04/23/2015

Remarks by: Gary McNamara, AMO President and Mayor, Town of Tecumseh Thursday, April 23, 2015, 8:50 a.m. Victoria Inn, Embassy Ballroom Thunder Bay, Ontario
Remarks by:
Gary McNamara, AMO President and
Mayor, Town of Tecumseh


Thursday, April 23, 2015, 8:50 a.m.
Victoria Inn, Embassy Ballroom
Thunder Bay, Ontario

2015 NOMA Annual Meeting & Conference

(Check Against Delivery)


Thank you for the warm welcome.

It’s a pleasure to be with you here today.

One of the privileges of serving as AMO’s President is the opportunity to travel across our beautiful province.

Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be visiting conferences in Belleville and Sudbury. I will also be doing other stops.

Visiting all corners of the province brings home the diversity of our landscape and of our communities. There is no question that we are all, to some extent, shaped by our geography.

That is certainly very true in northwestern Ontario.

Even Thunder Bay’s clever tagline, “Superior by Nature” is rooted in this sense of place and geography.

There is majesty to the north that is unparalleled.

The region’s dramatic forests, lakes and waterways define our shared perception of Ontario, no matter where we live. However, to understand the north’s communities, economy and challenges, you need to look past postcard images and spend time here.

This is my second trip northward in as many weeks.  

My main regret today is that I cannot stay longer. This afternoon, all eyes are on Queen’s Park as we await the release of the Provincial Budget.

I’ll head down to Toronto directly after speaking with you to review and respond to the budget.

I’d like to note, though, that our Director of Policy, Monika Turner, is here as well and will be staying on. Monika will be speaking later today and will be available if you would like to discuss AMO’s work further, as well as how it reflects your interests and if there is anything we are missing.

The conference is important to us at AMO, because it’s an opportunity to hear from you, directly, in your own backyard.  

When I say that it’s nice to hear from you in your own backyard, this does not mean that your AMO Board representatives are shy.

Dave Canfield of Kenora, Ron Nelson of O'Connor Township, and Phil Vinet of Red Lake are anything but shy – they are very strong advocates.

They are AMO’s ears on the ground in this part of the province.
 
If you have an interest in AMO’s work, or concerns about a municipal government issue, we value your input. The better we understand what’s on your mind, the better we can serve you.

Coming together and working together is what AMO is all about.

AMO is not a thing … or a head office for Ontario’s municipalities.

AMO is a meeting place for community leaders and municipal staff.

All of our communities are diverse. Every day, we each contend with local issues and circumstances. But at AMO, we come together to deal with the collective challenges that we all face.

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

Our various caucuses speak on behalf of different types of municipalities, including the north specifically.

AMO has demonstrated time and again that mutual support and cooperation among us achieves far more than we could ever achieve as individual municipalities.

When small municipalities have an issue with the Ontario Government, they need to have the weight of our province’s largest municipalities behind them.

And when our largest municipalities have an issue with the Ontario Government, they need to know that everyone else has their back.

It boils down to a shared appreciation that all Ontario communities must be strong and competitive, and yes, on occasion it means we have to shave off the sharp corners.

To achieve vision, we must stand together and work together.

There is an African proverb that says – if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.  

I think ‘far’ is the better objective – one that will also support good public policy.  

AMO works to have as productive a relationship as possible with the Ontario Government. Sometimes we make progress and sometimes it is tough. But we always keep on trying.

We know our policy positions need to be robust and flexible enough to serve all Ontarians, regardless of geography.

That is certainly true of the Provincial Budget, which is top of mind right now for everyone.

Here’s what we’ll be looking for this afternoon.

AMO’s pre-budget submission made it clear that the Province cannot balance its books on the back of municipalities and expect Ontario to prosper. Ontario needs strong, financially sound communities to thrive.

We were unequivocal in our call to halt further OMPF declines. The declines were intended to go hand in hand with uploads. But the reality is that not all communities can absorb these cuts -- particularly because as they are occurring, they are not happening alone. Times have changed since the upload agreement was signed.

Now these cuts are coming just as some municipalities face multiple hits – whether it’s increased OPP costs, cuts to dam payments or other financial pressures. The impact is no longer the same.

AMO has also pressed for permanent and predictable infrastructure funding to address the growing gap across all of our communities.
 
Currently, the federal Gas Tax Fund and the $50 million portion of the Ontario Community Infrastructure Fund are the only permanent, predictable infrastructure funding sources available in northern and rural communities.

We recently learned that the Province is revising the amount of funding it is earmarking for transportation infrastructure outside of the Greater Toronto Area – moving from $14 billion to $15 billion over the next 10 years.

