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

2018 FONOM Conference
Charles W. Stockey Centre for the Performing Arts & the Bobby Orr Hall of Fame
Thursday, May 10, 2018
11:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.


(Check Against Delivery)
 

[Slide 1:  AMO LOGO]

Thank you… and hello everyone.
 
It’s a pleasure to be here in Parry Sound.

On behalf of the hundreds of Ontario communities that make up AMO, I want you to know we appreciate the invite.

It’s important for AMO to be here.

Many people may think they have travelled to Ontario’s north when they come to Parry Sound.

But after travelling from Kenora to Niagara Falls last week, I know, as do all of you, that there is more than 1,000 kilometres of Ontario north of us. FONOM covers 110 municipalities.

Ontario is that big. And there are only two ways to know the needs of its villages, towns and cities.

The best way is to visit them.
 
That’s why AMO’s here – with you – again.

But how many people in Ontario have been everywhere in Ontario?

Not many.

I can think of four people who are trying to pull that off between now and June 7

It’s a noble effort. We wish them well.

Practically speaking, there has to be another way for hundreds of communities to be known and understood.

They need to be heard.

Ontario’s 444 municipal governments need to speak with strong voices.

AMO’s Board is made up of 43 members, from across Ontario.

Northeastern Ontario has had a strong voice on AMO’s board for many years, thanks to the voices of Al Spacek, Mac Bain and Michael Doody. All sit on our Board’s Northern Caucus. None are shy.

Al was chair for our policing modernization task force. It was a ton of work on a critical file.

The report from that task force was one of AMO’s most downloaded reports - ever.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention Bill Vrebosch who sits on our Rural Caucus and Lou Turco from the Soo, a member of the urban caucus.

So there is solid representation from the north when you also add in the northwest Board members.

We provide a big tent – where leaders from across Ontario can come together…

work together…

find common ground…

And speak with one, powerful voice.

We owe our strength to you.

And we are only as strong as you make us.

Right now – on the eve of a provincial election – Ontario’s municipal community needs to be as strong as possible.

And we need to speak with one, clear voice.

Voters are being presented with very clear – and very different visions for Ontario.

But very little is being said about what the future would hold for municipal governments.

That’s a problem.
The result of this election could affect us profoundly.

Our two orders of government are closely entwined.

Simply put, this election isn’t only about them.

We own and maintain more infrastructure then they do.

We provide the services that most people use – most often.

Roads.

Bridges.

Water.

Wastewater.

Garbage collection.

Parks.

Recreation.

Emergency services.

In urban Ontario, transit features prominently on that list.

Ontario’s municipal governments provide some of the most basic – and most important – public services.
While the party leaders trade barbs – we’re building bridges, provided we can pay for them.

Usually we can’t.

We have to go to the Provincial or Federal governments, begging for dollars.

We don’t have their tax base – or their revenue.

[Slide 2: 9-Cents]

We collect just 9 cents of every household tax dollar.

The province collects 44 cents, and the Federal government collects 47.

They can run deficits – and borrow on a large scale.

We have to make ends meet.

They micro manage us – telling us what to do – and how to do it.

AMO’s been around for more than a century and the pattern is the same: Queen’s Park tends to do what’s good for Queen’s Park.

What’s $50,000 here – or a million dollars there? Policy makers assume that municipal governments will find a way to cope.

But for more than half of Ontario’s 444 municipal governments, a one per cent tax increase raises less than $50,000.

The cumulative effect is astounding.
Province-wide, the cost of municipal government is going up by about a billion dollars a year.

[Slide 3: $4.9 BILLION]

Over the next decade, we face an annual funding gap of $4.9 billion dollars.

To put that in perspective, total property tax revenue would have to increase by about 8 per cent a year – every year – for a decade.

Property tax revenue would need to double.  

Voters should be asking candidates what they will do to give us the means to make sure our services are efficient, strong and effective.

All three party leaders will be here tomorrow.

I am glad they will make the trip.

It is important that we press them on how they would work with us, to change the way municipal programs and services are delivered.  

Why? Because the services and programs are not going to fit the future – and it is increasingly hard now.

[Slide 4: AMO LOGO]

For years, we have been asking Queen’s Park to make changes that would save us hundreds of millions dollars a year.

Ontario should make changes to municipal insurance liability.
The current rules drive up our costs and take advantage of property tax payers.

Police officers and firefighters should receive wage increases that other people can relate to.

Every community should be able to provide emergency services that are safe, effective and affordable.

Emergency services already account for a shockingly high proportion of some municipal budgets. Unchecked growth is irresponsible, and unsustainable.

Ontario should protect double hatter firefighters – once and for all. They stand by our communities. What will it take the party leaders to stand up for them?

The new policing act could have gone much further to drive efficiencies and help us manage costs.

It did get changes to the Special Investigations Unit, public complaints, and officer discipline right.

Why are we talking about fire medics?

What interest does that serve?

If the parties want to improve paramedic response times, what are they going to do to make sure ambulances aren’t stuck at hospitals, serving as beds?

Will they create a more sensible way to transfer patients between hospitals – so ambulances aren’t serving as taxis?

Why do we continue to expect municipalities - who can barely keep up with their own capital work – to help fund hospital projects?

Who is willing to make companies and consumers who make waste, pay for waste management costs?

