08/17/2015

Remarks for AMO President Gary McNamara 2015 Annual AMO Conference Scotiabank Convention Centre, Plenary Hall, Main Floor Niagara Falls, Ontario Monday, August 17, 2015, 9:40 a.m. – 9:55 a.m.

Remarks for AMO President Gary McNamara
2015 Annual AMO Conference
Scotiabank Convention Centre, Plenary Hall, Main Floor
Niagara Falls, Ontario
Monday, August 17, 2015, 9:40 a.m. – 9:55 a.m.

(Check Against Delivery)

Good morning.

Welcome to AMO.

I’d like to hear you all say that with me, at the same time.

Can we try it together?

“Welcome to AMO.”

No really, let’s say it nice and loud, all together.

“Welcome to AMO.”

There. See how that works?

Together, our voice is strong and powerful.

Together, our voice is heard.

AMO can’t do it without you.

And, when we work together, AMO can accomplish things that none of us could possibly accomplish on our own.

Ontario’s municipalities support AMO because we support one another.

Good neighbours work together.

Despite what makes our communities different, communities across Ontario have many common concerns – and common aspirations.

We all want Ontario to be as strong and successful as it can be.

We share that goal with the Government of Ontario… and the Government of Canada.
Our message to both is, ‘help us, help you.’

Ontario’s municipal governments are fully committed to working with the Provincial and Federal governments, at all times and on all issues.

The next three days is our most practical expression of that effort.
Where we can agree on a course of action... we need to take action... and turn consensus into results for our communities.

Where we disagree, we need to work that much harder.

Much will be discussed here.

Those discussions will be polite – and there will be lots of talk about consulting with us.

We know that. But it’s about working together… for the success of Ontario.

And a warning is in order.

The words don’t resonate as well as they did a year or two ago. In an absence of progress, the message becomes grating.

We all know that joint and several liability is a major concern for Ontario municipalities. We were told that it would be fixed – we were working together on it. Then there was an about face and we were told to expect nothing. The problem remains, and grows.

Interest arbitration and capacity to pay is a major concern for us, and the editorial pages agree with us.

We need to have contracts settled through a balanced process – and we need to ensure that all Ontario municipalities can afford to deliver safe and effective emergency services.

The Province says that they are listening. Yet with every passing month, the problem festers and our unease grows.

For a year we have been reassured that our concerns about cuts to Special Dam Payments would be addressed.  In the meantime, communities like Wawa are facing several years of double-digit tax increases to absorb the hit.

Many other municipalities are worried about higher OPP costs and cuts to OMPF funding.

Urban municipalities have different concerns. Many relate to the challenge of managing rapid growth.

By now the Province fully understands that we want growth to pay for growth. They have introduced legislation yet, important issues remain... and we are worried.

We are worried that the most tangible sign of progress that we have – maintaining the 2008 upload agreement – is now presented as though it was a gift to us.

In fact some of the Ontario government’s policy makers seem to think it is a gift that allows them room to accommodate their priorities… and to create new municipal costs.

We remember that the 2008 upload agreement was a compromise – on our part.

That agreement corrected two decades of devastating public policy.

The Liberal government recognized that municipal property tax revenue should not be siphoned off to subsidize the Provincial treasury.

They agreed to upload what they could. It was half of what we asked for, and we gave them 10 years to do it. 

We still pay for social housing, which is a costly income redistribution program.

We believe that municipal property taxes are a terrible way to fund income redistribution programs.

The relationship is starting to feel like a one way street again – with lots of little surprises.

What’s $50,000 here? What’s another $50,000 there?

Well, it’s far more than they seem to appreciate.

Almost half of Ontario’s municipalities have to hike property taxes by at least one full per cent to raise $50,000 dollars.

Policy makers at Queen’s Park need to understand that several little ideas add up to one serious problem faster than they imagine.

When they say that they want to work with us to achieve better outcomes, we interpret that to mean that they want to achieve better outcomes for us both – not at our expense.

We know they face difficult challenges. We understand. We know what that feels like.

We interpret “working with us” to mean rolling up our sleeves… together… and addressing the problems that Ontario’s communities face.

At the end of the day, it is very easy for the Ontario government to make decisions that solve problems at the expense of municipal government.

The Ontario government hates it when the Federal government solves problems at the Province’s expense.

We know what that feels like too. We know that feeling well. It’s not a solution that anyone can take pride in.

If Ontario is going to succeed, we need to do better than that.

AMO exists to find meaningful solutions that are in the best interest of Ontario’s communities.

Our Board of 43 representatives, from far and wide, brings all interests and perspectives to our work – so that we are all stronger.

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

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

It is a collection centre of interests and solutions.
 
We are a path to cooperation… between municipal governments… with our provincial and federal peers… and with others who play important roles influencing change.

We’re vital to Ontario’s success.

Sometimes, AMO achieves a lot.

Sometimes – it’s tough. 

Success doesn’t come easy, but we are committed to success.

