Remarks by: Gary McNamara, AMO President and Mayor, Town of Tecumseh Friday May 8, 2015, 10:15 a.m. Holiday Inn, Georgian D 1696 Regent St., Sudbury
Remarks by:
Gary McNamara, AMO President and
Mayor, Town of Tecumseh

Friday May 8, 2015, 10:15 a.m.
Holiday Inn, Georgian D
1696 Regent St., Sudbury

2015 FONOM / MMAH Northeastern Municipal 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.

A week ago, I was in Belleville.  And the week before that, in Thunder Bay, where I heard from your colleagues in the northwest.  I will also be doing other stops.

AMO’s staff wants to keep me on the road ... and talking to members.

Frankly, I like this part of the job immensely, but don’t tell staff that.

Visiting all corners of the province brings home the diversity of our landscape and of our communities.  But we also know that there is much that ties our communities together.

This conference is important to us, because it’s a chance to hear from you directly.

You are also fortunate to have a strong voice on AMO’s board.  I want to take a moment to acknowledge Mayor Al Spacek of Kapuskasing, Councillor Mac Bain of North Bay, and Michael "JJ" Doody, Councillor, City of Timmins.

Both do a great job of bringing your perspective to our board table.  They are strong advocates for the northeast – which is no surprise to any of you, I’m sure.

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.

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.

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.

Two weeks ago today, the Province released its budget. As did the federal government.

In fact, most of what was in them was floated out in the media before their formal release.

Transit systems are the big winner, which will be good for some of Ontario’s largest communities.

Provincially, AMO is keenly interested in learning more about the $15 billion infrastructure investment for the non-GTHA portion of the Province.  The budget document says the Province will consult on new programs and a framework for evaluating infrastructure needs.  The Premier, in a call to me the day after, assured me that this would happen.  So, we really look forward to having that discussion soon.

AMO has pressed for permanent and predictable funding to address infrastructure needs.  One-off grants cannot address the growing gap across all of our communities.

I know communities in the northeast were pleased that the Connecting Links program is being fully funded once again.  After all – these funds are to repair and maintain provincial highways.

The $5 million bump to OMPF for northern municipalities in 2016 is good – it recognizes some of its inherent challenges.  How the OMPF will be profiled for 2016 will be the subject of yet another consultation.  

I hope that you will be mindful that small southern Ontario municipal governments have not received this type of positive news.  The Province only provided a partial solution.

I know Provincial Land Tax reform has been high on your list for some time.  It has finally been landed and you deserve congratulations.  It has taken years of effort, particularly by folks in the North.  AMO has been singing the same tune, as well.

MPAC reform, which you just heard about, is another important issue for this region.  I am sure you appreciate Antoni coming out to talk to you about it.  It is good that MPAC is stepping up its direct discussions with elected municipal officials – especially in the north.

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.

Another top priority – right across the province – 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.

AMO – both staff and our members -- have put a tremendous amount of effort behind this issue.

The AMO Police Modernization Task Force report came out last week and we’re looking forward to sharing their ideas with all of you, and the Province as well.
AMO’s Board determined the makeup of this Task Force, to ensure we had participation from our own forces and from the OPP.  

The Board tapped FONOM’s own Al Spacek to chair it and he did a great job and has been helping me with media calls — who knew that a Toronto city hall reporter with the Toronto Star would pick up this AMO report and run with it?  

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 into the salary grid.  

We await two things.  

First – for those with OPP policing, the results of the Province 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, replicated 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 that I gave to the Minister of Labour, and we are readying ourselves for future discussions.

Policing is just one of the many files AMO is working away at.  Right now, in fact, 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.

But in addition to look after all of these immediate priorities, AMO is also stepping back to take a look at the big picture.

I know that we have a mix of veteran and new councilors with us today.  You’ve all just made it through your own budget processes.  I’m sure it wasn’t easy.

The fact is, even with the uploading, municipal governments still need greater financial stability.

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.

Last week, I wrote each member of council in our membership, seeking individual perspectives 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 across Ontario now hold onto $1.5 billion more in tax dollars each year.  Just think what 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 AMO is asking a pretty big question of each of you – What’s Next Ontario?

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

I’m going to soon turn over this discussion to AMO’s Policy Director, Monika Turner.  Monika is going to share with you the work we’ve done so far on future needs, challenges, and possible opportunities.

Then it’s going to be all about you, starting to talk about your ideas and your vision.  

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.

I encourage you to visit our website to learn more about our work and to make the time to read our communications as they will keep you informed of all the activity that is coming at municipal government and our thoughts on it.

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.

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.

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