Remarks by:
Jamie McGarvey, AMO President and
Mayor, Town of Parry Sound

Holiday Inn Sudbury
Georgian D&E
Sudbury, Ontario

Friday, May 10, 2019
TIME TBC – (sometime between 8:30 – 10 a.m.)


(Check Against Delivery)
 

Thank you for the warm welcome.

It is a pleasure to be here at the FONOM Conference.

I hope you have been enjoying the excellent content.

There has been a lot of great learning and great chances to connect with colleagues.

I would of course like to thank our hosts, the City of Sudbury, which is located in the Robinson-Huron Treaty Territory.

The land continues to be home to numerous Anishinaabeg (uh-NISH-ih-NAH-bag)  and M├ętis peoples, particularly the Atikameksheng (uh-TIK-ih-MEK-sheng uh-nish-NAW-bek) Anishnawbek First Nation and the Wahnapitae (Wah-nah-PEE-TAY) First Nation.

Recently, I have been to Thunder Bay for the northwestern municipal conference, and to Pembroke for the meeting of Ontario’s small urban municipalities.

Sudbury is the closest to home that I have travelled over the past few weeks.  

And Parry Sound falls within FONOM’s membership, so this conference is home in that way, as well.

One of the best parts of being AMO President is travelling this vast and beautiful province.

I’ve had the pleasure of doing these recent trips by road.

When you are on the open road, you really come to appreciate just how big Ontario is.

You see our wonderful diversity.

And the many things that hold us together.

The scenery changes. Communities are different. But we are all connected.

Not only by roads, bridges and waterways – of which there are plenty.

But by our many common interests.  

These regional conferences are a great way to learn what is on your minds.

For AMO to serve you well, we need to know.

And I welcome the opportunity to share with you what AMO has been up to.

AMO supports municipal governments – as municipal governments serve their communities.

We create a meeting place – where governments can come together, and work together, to move Ontario forward.

Every day we deal with a wide range of topics, all focused on the shared interests of the municipal sector.

That’s what makes the AMO Board of Directors so helpful.

They make sure that your concerns and interests are heard – and, that they are reflected in our work and in our input to government.  

The northern caucus is well represented by FONOM President and Chair of the northeast caucus, Councillor Danny Whalen of Temiskaming Shores.
 
North Bay Councillor Mac Bain and Hearst Mayor Roger Sigouin bring a thoughtful northeastern lens.

As part of AMO’s Board, they help make AMO’s policy decisions.

The Board is 43-members strong – that ensures there is a broad perspective.

We’re big and small... gathered from all corners of the province.

Your AMO Board reflects a good cross-section of Ontario.

Our structure ensures that we work together – in common cause, to achieve more.
 
At the same time, we know that one size does not fit all.

Good public policies can, and must, recognize the diverse nature of Ontario’s municipal governments.  

Providing a service here in northern Ontario is different than other parts of the province.

I got a front-seat view of your geography on the drive here, and to Thunder Bay.

While I may understand more after all those miles, it will not compare to your local community knowledge.

So, I look forward to connecting with you and your local stories.

Nearly one month ago, the Province tabled its 2019 budget.

Since then, we’re learning more about what it really means for municipal governments.

Frankly, there is a slow release of details around public health, around child care, around EMS.

I know that is unsettling.

I think some are aptly described as surprise, quickly followed with concern.

In the absence of information, rumours grow, or are planted. We should not be caught in them.

Is there more to know- yes – definitely.

And we are trying.

We want to be consulted – we need to be consulted.

We appreciate that the government’s doors are open to us.

Is there more change to come? For sure.

We saw the More Housing: More Choice announcement last week.  

It too held some welcomed changes, as well as some that are disappointing.

For those who use Development Charges, there is a collective sigh of relief that there are no new discounts on hard services eligible for DCs. In fact, waste increased to 100 per cent.

The Community Benefit Charge approach, while different, will help municipal government provide those services, like community facilities that enhance new neighbourhoods.

The legislation reflects months of consultation by the Minister.  

Is it everything we would wish for?  No. I think developers would say the same, if asked.