I want you to know that our message is –  more money is welcomed, but let us get on with how this can work and work soon. I hope the budget will make this clear.

AMO has also pointed to a number of provincial actions – that would come at no cost to the Province, which would support municipal governments.

Passing Bill 31, which puts more teeth into enforcing the Provincial Offences Act, would improve the rule of law and help us collect millions in unpaid fines.

It is poised for third reading – let’s get this done so we can complete the actions to make it work locally.

Some of you have served in municipal leadership for many years. But after the last municipal election, we know there are also many new faces.

If you have just made it through your first municipal budget process, congratulations. I am sure it was an eye-opening experience.

My guess is you had to make some tough decisions. So you’ll probably understand why among its many priorities, AMO is focusing on the longer-term issue of municipal fiscal sustainability.

We need to figure out how to build stronger communities that can provide a good quality of life to residents, affordably and over the long haul. Municipal governments seem left to lurch from download, to upload, to unfunded mandates and from grant programs that come and go.

Today, we are starting a municipal dialogue about our future – what would the characteristics be of a more stable, predictable future? What revenue makes sense for the work that we are a charged to do? These are just a few questions we want to pursue with you to build a shared vision for the future that we can take to the Province.

We’ve built shared visions before. For example, we worked hard together to arrive at a Municipal Act that treats us like mature order of government, trusted to work with our citizens.

In 2005, we finally saw an Act that gives us broad authority with few constraints, and it is working well.  

In addition, ten years ago, members said enough to sending property tax dollars to the Province to pay for drug benefits, disability benefits and other social programs. AMO, with broad-based membership support, created a strategy to engage the Province on uploading the provincial social service costs that were dropped on our doorstep in the late ’90s.

After a well-researched outreach and advocacy campaign – that united municipal voices from across Ontario – we brought the Province to the table. Two years of hard work – together – created the 2008 upload agreement.

Because of it, municipal governments now hold onto $1.5 billion more in tax dollars each year. Just think what your tax bills would look like today, if this $1.5 billion was still going to Queen’s Park.

How much further behind would we be? What state would our infrastructure be in, if the $1.5 billion did not find its way into roads and bridges, sewer and water systems?

Notwithstanding this solid work, municipal governments still have a significant infrastructure deficit, along with other service pressures, as communities grow and age.

So, what is next? Even with the uploading, municipal governments still need greater financial stability.
What tools do we need to chart our own course and achieve greater financial independence? We also need to protect our gains – how can we do this?

We need to adapt to a world that changes faster than we might like.

So we are asking a pretty big question – What’s Next Ontario?

What’s next in terms of creating stronger communities? How do we secure our financial future?

This afternoon, Monika Turner is going to share with you the work we’ve done so far on future needs and challenges and possible opportunities.

Then it’s going to be all about you, starting to talk about your ideas and your vision.  What are your ideas that offer a recipe for greater stability and sustainability – and that meet the challenges and needs of Ontario’s diverse municipal sector, including northern Ontario?

When we are done consulting members, working with your input and building a possible action plan, then we will take it to the Province and tell them our vision for what’s next.  So, while I will not be able to hear firsthand some of your initial ideas for “What’s Next Ontario,” I do look forward to being fully debriefed by both AMO staff and your AMO representatives.  

We are excited about this project because we know that when we work towards a common goal, we can make real, substantive progress.

But in addition to looking at the big picture, AMO is, in the here and now, focused on immediate, practical policy matters and challenges.

There are several that are unique to the region and where we are pleased to be seeing some progress.

The matter of MPAC and assessment appeals has been particularly acute in the north.

I’m pleased that MPAC’s President and CAO, Antoni Wisniowski, is here today. He’s one of the next speakers.

AMO has been a vocal advocate for more predictability in assessments. I understand that MPAC will soon implement a new process to better manage significant assessment changes. I can tell you that AMO wants to see an increase in transparency, accuracy and predictability.

Energy policy – specifically its supply and affordability, and in the case of pipelines and rail, safety – continues to be a priority at the AMO table.

Adequate energy supply at a reasonable cost is critical to economic growth – in the north and elsewhere.

On the Energy East pipeline, it offers tremendous potential for both short-term and long-term employment. It also requires careful planning to deal with the risks.

Our correspondence to both the Ontario and National Energy Boards set out the important principles that need to be considered as part of national hearings on the pipeline.

In particular, AMO emphasized the need for robust environmental and safety planning. Drinking water sources must be protected. All of this needs to happen should a favourable decision be forthcoming.

