Remarks by:
Lynn Dollin, AMO President and
Deputy Mayor, Town of Innisfil

Friday, November 24, 2017
Best Western Plus Lamplighter Inn and Conference Centre
London, Ontario
8:30 a.m.

Ontario West Municipal Conference

(Check Against Delivery)


   
Good morning – and welcome.

I can’t possibly cover all of AMO’s recent work in the hour that I have today.

Just kidding.

They have given me a little more than five minutes.

I can only give you highlights.

This Conference is proof that our municipal and provincial governments work best when we work together.

We have a lot of different policy files to manage at the moment.

Some present challenges for us.  We also have some wins, and I want to give credit where credit is due.  

First – we applaud the shift on land use appeals. The scope of the Land Use Planning Appeal Tribunal would defer to municipal governments, when they’ve done their homework.  LPAT will take some time to get used to rather than OMB.

I want to thank Minister Mauro – he listened intently to the frustrations of municipal governments. We will need to adapt – to better consider provincial interests.  But, if we have good, updated official plans, then we will be ahead of the game.

Second – provincial funding has increased over the past decade.  The 10-year upload agreement is near completion.  The Province is paying $2 billion more than it used to in social service, drug benefit, and court security costs.

Municipal governments have ploughed that $2 billion of property tax dollars into infrastructure.

We are also using some of that room to help with new mandates that have increased costs.

Funding has gone up.  But, so have our costs.

In fact, municipal costs are growing at a rate of about $1 billion per year – and an annual funding gap of $5 billion is forming.

These are not numbers that municipal belt-tightening can address.

To give you a sense of the scale, property tax revenue would have to double over the next 10 years to close that gap – and Ontario already has the highest property taxes in Canada.

It’s time for our Provincial partners to consider how high property taxes should climb in Ontario.  

For our part, we have been advocating for changes that would reduce municipal costs by hundreds of millions of dollars a year:
  • modernize policing
  • balance interest arbitration
  • put practical limits on municipal liability.
We have been calling for these changes for years.

Our concerns about policing services, interest arbitration, and rising costs inspired the Province’s Future of Policing Advisory Committee – and its five years of work.

In 2015, we provided 34 recommendations that would innovate, modernize, improve service, and better manage costs.

Too few have been adopted in Bill 175 – the Safer Ontario Act.

The Bill would restrict us from making changes that are overdue.  It would reduce the municipal voice, while increasing our accountability.  And – incredibly – it would increase municipal costs.
 
In addition to already having the highest property taxes in Canada, Ontario already has the highest policing costs.

The affordability of emergency services – police and fire – should worry both orders of government.

All Ontario communities need to have emergency services that are safe, effective, and affordable.

It’s our job to deliver that.  It’s the Province’s job to make sure that we can.

This Bill does not address the obvious and fix Ontario’s broken interest arbitration system – and not one party at Queen’s Park seems to mind.

If police and fire employees received typical municipal wage and benefit increases between 2010 and 2014, Ontario communities would have had half a billion dollars more for urgent needs, like infrastructure and transit investment.

Now we have a proposal to create fire medics.

This idea only makes sense to the Ontario Professional Fire Fighters Association.  No one else supports it.

The Province says the approach is only to be used by willing governments.  If that’s true, it must amend this Bill to clearly say arbitrators will not have the scope to impose it on us.  

We’re waiting for the government to put our draft amendment on this fundamental principle before the Standing Committee.  If it doesn’t, then we will have every reason to be disappointed and discouraged. We should know soon.

Our efforts have paid off with changes to the Fair Workplaces and Better Jobs Bill - more commonly known as the $15 minimum wage Bill.

We identified harmful, unintended consequences – both in terms of costs in the hundreds of millions, and on our ability to deliver services.

Municipal governments are good employers.  We offer good wages, good benefits, and employee support.  We are not the Bill’s intended target.

In some communities, firefighting costs were projected to almost double.

We sounded the alarm – no pun intended – and many of you joined the chorus.  Thank you.

The amendments we achieved last week mean we will avoid millions in new costs.

We dodged a couple of large bullets.

That being said, Bill 48 will still increase some municipal costs.

Same goes for Bill 142 – the Construction Lien Act.  

We recognize that contractors should be paid promptly.  However, we also have a duty to make sure that public dollars are spent wisely.

Governments need to make sure that work is inspected and certified before they pay for things.

We make no apologies for expecting quality on our playgrounds, pipes, and bridges.  They need to be well made and safe.

Yet, at a clause-by-clause reading of the Bill, the government hasn’t moved on this.  

These recent examples validate AMO’s concerns that the Ontario government is not addressing its responsibility to ensure that municipal programs and services are affordable.

 At a time when we need to contain costs, activity at Queen’s Park seems to do the opposite.

 And, it is not just government bills.  We see it on both sides of the aisle.  

 Every request for new revenue is quickly dismissed.

Land transfer tax?  No.

Road tolls?  No.

Sales tax?  No.

When it comes to making sure that Ontario’s municipal governments can make ends meet, we have done the most homework.

We have quantified the problem – and everyone knows that it is a serious and sizable problem.   

So far, the solution is grant programs.  We welcome them, but their scale, scope, and timing are limiting.

Cost matching presents a further challenge.

We are not seeing moves that can address our $5 billion problem – or even half of it.

AMO believes that municipal governments should be given access to sales tax revenue. Specifically, AMO is proposing that Ontario’s HST should increase by 1% to fund municipal infrastructure.

It has several advantages.  It more fair than higher property taxes.  It ensures that everyone who uses municipal services contributes to municipal services.

It can accommodate protection for low income and fixed income Ontarians.  It is not cumbersome to administer.  And, it can be distributed fairly and evenly across Ontario.

I can tell you that over the course of the last three months, more and more municipal governments are seeing the wisdom of the proposal.  No one likes more taxes, but against higher property taxes, it is seen as a better option.

Again, all three parties have said ‘no’.  We expected that.

Is it unreasonable to expect that our leaders will offer truly viable alternatives?

Inaction is a clear vote for significantly higher property taxes – deep cuts to municipal services – or both.

    
I arrived here last night from national meetings. Upcoming provincial elections and positioning around the next federal election were top of mind.  AMO will be looking at the provincial parties’ platforms to ensure Ontario’s communities are strong, viable, and prosperous.

We will listen to all proposals with an open mind.  

In the meantime, please make time to understand our Local Share HST proposal.  Visit www.thelocalshare.ca – or follow @TheLocalShare on Twitter.

You can also follow @AMOPolicy.

AMO receives many compliments for our deep policy work.  Those are your membership dollars at work.  Please take advantage of it.

Our website, www.amo.on.ca, has hundreds of pages of information about the latest legislation, policy positions, programs, and services.  

And, if you are going to the ROMA conference in January, consider signing up for some training on Bill 68 and the work required to implement it.

Thank you again, and enjoy the conference.