There certainly will be more consultation. The budget documented more reviews on a long list of municipal interests within many ministries.

The government’s doors are open to us, and we appreciate that.  And we want to keep it that way!

At the same time, it is a simple equation – municipal governments are the frontline.

Our knowledge, our insight, our interests and concerns – should be heard. It benefits the work of the province.

19 of Ontario’s 23 ministries regulate municipal government somehow.

This keeps us busy.

Since the election, AMO staff have averaged more than one meeting per day with this new government and senior public servants.

We are only two subway stops away from them - every day it’s two subway stops.  

Our members can’t be that close.

While I know a lot of you have questions about what the budget means for you, I also want to recognize where we have made progress.

The Ontario government is investing in broadband and cellular networks.

In this day and age, everybody needs it – it is essential.

They have committed $315 million over five years.

We don’t know yet how much will be available and when.

But I do know, it is $315 million dollars that our communities didn’t have access to several weeks ago.

We know the federal government has also put money in its budget for broadband and cellular.

The key, my friends, is to be ready, and then to get it done.

Broadband and cellular infrastructure is every bit as important as our roads and bridges.  

Northern and rural Ontario cannot be left behind.

We want to see this money work quickly for northern and rural residents and business.  

AMO also continues to advocate for limits to municipal liability.

The Province has promised to consult on it.

Unreasonable exposure to lawsuits threatens activities like snowmobiling and ATVs.

We’re fighting for basic Canadian activities.

The Province can change it, at no cost to them, and with potential savings for us.

No one doubts that the Province is tackling its deficit.

The budget covered a lot of ground.

The budget speech itself is 18 pages; the budget paper is 343 pages and the Budget Bill – the legislation to enact the budget is 200 pages including 61 Schedules.

And AMO staff has combed through it all.  Not many can say this!

On April 16, members received a document called, “A Deeper Dive Analysis of the Budget” and what it means for the sector.

We followed it with a document called, “Provincial In-Year Funding Reductions”.  

It contains additional information on matters such as the $200 million reduction to the provincial support to public health.  

And as of today, there is no further information on the specific amounts, which will be sent to each board.

There is also no information on the “modernization” of public health and the government’s plan to move to 10 autonomous boards.

Across Ontario, dedicated men and women ensure the wellbeing of people in their communities.

These services are cost shared with the province.

And delivered in a way that is tailored to local needs.

This feels at risk.

In addition, we know the exposure that municipal governments and property taxpayers experience when special purpose bodies – these “autonomous entities” – levy costs.

Neither of these situations is comfortable.

We know ambulance service has vastly improved from the day it was downloaded. We know because of the investments we made.

At the time of the download about 20 years ago, Mike Harris said that municipal governments can deliver services better than the province.  

On this point, he had no argument.

Today, it seems we need to ask:

Can larger, regionalized services deliver the same or better results?

How can performance and accountability be achieved with “autonomous entities”?

If property taxes are still funding services  – how can we achieve “say for pay” ?

If there is no direct accountability to municipal governments or property taxpayers - what will transparency look like for municipal taxpayers who pick up the tab?  

These are just a few of the questions that change in the budget are generating.

For some time now, AMO has been focused on municipal government’s financial challenges.

I know how important government transfers are to you. For some, transfers are your lifeline, including the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund.

As I said before, we are learning about some changes in funding. They hurt in so many ways.

Provincial cuts and freezes all point to the insecurity inherent in any government transfers.

It points to the vulnerability of ‘cost-shared services’ like social assistance, child care, housing, public health and paramedics.

We also see that infrastructure grant programs can be changed, delayed or ended. OCIF is one example.

I sympathize with the pressure we will soon see to address the new gaps and in-year cuts for 2019.

What projects in the capital plan for 2019 might not proceed?  What is the public risk if they don’t?

Should you invest in improvements now, or wait?

I know these and other questions are on your minds.

There is a statement in the provincial budget that stands out for me.

The budget paper explicitly says that changes and costs need to be sustainable for both orders of government.

This is a critical measure for us. We are consolidating impacts. We are looking at solutions.

