02/28/2012

Remarks for Bill Vrebosch, Chair, Rural Ontario Municipal Association (ROMA), 2012 ROMA/OGRA Conference, February 28, 2012. Fairmont Royal York Hotel. Toronto, Ontario
 Check Against Delivery

 

Good morning everyone… I hope that you are enjoying the conference.

ROMA values our partnership with OGRA and is a pleasure to co-host it with them.

We owe a lot to the staffs at AMO and OGRA who work so hard to make it easy for us all to be here – and to focus on the opportunities it creates.

These are challenging times, no matter where you are in the world.

Ontario has not escaped this.

However, in our rural and Northern communities, the challenges started earlier, lasted longer, and cut more deeply. We also know that it will probably be more difficult for us to turn our communities around.

Some of you drove long distances to join us – and too many of you passed empty store fronts, idle factories and vacant houses. That is why we are here. 

Our communities have a rich heritage. We are proud of our history and our traditions. And we are proud of where we come from. 

More than ever, our neighbours are counting on us to create jobs, strengthen local economies and address challenges – such as maintaining essential infrastructure.

We need our Provincial and Federal colleagues to work with us – and we are pleased that the Premier reconfirmed his commitment to that. 

There is no escaping that we need help to maintain our infrastructure. 

Sooner or later, investments must be made to maintain and replace roads, bridges and water systems. 

You can only put it off for so long. 

Our needs will get to the crisis point. Some of you are already there. 

We already have situations where municipalities fear the need to close bridges because they cannot afford to meet safety standards. 

We stretched ourselves to the limit to provide our third of the economic stimulus investments. 

However, we did that with the expectation that the Province’s upload agreement and the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund was going to be there for us. 

The Drummond Commission’s Report has proposed that these should be watered down and trimmed back. The report also looks at the two separately. 

Uploading and OMPF are linked. Under the Agreement we signed, OMPF funding goes down as the uploads go up. 

Drummond makes 360 other cost-saving recommendations that they can explore – and I bet there are 100 more in this room. 

Again, I’m pleased that the Premier is willing to work with us. 

By necessity, we know a thing or two about stretching tax dollars. 

We have also known that when it comes to service delivery, efficiency is as important as funding. 

We need to ensure that policies and programs are practical for northern and rural communities. 

ROMA and AMO have already told the Premier that we are keen to make sure that good value for taxpayers is being achieved whenever we are asked to fill out reports, paper work or applications. 

We also have legitimate concerns when it comes to the implementation of the Source Water Protection Act, the Species at Risk Act, the Pits and Quarries Act and the Northern Growth Plan, the Green Energy Act, rural child care and employment training. 

You all know I could go on. 

There isn’t a delegate in this room that hasn’t been frustrated by the need to apply another community’s solution to their local problem. 

More than ever, our governments need to work together to strengthen rural communities – and create new economic opportunities – so that Ontario can thrive and succeed.

So we have not only come here to learn. We have also come here to meet with our Provincial colleagues – and to communicate what’s needed in Tillsonburg, Timmins and Timiskaming. 

(Pause) 

It’s not always easy... 

In the fall of 2011, ROMA released A Voice for Rural and Northern Ontario, our updated rural and northern discussion paper. 

It provides a simple guide that the Province should use when developing policies and programs for our communities. 

It explains why our communities have to be viewed though a different lens – and it helps them to do that. 

AMO helped us to develop and promote the paper. It is available at the AMO booth, and on the front page of our website and theirs. 

I encourage you to get a copy and to share it. 

We are not just here to learn. We are also here to teach. 

We have to stay on their radar and that’s why we at ROMA will continue to bring a strong rural voice to any discussions. 

If we don’t blow our horn, history has shown that we will be left out or ignored. 

I encourage you to visit the AMO booth, pick up a copy of our paper, and learn what’s involved in the rural and northern municipal discussion. 

During this afternoon’s program, ROMA is pleased to present a concurrent session that will explore key highlights in A Voice for Rural and Northern Ontario

The session will place several initiatives under the Northern and Rural Lens, show you how provincial policies and programs impact rural communities and how those impacts can be addressed in ways that reflect the uniqueness of our rural and northern communities. 

I know that many of you have pressing issues of one kind or another. 

That is why we appreciate the need to keep doors open and maintain a good relationship with everyone at Queen’s Park. 

The alternative to working with the government is standing outside on the lawn and shouting at closed doors.

I’ve done that before. I stood there, angry, waving my sign around. 

The whole time I thought to myself, "there has to be a better way." 

There is – and you are looking at it. 

This conference is designed to be a vehicle to facilitate partnerships, share success stories, and inspire positive change. 

It doesn’t happen overnight and we don’t get everything we want. But we have achieved quite a bit over the years and we need to keep grinding away in the most productive way that we can. 

Once again, I’d like to thank all the speakers and presenters, as well as the delegates in attendance. You have made it a success