Remarks for AMO President Jamie McGarvey
2019 NOMA Conference
Victoria Inn & Conference Centre, Embassy Room, Thunder Bay
Wednesday, April 24, 2019
11:20 a.m.

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Thank you for the warm welcome. I am grateful to be in Thunder Bay, located in Robinson-Superior Treaty territory and the traditional lands of the Anishinaabe and of Métis peoples.

It is a pleasure to be here for my first NOMA Conference as AMO President.

Next week I head to Pembroke, and then it’s on to Sudbury the following week.

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

You really come to appreciate just how big Ontario is.

In fact, that is why I decided to make the drive from Parry Sound to Thunder Bay.

To see our wonderful diversity.

And the many things that hold us together.

Like the inland waters that link the port in Thunder Bay to the St. Lawrence Seaway, hundreds of kilometers away.  

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

I’ve learned as AMO President that we have a lot in common.

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

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 they 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.

And I can assure you that my colleagues from northwestern Ontario are not shy.

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

You are well represented by Wendy Landry, from Shuniah.

She does double duty as a Mayor – and an Indigenous leader.

In addition to her role as NOMA Chair, Mayor Landry leads AMO’s Indigenous Relations Task Force – just one of many working groups AMO depends on.

Marathon Mayor Rick Dumas and Doug Lawrance, Mayor of Sioux Lookout, are valued members who bring a thoughtful, northern lens to our discussions too.

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.

Together we reflect a good cross section of Ontario.

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

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.

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.

Less than two weeks ago, the Province tabled its 2019 budget.

It is called “Protecting What Matters Most.”

I have to ask, what matters most to people in your community?

I bet a lot of the services that you provide every day matter quite a lot.

Municipal governments provide most of the services that people use most often – from the moment they wake up to the moment they go to bed.

So that’s the lens AMO takes with this budget.

I can tell you that AMO representatives and staff are hard at work advocating for your interests in front of Ministers and their staff.

And also, behind the scenes.

We’re having a lot of meaningful conversations with the Province.

And there will be a lot more.

In fact, there are nearly two dozen consultations and reviews on municipal interests underway or about to start.

The government’s doors are open to us, and we appreciate that.  

At the same time, it is a simple equation – municipal governments are the frontline. Our knowledge, our insight, our interests and concerns – should be shared.

It benefits the work of the province.
19 of Ontario’s 23 ministries regulate municipal government.

It keeps us busy on a broad range of policy files.

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

We are two subway stops away from them, every day  – because you can’t be.

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 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 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.  

We’ve got a big gap to fix – we need to move quickly on this.

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.

This is a good example of how the Province can achieve more by looking at the big picture.
These kinds of changes are critical because they help us manage ever-rising costs.

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 is 18 pages; the budget paper is 343 and the Budget Bill itself – 200 pages including 61 Schedules.

And AMO staff has combed through it all.  

Last week, we shared with your, our members, a deep dive into the budget and what it means for the sector.

It documents what’s in the government’s plan that will have a direct impact on you, such as the restructuring of public health and ambulance services.  

It also includes some specific interests for the north, like broadband, mining development and forestry.

We stand with you because a strong north makes for a strong province.

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.  

And I sympathize that government transfers are not secure or predictable – and that grant programs can come and go or be changed.
The provincial budget explicitly says that changes and costs need to be sustainable for both orders of government.
That  is critical.
Municipal governments receive about 3 per cent of the Ontario government’s total transfer payments.

To be specific, in 2018, the province distributed almost $134 billion dollars to its transfer partners.

Municipal governments got about $4 billion – around 3 per cent of the total.
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.

They are essential to Ontario’s 444 municipal governments.

And that means, they are essential to the future of this great province.

An important part of transfer to municipal governments is the OMPF.

The Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund was slightly down at $505 million for 2019.

Many of you rely on it to deliver basic services.  

If I passed the mic around, each table could offer examples of its importance.

But I know better than to give a mic to a politician!

Seriously – please take me aside while I am here and share some concrete examples of its importance. It is one of the items under provincial review.  

Please equip me with local northern examples.

I can guarantee you that AMO will continue to voice just how essential the fund is to so many municipal governments.

The 50 per cent reduction in the Hazard Program grant program is another case in point.  

Conservation Authorities across Ontario use the $7.4 million transfer to protect life and property from natural hazards like flooding and erosion.

It is causing concern across all CAs – including the ones in northern Ontario.

We also get transfers from the federal government, particularly Canada’s Gas Tax Fund.

It knows that investing in municipal infrastructure is an investment in Canada’s prosperity.

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

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

On the flipside, we also know that a total of $200 million is being taken out of the Ontario Community Infrastructure Fund for 2018 and 2019.

This is the grant portion of the $300 million annual program.

We know that some of the 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. Many small municipal governments only have one, or at most, two possible projects. Timing is crucial.

We all know this about northern Ontario – your construction season is shorter.  

That has to count too.
AMO estimates that in all, Ontario municipal governments face a $4.9 billion annual gap.
That’s the amount that we need, every year for ten years, on top of the existing federal and provincial transfers, to continue delivering today’s services and close the infrastructure gap.
Like small and rural communities across Ontario, many northern communities 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 are sharpening your pencils. You are reviewing your core services.

Municipalities are lean because they have to be.

Sometimes that means we just don’t have the money to invest in business processes and systems.

To the Province’s credit, they’ve distributed $200 million to help small municipal governments ‘modernize.’

It’s a word we are hearing frequently.

This funding is a clear and singular opportunity to invest in changes that can help us be more efficient and cut costs.

The fund is flexible. But make no mistake, it is in our interest to demonstrate success.

You may not know this, but when passed, the provincial budget bill will no longer permit any future surpluses to be distributed as such. Invest it wisely.    

AMO plans to share best practices. We want to hear your success stories, so we can share them – with one another and with the Province.

We’ve even set up an email, modernization-at-AMO dot O-N dot C-A   to make it easy for you to do so.
Municipal governments are the front line. We know our communities best.
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.

There will be more changes coming.
Some will be welcome.

Some won’t be.

Change doesn’t have to be bad.

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

It needs to be based on good information and an eye for the details. That’s usually where unintended consequences come in.

It needs to be done with respect, with credit given where credit is due.

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

We know this because AMO has been at this government relations work for 120 years.

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 be equally as clear with those that are not.

Minister Clark knows this.

He is not just a former mayor. He is also a former AMO President.

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.

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

To you – the membership: We cannot harness your voices into one powerful and honest reflection of Ontario’s municipal community, if you are not plugged in.

Please stay connected with AMO and our work.

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.

I’m now pleased to turn it over to Matthew Wilson, Senior Policy Advisor at AMO, to share more about some of AMO’s advocacy work on your behalf.

Thank you and enjoy the conference.