We do need your help in understanding your local impacts, because it will be different in different places.
 
Let me put this into context.  

In 2018, the province distributed almost $134 billion dollars to its transfer partners.

Municipal governments got about $4 billion.

Hospitals, schools, universities and colleges, to name a few, got $130 billion.

We get a small percentage of some very big numbers.

But those relatively small transfers have a huge impact locally for you.

Others in the broader public sector – schools, universities, and others – all are seeing cost impacts.

I doubt that is of much comfort, but we need to acknowledge it.

For many of you, an important part of the transfer is the OMPF.
 
The Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund’s transition portion was slightly down by $5 million, so the OMPF is at $505 million for 2019.  The OMPF is also to be reviewed for future years.

Many of you rely on it to deliver basic services.  Did I mention that it is under provincial review?

The 50 per cent reduction to the $7.4 million Hazard Program grant program to Conservation Authorities is causing concern and will have different impacts in different places.  

Against the backdrop of this year’s disastrous flooding and the media footage of previous years - it seems counter intuitive.

But I also think it indicates the resolve of this government to fix its fiscal health.

We have been able to count on some financial help from the federal government, particularly Canada’s Gas Tax Fund.

It was put in place in 2006 because we had so much to fix and replace. And the federal government knows that investing in municipal infrastructure is an investment in Canada’s prosperity.

For 443 municipal governments, it means about $650 million this year.   

And the federal budget, if passed, will top up that amount – doubling it for 2019.

Its importance is becoming even more apparent now.

We know that a total of $200 million is being taken out of the province’s Ontario Community Infrastructure Fund for 2018 and 2019.

This is the grant portion of the $300 million annual provincial program to help municipal governments with population under 100,000.

We know that water and wastewater projects for the smallest municipal governments won’t be receiving money now through the grant portion.

That’s why we are advocating that the federal-Ontario Green Fund open sooner than later. And the culture and recreation fund too.

Feel free to add your voices to ours. Timing is crucial.

So many small and rural communities across Ontario have a very limited tax base.

For almost half of Ontario’s municipal governments, a one per cent property tax increase raises less than $50,000.

That isn’t a surprise to most of you.

A lot of you have come through a tough budget season.  

You sharpened your pencils.

Municipalities are lean because they have to be with only 9 cents of every household tax dollar. That is our reality.

Sometimes that means we just don’t have the money to invest in new ways of doing business.  

That is why we welcomed the $200 million to help small municipal governments ‘modernize.’

The fund is flexible. With the provincial budget cuts to us, it may need to be used differently than when you received it in March.

Together, we deliver many of the services that make communities strong.

We build the infrastructure needed to grow the economy.

We’ve all come through the task of passing our local budgets.

For newcomers on Council, it’s sobering.

There is so much to do, with so few dollars.

Every year we look for savings and ways to do more with less.

Will there be more changes coming?  Likely.

No doubt some will be welcome, and some won’t be.

Change doesn’t have to be bad.

But it has to be done thoughtfully, calmly and with a clear sense of the goal.

It needs to be based on good information and an eye for the details.

Without that, then there are unintended consequences.  

Change needs to be done with respect.

Municipal governments have been innovating and doing more with less for many years.

And if no one has thanked you lately – let me!  

Thank you for all your work. And for supporting AMO.

Here is what you can expect from us, as changes come.

AMO will remain focused – that does not mean we won’t have some heart palpations!

We will be firm, and direct, when needed.

We will praise positive developments.

And we’ll be equally clear on those that are not.

Minister Clark knows this already.

I respect our working relationship.

And other ministers are learning too.

They need to appreciate that if we disagree, they need to keep the door open.

Two-way communication is vital.

This is what you else you can expect from AMO.  

When there are new developments, we push information out - by email and on our Twitter feed.

We cannot harness your voices if you are not plugged in.

Your relationships with MPPs – that’s our boots on the ground.

Have a question? Drop us an email or call our toll-free number: 1-877-426-6527. Let me repeat it --- 1-877-426-6527.  

Because as I said at the outset, we are all connected.

We are so much stronger when we work together and speak with a united voice.

Thank you.