Fund has been a great example.

The new agreement has been negotiated and signed.
This funding can do more for your community than ever before, with new project categories and more flexibility to ensure that funds can go where they are needed most.

AMO’s delivery of the Gas Tax Fund is efficient and innovative. We have kept administrative costs low. In fact, costs are lower than we anticipated. As a result, we have surplus funding to distribute to you this year.
We will be contacting municipalities individually within the next 45 days with your share of the residual administration funds.    

We are also on track to make the July transfer of funds to 443 municipal governments and your staff is receiving the new agreements so that you can return signed agreements and we can flow the funding.

The Gas Tax Fund shows how Ontario’s municipalities can work together to make a program work effectively and efficiently. Together, we can make great progress.

But we do need the support of our provincial partners.

And that’s what we’ll be looking for first and foremost in this provincial budget.
We will be looking at our prospects for progress. Promises are one thing. We need to turn good intention into action and results.

To that end, we will be looking to see if proposals by all members of the Legislature are workable – and we will be looking for a willingness to work together.

As we often say, municipal Councils and AMO are made up of leaders of all political stripes. By necessity, we set aside our differences and work together for the sake of our communities.

The sad truth is Ontario communities have been waiting for Legislative changes that are stuck in partisan deadlock. Even when there is broad agreement on what needs to be done, legislation has stalled – and parties blame each other.
People agree that there should be sensible limits on municipal liability; and people agree that we should be given better tools to collect Provincial Offences Act fine.

Nevertheless, these problems have been left to fester.

There is little debate left on the need to fix interest arbitration and on the need to ensure emergency services are affordable.

Ontario municipalities are paying a high price for that.

We’re being forced to increase taxes or cut services, to simply hang on to what we have.

Emergency service costs alone have grown about 10 percent per year for a decade, with no end in sight.

Generally, employees with CUPE and OPSEU have agreed through negotiations to 1 per cent increases… only to watch firefighters and police garner raises of 3 to 4 per cent a year.

Employees who can’t strike are getting much richer settlements than employees who can.

Emergency services salaries have been going up and up and up all throughout Ontario.

Meanwhile, we’ve seen five failed attempts to fix interest arbitration in the past two years.

These complex problems would be easier to solve if we all committed ourselves to achieving some basic results.

Interest arbitration SHOULD be fair and balanced, transparent and accountable.

Wage increases for emergency services workers SHOULD look like the increases that other people get.  
Emergency services MUST be affordable for all communities.

Ontario’s legislature MUST exercise its responsibility to act.

As you know, the OPP added a new wrinkle when it looked for new ways to bill municipal governments.

Some OPP-policed communities are paying in the vicinity of 100 dollars per household, while others are paying close to a thousand dollars.

In response to the Provincial Auditor General, the Ontario Government and the OPP have promised to make their billing ‘simpler’ and more ‘equitable’.

However, the OPP consulted on only one new model -- and it is polarizing communities.

In a word, it’s complicated.

AMO’s Board of Directors created the OPP Billing Steering Committee to ensure that Ontario municipalities were providing well-informed advice, in a coordinated way.

I sat on this Committee, along with leaders from right across Ontario.

Tomorrow morning I’ll be part of the panel discussion on policing that will explore the subject in greater detail.

But I can tell you right now, all concerns were examined and all perspectives were represented.
On April 10th, the Committee provided our advice to the Minister of Community Safety and Corrections Services, and the OPP.

First off, we told them that we weren’t happy to be put in this situation. The province created a mess and it needs to deal with the consequences of that.

Municipalities facing higher bills need transition time and mitigation funding to manage the change.

And the Province and the OPP needs to address the larger problem of spiraling policing costs.

When it comes to emergency services, we face tremendous resistance to developing new approaches or value for tax dollars.
I encourage you to follow the Twitter feed of the Police Chiefs’ Association to get a sense of it. Their response to AMO has been “good luck with that.”

Ontario’s per capita policing costs are the highest in Canada.

Ontario municipalities pay a higher share of total policing costs.
In fact, our share would fully fund both municipal and provincial policing in some other provinces.

Improving value for money and outcomes are normal management expectations in other service areas – including healthcare. Why should policing be exempt?

So with all due respect to our critics, we need to rethink how we deliver policing in Ontario. And we are committed to working with anyone who wants to look at how Ontario can do better.

Coming out of the OPP Billing Steering Committee, AMO is forming a new Task Force on how to modernize policing and we’ll be working quickly.

We need the municipal community to stand behind these efforts, so we can stop treating the symptoms, and start treating the cause.

Now more than ever, it is crucial for Ontario’s municipal community to stand together.

We have enjoyed relatively effective provincial-municipal relations over the past several years. We worked hard to achieve that.
Here’s what it took:

  • Municipal leaders needed to come together, and work together.
  • We needed to stand by one another – large and small, urban and rural, North, South, East and West.
  • And we needed to speak clearly and boldly with one common voice.

There is plenty that could divide us. We can’t allow that to happen.

If you are frustrated now, try to imagine a world where you have no recourse when decisions are made unilaterally by Queen’s Park, by people who know little about your community and who have probably never been to it.

Although we may respectfully disagree with some of the government’s decisions, at least there continues to be pre-consultation on the potential municipal impacts of their policy initiatives before they are finalized.

With all due respect to those who think municipal governments are MUSH – Ontario communities cannot afford to lose the municipal order of government.
Strong, representative and active municipal government is in the best interest of Ontario communities.

Given the challenges we are facing, it is more critical than ever for us to stand together.

In 2011, Ontario’s municipalities communicated a clear set of “12 Asks” through AMO. That campaign was very effective.
It helped us all to flesh out where candidates stood on municipal issues.

It set the agenda for provincial-municipal relations over the past two and half years.

Whenever we head into the next election, AMO will support policies that:
  • Help our communities and individuals achieve their full potential
  • Reduce the cost of government
  • Promote safe and affordable emergency services
  • Support long-term planning, and
  • Work with municipal governments as partners.
We must be equally vocal to avoid past mistakes that have caused Ontario’s communities more harm than good, such as:
  • Downloading the Ontario Government’s responsibilities and costs onto municipal governments and property taxpayers where they do not rightfully belong.
  • Creating new municipal responsibilities that aren’t funded
  • Applying ‘one-size fits all’ approaches to all communities, and
  • Tying the hands of municipal governments.
The 43 members of the AMO Board of Directors will continue to work closely with all other municipal associations – and we are committed to representing all of you.

And if you have reservations about what AMO is doing, then bring them forward. We need you to pull up a chair and work with us – so that we are representing you all as best we can.  

Having said that, AMO’s resources are not limitless and the Board works hard to establish priorities – while remaining nimble to deal with ‘surprises’ at Queen’s Park.

I would also encourage you to get involved with AMO – we want your ideas and input. The Board of Directors provides strategic direction and sets policy priorities.

Speaking from personal experience, it is satisfying to play a role in advancing the common goals of all municipalities.

One thing I have learned – and we saw it again on the OPP Billing file – you have to be prepared to understand that your views on a topic may change whenever you sit down with peers from other Ontario communities.

AMO is not a thing. It’s not a head office. It’s a meeting place. It’s an effort to find solutions to problems, and with as much consensus as possible. And it our best opportunity to make sure that Ontario is moving in directions that support a bright future for our communities.