We need to be.

Ontario’s municipalities provide almost all of the government services that people use on a daily basis. 

Many provincial ministries are here… because almost all have a policy or regulatory connection to municipal government in some way. 

They have a direct impact on our expenditures, and often determine how we deliver services.

Why?

Because Canada’s Constitution was written at a time when Niagara Falls had a population of 2,000 people.

Municipal government wasn’t very important in 1867. Now we are on the front line, providing most of the government services that most people care the most about:

  • Water and wastewater.
  • Emergency services.
  • Roads.
  • Transit.
  • Recreation and culture.
  • Community planning.
  • Waste management.

In 2005 we finally received a Municipal Act that recognized the need to take municipal government seriously – and to treat us as a respected order of government.

Unfortunately, our access to revenue has not kept pace.

Many people question why the provincial and federal governments receive four or five times more tax revenue than our municipal share – which is just the nine cents on every household tax dollar.

There is a strong case for municipal government to be better funded than it is – not just in Ontario, but in other jurisdictions across Canada.

AMO is fighting hard to simply hold the line on what we have. Eroding our tax base, bit by bit, and having laws that dictate how we deliver our services is a poor recipe for success.

We are concerned that the Province’s support for mature, respected and unshackled municipal government may be slipping.

Is there a blatant move to reign-in municipal authority and powers? No. But there seems to be some sliding back – perhaps to a nanny-state of mind.

Financially, there is a little bite here and a little bite there.

We make no apologies for being frank and direct.

It’s needed at times.

I believe the Premier will understand this – and that her government won’t put us in the penalty box for caring about our communities and saying what needs to be said.

We appreciate that Ted McMeekin, Ontario’s Minister of Municipal Affairs, is committed to working with us.

He certainly understands that AMO is not going to let things slide back toward weaker and financially unsustainable municipal government.
 
This is top of mind for AMO’s Board as we participate in the myriad of legislative reviews currently underway – from climate change… to planning and development charges… housing and homelessness… waste diversion… and soon, the Conservation Authorities Act… to mention only a few. 

I cannot stand here today without also mentioning the cost of electricity.

It is a major concern - with or without the sale of shares of Hydro One. 

In my part of the province, we’ve lost industrial jobs to U.S. jurisdictions where the cost of operations – and electricity – are cheaper.
 
To be blunt, the Hydro One matter is somewhat of a wedge issue for municipalities.

On one hand, we have concern about electricity costs.

On the other hand, the proceeds of the sale go to the province’s significant infrastructure investment fund -- where $31billion is earmarked for municipal infrastructure over the next decade.

$15 billion of that is for areas outside of the GTHA.
 
$31 billion over 10 years sounds like a great sum of funding. Yet there is a $60 billion need for core municipal infrastructure – roads, bridges, water, and sewer. This $60 billion need does not include social housing, arenas and other types of assets that were not part of the gap analysis. 

AMO has pressed for permanent and predictable infrastructure funding to address infrastructure needs.  One-off, application-based grant approaches do not get the job done.

Common themes run through AMO’s work:

  • We all need to work together.
  • Municipal costs must be manageable.
  • Funding should be predictable.
  • All three orders of government need to be financially sound, effective and mutually respected.

This summer, with those principles in mind, we launched a discussion about What’s Next for Ontario.

We asked you about your current fiscal challenges, and how they will change over time.

We asked what you can do to tackle those challenges.

We wanted to know what you felt is needed from the Province and the federal government.

And we asked how AMO can help.

You told us that the status quo is not going to do the job.

You told us that we need a new fiscal framework. 

It’s been almost 10 years since we explored fiscal relationships in detail, and we received a strong indication that it’s time to do it again.

Your Board will be doing work to explore revenue sources that can build the foundation of greater sustainability for municipal governments.  

We will come back to you – our members – with that work and another focused conversation on potential options.  The objective is to arrive at a member-directed position. 

Let me be clear, our work on what a sustainable fiscal future for us should not – no, it must not – prevent the Province from advancing progress on long-standing challenges.

There is much work to be done – to help the present and lay the foundation for the future.  After the morning break, we will host a Panel Discussion to learn how other associations are working to ensure that their municipal governments are fiscally sustainable.

I urge you to read our What’s Next Ontario? report… and the Summary Report of the results of the initial consultation… which was approved by the Board on Saturday and sent to every municipal elected official and senior staff today.

Let me reiterate – this is the start of an important process for us all. 

I have never known this Association or its membership to be anything less than bold, courageous and creative - to deal with the present with an eye to the long term. 

That is our DNA.  I want you to continue to speak up. 

If you want AMO to have a loud and strong voice, we all have to lend our voice to AMO’s efforts.

If we have one message for the Province, it’s this:

“Work with us.”

Please say it with me:

“Work with us.”

No really. Nice and loud so they hear us at Queen’s Park.

“Work with us!”

Thank you.  Enjoy the conference – and your visit to this breathtaking part of Ontario.