It’s more than just fair. It’s an incentive to make packaging smaller, smarter, and less costly for taxpayers.

No one is talking about doing these things.

No one.

Don’t tell us all is well.

It’s not.

Don’t tell us municipal government has the power to make billions in cost reductions.

We don’t.

Don’t tell us that it makes sense to fund modern municipal governments the same way that we funded fire brigades in 1867.

Property taxes can’t do it all anymore.

And they’re not doing it all anymore.
What’s the path forward?

What do we need?
First, let’s all agree that Ontario’s provincial government has a responsibility to work cooperatively with municipal governments – to make sure we can make ends meet, deliver quality services, and stretch tax dollars further.

Second, give us a greater say in how we design and deliver municipal programs and services.

What works in Kapuskasing may not work in Cornwall. It might not work in Callandar – and the system shouldn’t be designed by someone who has never been to either.

Finally, show us that you’re prepared to address the remaining fiscal gap with new revenue streams.

In the absence of efforts to reduce our costs, the province needs to consider new revenue streams.

For example, AMO believes that sales tax revenue should be dedicated to funding municipal infrastructure.

We know that is not an easy solution.

Interestingly, public polling we did over the last 2 years showed the public acceptance was high – at 73% last year, which was higher than the previous year at 59%.

In fact, on a regional basis it was even higher in the northern part of Ontario.

Sometimes the public see things in a different way.

We know that not everyone agrees.

But everyone agrees there is a problem.
The alternative is almost certainly much higher property taxes and that’s an even worse solution.

So…

We are saying:

Work with municipal government in partnership.

Help us stretch tax dollars by cutting the provincial red tape.

[SLIDE 5: 287 REPORTS]

Local governments file hundreds of reports to the province –nearly 300 every year based on one municipal experience. Only a handful are read or acted upon by the province.

Let’s just report what matters.

[SLIDE 6: CAPACITY SLIDE]

In the northeast – and frankly right across the province – most municipalities do not have the staff to devote to busy work.

We need less reporting and less rules about how to do things – so we can devote our time and energy to delivering services to our communities.

And, we need the province to recognize that when they change directions or bring in policy changes – we need time.

We don’t have an army of staff and we can’t shift gears overnight. We need to respect local process and local due diligence.

[SLIDE 7: LOCAL SAY]

Give us a greater Local Say, so that we can improve municipal services and provide better value to tax payers.

[SLIDE 8:  LOCAL SHARE]

And increase the Local Share of tax dollars, to ensure basic public services are funded appropriately.

These basic services are key to Ontario’s quality of life. They provide jobs, health, safety and economic growth.

Some of these costs relate to infrastructure. Municipalities own almost two-thirds of all public infrastructure.

Decades of provincial decisions, inaction, and downloading has made it hard for us to catch up or keep up.  

A lot of the gap relates to rules and processes that the Province creates. Changes are needed to make our services better, more efficient and more cost effective.

Finally, the Province could also give municipal government a greater local share of tax revenue.  

Expecting municipal leaders to come to Queens Park, cap in hand, isn’t a sustainable model.
All communities have roads and bridges to fix, not to mention transit or water systems. The list goes on.

We think sale tax revenue should help pay for municipal infrastructure.

And if not sales tax, then what?

What is another long-term solution that will generate nearly $2.5 billion annually for municipal infrastructure is needed, done in a way that serves both big and small communities fairly.

We cannot expect property taxpayers to do it all.

The bottom line is the Local Share of tax dollars should match our responsibilities.

Local Share, Local Say – that’s our provincial election campaign. It is simple.

Help us make services more affordable. Give us a greater local say in how services are delivered, and a greater local share of tax revenue.

AMO has been actively working to get these needs in front of provincial leaders.

We’ve also been working hard to put municipal priorities into your hands, so you have the tools to share them with your local candidates.

We want you to ask every one of them how they will support stronger municipal government.

We also want you to share with your own community members.

We think it is important that voters understand that their decision at the ballot box in June will shape their local, hometown services too.
You play an important role in helping your citizens know just what is at stake in your own communities.

[SLIDE 9: TOOL KIT]

We’ve posted an entire tool kit online with a summary of our messages and materials you can print off and leave behind with candidates or community groups.
There’s also content you can share on social media. Visit AMO’s website and click on the Provincial Election Tool Kit.

You’ve probably seen the postcards here at the conference with both AMO and FONOM priorities. You’ll be able to download and share that card as well.

[SLIDE 10: PRIORITIES CARD]

I want to stress that AMO is not partisan in our work. We are committed to working with whatever provincial government is chosen by the people of Ontario.

After all, municipal Councils and AMO are made up of leaders of all political stripes. By necessity, we set aside our differences and work together for the sake of our communities.

[SLIDE 11: AMO LOGO & LINK]

In the post-election world, we will be vigilant and continue pursuing the public interest on behalf of our communities.

I will be able to speak to this more at a future date, including at the AMO August Conference. (This is my plug to remind you to register for it).  

There is much more that unites us, than divides us.
We need to work together to get the provincial parties, and voters, to understand just how important having strong municipal governments is to making life better in Ontario.

In closing, I just want to say that AMO appreciates your support.

Gatherings like this improve our understanding. They allow us to share concerns and ideas.

They allow us to pursue change.

And they are an opportunity to make sure that Ontario is moving in directions that support a bright future for our communities.