I met last week with the Chair of the National Energy Board and shared these interests.  I also noted that there is conflicting information from various sources about the proposal and its impact on supply and that the Board has the expertise and needs to address this.  

In addition to pipelines, we’re also pleased by recent steps to improve rail safety. CN has proactively sent municipalities detailed plans on how they are working to prevent and mitigate derailments.
 
We are happy to work on this important issue with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

In March, Glen Murray, Ontario’s Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, addressed AMO’s Board. And earlier this month, Premier Wynne announced that her government would be pursuing a cap and trade system to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

While we are still waiting for design phase of the system, rest assured that we will be working to advance and protect municipal government interests.

As many of you know, Minister Murray is the former Mayor of Winnipeg. He understands the importance of municipal priorities. He understands that his government will have to work with municipalities to address climate change, although it is becoming a bit clearer that the program will seem to have greater focus on efforts of industry to retool.

But it is also clear that urban centres are part of the answer too, through increased densities and increased transit ridership.  

AMO’s Board had a great discussion with Minister Murray and it is fair to say that there are different views about how best to approach carbon reduction. What he heard generally was that:

First, climate change policies must recognize our fiscal situation. If revenue from the program is going to be invested back into emission reduction efforts, some of that revenue should support municipal activities.

And, second, that anything which commits municipalities to new costs needs to be supported by new funding.

Climate change policies can support local economies.

We do not like the notion that the environment is supported at the expense of the economy, or that the economy is supported at the expense of the environment.


Ontario needs to succeed on both fronts. Our Province needs to be sustainable economically and environmentally.

AMO has set up a Task Force that will begin meeting soon to ensure municipal  interests are taken into account.

On this issue, as with others, a cookie cutter approach doesn’t make sense. AMO works hard to convey the diverse needs of different regions to the Province.

Few topics unite municipal leaders better than the call for provincial land tax reform. Ontario’s Finance Minister, Charles Sousa, made a bold pledge at the ROMA/OGRA conference. Mayor Dave Canfield painted him into a corner with a well-crafted question during the Minister’s Forum. Minister Sousa said Provincial Land Tax Reform was coming this year.

We will see if it lands and if so, what it will look like.

Another priority is looking at the model of policing. There are many Acts that impact policing – and none have been reviewed since at least the turn of the century.

We need to focus on how to deliver policing in a way that meets modern needs and provides affordable quality service to our communities.

The AMO Police Modernization Task Force report will be coming out shortly and we’re looking forward to sharing their ideas with all of you, and the Province as well. I want to thank Al Spacek, a member of the AMO Board and Chair of FONOM for leading this Task Force.

Of course, it is well known that labour costs are the biggest line item on police budgets.

We believe that any further increases for police, as well as other emergency service personnel, should be comparable to the increases that our other municipal employees get. The skill, knowledge and risk competencies are already built in to the salary grid.  

We await two things.  

First – for those with OPP policing, the results of the OPP and OPPA contract negotiations.  

Second – how the Province will proceed with discussions on the Ontario interest arbitration system that affects fire and police contracts.  

Ontario’s interest arbitration system produces results that are in a class by themselves and employers have lost confidence in it. Municipal governments are criticized because some negotiate collective agreements that replicate interest awards or negotiated settlements.

Frankly – why would a municipal government spend even more money to go to arbitration to get a predictable settlement from interest arbitration?   

There are ways we can make the interest arbitration process more efficient, but the substantive issue is how to determine ‘affordability’ for different municipalities. What is affordable in one community may be cost prohibitive elsewhere. This is the core of AMO’s work on this matter.

Frankly, any possible change to the interest arbitration regime is not going to happen without a new process that involves all the parties, including the Ministry. That’s the clear message to the Province and we are readying ourselves for future discussions.

While I’ve covered off a number of policy areas – these barely scratch the surface of the dozens of matters that AMO staff are working on at any one time.

Right now, there are 30 different provincial priorities that directly relate to municipal government – some in response to our interests. And there is other legislation and initiatives that we must keep our eye on, because there could be significant impacts if government doesn’t take our advice.

I encourage you to sign up for our emails if you haven’t already, and to visit our website to learn more about our work. Our annual conference will be in Niagara Falls this year, in August. I urge you to attend.
It is a great opportunity to learn about emerging issues and solutions, network and share ideas with colleagues across the province, and to bend the ear of Ministers and provincial representatives.

Let me wrap up.

AMO’s board members and those who serve on our various task forces – all represent the full spectrum of Ontario’s communities.  

When our diverse voices find a common cause, we are very hard to ignore.

We look forward to working with you in the year ahead. 2015 will be busy and will we endeavour to serve our members well.

Thank you.