Remarks for AMO President Gary McNamara, 2014 Annual AMO Conference, London Convention Centre.

Remarks for AMO President Gary McNamara
2014 Annual AMO Conference
London Convention Centre, Plenary Hall, Second Floor
London, Ontario
Wednesday August 20, 2014, 11:15 a.m. – 11:25 a.m.

Good morning.

I want to start by thanking Russ Powers for his years of service – as President and as an AMO Board Member.

This is a small token of our appreciation – for all the time, energy and leadership you brought to the organization.  

As Russ mentioned on Monday, he is not seeking re-election to Hamilton City Council in October – and he is leaving the political arena altogether.

The accolades and fond farewells have already started… and they are well deserved.

Normally, the outgoing AMO President warns the incoming President that the job is more work than one imagines.

This is my second term, and I gave that warning to Russ back in 2012.

I appreciate how much time and energy Russ has invested – on behalf of us all – over the past two years, and during his tenure on our Board.

Please join me in thanking him.

As all previous AMO Presidents know, you cannot take on this position without the support of your Council and family.

I appreciate my Council’s support – and the support of municipal staff.

My wife Heather is here. She also knows what to expect – and I still have her blessing, and the blessing of our family.

Without them, I would not have been able to achieve half of the things I’ve done.

I know that each of you carry the same sentiment. Others make it possible for us to be on Council.

It’s an honour to serve as AMO’s next President – and a great responsibility.

I hope that my past experience is an asset – and I know that I will be able to draw upon the support of my AMO colleagues.

We will be working with a new government, and we want it to work with us – affording us the respect of an order of government.

AMO will always seek to have a productive and respectful relationship with the Ontario government.

They have a mandate from the public – and so do we.

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

The term AMO President can be misleading. It doesn’t come with veto powers – or the authority to set a course for the next two years.

Decisions are made by AMO’s 43 member Board of Directors.  They are drawn from across Ontario – and each is expected to represent you – to the best of their ability.

I appreciate that many of you have expressed interest in serving on AMO’s Board.

And I want to thank those who have served… those who will serve on the Board for the next two years… and all those who aspire to serve within AMO – or simply on a council.

Liz Sevill, CAO of Northumberland County, will be our Secretary Treasurer and we are lucky to have her.

In addition to Board positions, AMO provides opportunities to serve on Task Forces, Committees and with our service arm, LAS.

Russ has left some shoes to fill – and we all know that Hazel’s shoes are bigger.

It’s likely that many of Ontario’s future municipal leaders are attending this conference.

AMO exists to serve you, and we embrace you.

The priorities that AMO set during the spring election have not changed.
Some of them will never change.

Pat Vanini had a look at the Conference proceedings from 1912 – and she told me that some of it looked surprisingly familiar.

Energy, public health and fiscal sustainability were hot topics.

First and foremost, we will be working with our Provincial, and Federal, peers to promote good government.

Good government, among other things, must be affordable government.  We need to make sure that municipalities can balance their books – and meet their responsibilities.
Our reliance on Provincial hand-outs during tough economic times has brought surprises – as it did in the late 1990’s.

As Russ said on Monday, we want to extend planning horizons.

In recent years we have all applied a longer term planning philosophy to asset management.

Ontario’s future is the most important asset that we all share – and Ontario’s future will only succeed if our communities succeed.

We will listen to what the Province needs.  And we urge them to listen to what we need.

Three years ago, I stood right here in this room… at this very time and in this very role.

I urged the province to fix joint and several liability, restore balance to interest arbitration, and improve our ability to collect Provincial Offenses Act fines.

That call to action still works, because we are still waiting for legislation on all three fronts.

This week we heard that the government will not act on Joint and Several Liability.

That doesn’t change the fact that it should.

AMO will continue to work toward securing reasonable limits on municipal liability.

The current situation is unacceptable – and morally wrong.

Lawyers are abusing legal conventions to take advantage of municipal property tax payers.  

Most tax payers don’t even know it, and it’s costing them millions.

It won’t stop until the Ontario Government creates rational limits.

Other provinces already have.

There has been a lot of talk about OPP billing over the past week.

But at the end of the day, the Province needs to look at the legislation and regulations that drive the cost of emergency services.

They must be affordable for all Ontario communities.

Meanwhile, we already have the highest per capita policing costs in Canada.

It’s the largest cost item on most municipal budgets.

And, for some municipalities it is already half their budget.

Costs cannot continue to grow unchecked.  The current growth is not sustainable -- and it’s threatening our ability to fund other services that are equally essential.

Finding efficiencies within current practices won’t solve the problem.

We have to rethink policing in Ontario. AMO has created a Steering Committee to start that effort.

Obviously, the solution must include fair and balanced interest arbitration.

Wage and benefit awards must be fair to emergency service workers.  They also have to be fair to communities, tax payers and other government employees.  

We will keep pushing for changes that will come someday, because they must.

For three years we have patiently waited for tools to collect POA fines.

Millions of dollars in fines go uncollected.

We are routinely assured that the Legislation is coming. We heard it again yesterday.

We will continue to push for it until it arrives.

In the meantime, we must prepare to greet a new policy agenda from a new government.

Ontario seeks to achieve a balanced budget by 2017.

The deficit will not be eliminated without changes that have the potential to impact us.

And it cannot be managed successfully unless the Province works with us.

Surprising us is not a route that gets us both to where we need to be.

The Ontario government ought to recognize this. They don’t like it when the federal government sends surprises their way.

I think it is fair to say that they would prefer to have a respectful, and reasonably predictable relationship with the federal government.

Together, we can show the federal government what that looks like – and what can be achieved by trust, planning and cooperation.

We are not going to agree on everything. However, we can agree to work together, respectfully, in the best interest of Ontario’s many communities.

Ontario’s municipalities must also work together to find common ground. We must demonstrate that we belong at the table.

As one presenter put it this week, ‘If you are not at the table, you may find that you are on the menu.’

Questions like funding allocation, and OPP billing, are divisive.

Even municipal neighbours can struggle to achieve consensus – and I would be amazed if AMO’s positions were always exactly what you, personally, want them to be.

AMO must take a province-wide perspective. We do our best.

Dissent is allowed.

If you want us to change course, let us know.

AMO’s positions change when a better idea has achieved broad support from throughout Ontario’s municipal community.

That’s a high bar to reach, but it’s the right one.

As one of our colleagues explained recently, when small municipalities sit down with the Province, they need to have the weight of Ontario’s largest municipalities behind them.  

And when Ontario’s largest municipalities meet with the Province, they need to know that know that everyone else has their back as well.

Mutual support and cooperation achieves far more than we could ever achieve as individual municipalities.

AMO works best when Ontario’s municipalities are committed to supporting one another.

I hope that the past three days have been helpful.

Our staff work very hard to put all this together – and they have already started to work on next year’s conference in Niagara Falls.

Meanwhile, I urge you to stay in touch with us year round.

I know that many of you will seek re-election in October.

Whether you are or not, I just want to applaud you – Ontario’s community leaders – for your work.  You deserve a big thank-you.