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

Best Western Pembroke Inn and Conference Centre
Copeland/MacKay Room
Pembroke, Ontario

Friday, May 3, 2019
8:45 – 9:00 a.m.


(Final as delivered)


Thank you for the warm welcome.

I would of course like to thank our dual hosts, Renfrew County and the City of Pembroke, which is the home of various Anishinaabeg peoples and located in the Algonquin land claim area.

I want to acknowledge that our host, Pembroke and Renfrew County have been coping with the flood situation along with others on the Ottawa River and its tributaries.  

We’ve also seen the pictures of the Muskoka River system and the devastation along its shores.

Across Ontario, 16 mayors are heading emergency management situations, providing leadership and comfort, rallying their community members, and in some cases, working with the help of our military.

Municipal staff give their all too.  Not just supporting the emergency management situation, but making sure all services continue to be available to everyone, whether in the flood areas or not.  

Flooding brings both a physical and an emotional toll – for those directed impacted by the flooding and those working to keep people safe.

That toll is not just during the event, but in the days after. This can be even tougher as people want to return to ‘normal’ fast.  

The times are not easy.  No one here is immune from change.

I have attended many OSUM Conferences as a member of the small urban caucus.  Like you, looking at a podium speaker.

This is my first as AMO President, which brings with it a new perspective.

Last week, I was in Thunder Bay for the northwestern municipal conference, and next week I head to Sudbury for a gathering of those in the northeast.

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

I drove up to Thunder Bay and then drove here.

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

You see our wonderful diversity.

The scenery changes. Communities are different. Yet 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 from speakers but also what is on your minds.

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

If I said things have been quiet – you’d know I was being sarcastic.

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

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. 

You are well represented by your chair, Mayor Graydon Smith.

I also want to recognize other members of AMO’s small urban caucus:
  • Tweed Mayor Jo-Anne Albert;
  • Councillor Mason Ainsworth of Orillia;
  • Councillor Bob Kwapis of Newmarket;
  • Leamington Mayor Hilda MacDonald; and
  • Larry McCabe, the CAO of Goderich.
Together, they bring a thoughtful and considered small urban lens to our discussions as part of 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.

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.  

Three weeks 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.  

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 to come?

We saw the More Housing: More Choice announcement yesterday.  It too held some welcomed changes as well as some that are disappointing.

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%.

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

Yesterday’s legislation reflects months of consultation by the Minister.  Is it everything we would wish for?  I think developers can ask that same question.  Watch for AMO’s in-depth review which will come out early next week.

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.

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

I know a lot of you have questions about what the budget means for you.  Let me address it – both its ups and downs.

We see progress with a dedicated investment 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 also 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.

I know the Eastern Ontario Regional Network has a project ready to go to improve cell service.

SWIFT has a plan to fill broadband gaps in southwestern Ontario.

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

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 tobogganing and road hockey. We’re fighting for basic Canadian activities.

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

Joint and several is one of those consultations on municipal matters that I mentioned, as is property assessment review, immigration and infrastructure program design, among others.

No one doubts that the Province is tackling its deficit.
 
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 some additional information on matters such as the $200 million reduction to the provincial support to public health.  And as of today, there is no additional 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 tax payers experience when special purpose bodies - “autonomous entities levy costs.

Neither situations are comfortable.  

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

Public health is integrated with other social services to help people and meet community needs.

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 be achieved with “autonomous entities”?

If property taxes are still part of the service funding equation – how can say for pay be achieved?  And,

Can the exposure of property tax payers be protected in a structure that has no direct accountability with municipal governments or their taxpayers?

These are just a few of the questions that the changes brought by 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’ such as social assistance, child care, housing, public health and EMS.

We also see infrastructure grant programs can be changed, delayed or ended.   

I sympathize with the pressure we will soon see to find a way to address the gaps somehow for 2019.

What projects in the capital plan for 2019 might not proceed?  Will public risk increase if they can’t proceed?

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 this is of much comfort but we need to acknowledge it.

For many, 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 – the cut seems counter intuitive.  

It may be an indication of the resolve of the government to fix its own 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.

We 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 provincial program to help municipal governments under 100,000 population.

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.

We also know that the planned increase to the Ontario Transit Fund – which some towns receive, is also not going to happen notwithstanding the earlier commitment.

You and I both know that smaller communities across Ontario have a very limited tax base.

Yesterday, you heard that a one per cent property tax increase raises less than $50,000 for almost half of Ontario’s municipal governments.

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 budget’s impact, 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 problem needing a solution.

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 become more apparent.

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 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 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. Call our toll-free number: 1-877-426-6527.  Let me repeat it --- 1-877-426-6527.  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.