Opening Remarks: Association of Municipalities of Ontario








Good morning.  Each year, this conference provides a great expression of what AMO is.  AMO isn’t a thing… or a head office.  AMO is a meeting place for community leaders.  Some are municipal leaders.  Some are MPPs, MPs, government ministers and senior public servants.

AMO is our meeting place.  AMO is also an effort.  It’s an effort to achieve more.

When we succeed, our communities succeed.  And when our communities succeed, Ontario succeeds.  That is why we meet every year – as we have for more than a century.

A hundred years ago, my predecessor would have declared that this conference was being held at an important time.  We’ve been saying that ever since… and it’s always been true.

As Ontario has grown, the importance of municipal government has grown.  At the forefront isn’t a slogan.  It’s truly a fact.

Ontario has municipal governments that are larger than provinces.  And as an order of government, we are responsible for most of the infrastructure and services that people use most often.

Our relationship with our provincial and federal partners has also grown.  As Don Drummond noted, Ontario’s provincial and municipal government are remarkably “intertwined.”  And in recent years, Ontario municipalities have built direct relationships and formal agreements with the federal government – something else that sets Ontario’s municipalities apart.

We are honoured to welcome Premier Wynne tomorrow.  It will be one of her first major appearances since the June election.  Interest in what she says will extend far beyond the walls of this Convention Centre.

Most of Ontario’s cabinet is here – as they should be.  You will have an opportunity to pepper them with questions directly, through the Ministers Forum.

Many of you are here for delegation meetings with these Ministers and senior Ministry staff.  In fact, about 400 delegation meetings are scheduled over the next three days.

AMO is an opportunity for us all to work in partnership.

We extend that offer to every Premier, and we will be looking for reassurance that it is being accepted by Premier Wynne and her colleagues.

Over the past decade, we’ve enjoyed an unprecedented period of cooperation between our two orders of government.  We have cooperated on key initiatives, such as economic stimulus efforts.  For every dollar that the provincial and federal governments invested in infrastructure, Ontario’s municipalities kicked in a dollar – or more.  Our Federal and Provincial peers know that they can partner with municipalities on infrastructure investment and economic stimulus.

In 2008, we completed a joint plan to ensure that Ontario’s provincial and municipal governments can both meet their responsibilities.  Under that agreement, the Province committed to take back responsibility for funding the Ontario Government’s social service programs and court security by 2018.  We committed to being patient.  We continue to send property taxes, albeit a smaller amount, to fund provincial services while they manage the transition, even though it constrains us.

In 2014 the upload is worth $1.56 billion.  This is more than original estimates – because social service costs increased to meet growing needs.  Imagine what it would have meant for us if we didn’t get that agreement back in 2008.

Social housing continues to exposes us to risks, however, province-wide, municipalities have dodged a costly bullet.  Since 2008, a total of $6.1 billion net of OMPF has been uploaded.

If we didn’t have the Agreement, municipalities would have sent another $1.26 billion in municipal revenue to the province this year.

From the Province’s perspective, Ministers and staff may believe that they are the most supportive government that municipalities have had in decades.  From our perspective, we need to know that the commitments that we made to one another in 2008 are just as strong today and tomorrow.

And I’m not just talking about the upload schedule.  The fiscal review was more than a spreadsheet.  It is a commitment – to work together in the interest of our communities and our province.

Increasingly, Ontario municipalities have been hit with some painful surprises.

The Ministry of Finance gave us a $10 million surprise, when a planned OMPF cut jumped to $35 million, instead of $25 million.  Also, the special dam payment change was cut – to our surprise.  The Province started to provide this ‘dam’ money years ago, after they removed municipal ability to tax them. Some of you aren’t sure how you will manage without it.

Then there is the change in OPP billing, led by the OPP and the Ministry of Safety and Correctional Services. Most of you are dealing with that.

The Ministry of Labour surprised us with presumptive WSIB coverage for emergency services.

The Ministry of Health increased wages for Personal Care Workers.

That is just a partial list.

$5 million… $10 million… $15 million. These are relatively small numbers at Queen’s Park.  And from time to time, we hear provincial officials say, the province’s uploads have provided plenty of room for municipalities to absorb new costs.  Well… the Province agreed to pay its own bills so that municipal property taxes could be freed up to fund municipal programs and services.  In other words, the gap that the upload agreement created is our gap – and it is needed to ensure that municipal governments can make ends meet.

Secondly, small numbers matter to municipalities.

A one per cent tax increase generates less than $50,000 in revenue for more than half of Ontario’s municipalities.  Cancelling special dam payments would reduce the Provincial Budget by less than 0.000002 per cent. [zero point zero, zero, zero, zero, zero, two per cent]  Meanwhile, the impact on hard hit municipalities is equal to a double digit tax increase.

We saw the same effect with the OPP’s original billing model proposal.  Some municipalities were looking at property tax increases of 40 per cent.

Ontario has deficit reduction targets of $4 billion in 2015, $4 billion in 2016 and $5 billion in 2017.

Does Ontario also have a plan to manage the cumulative impacts of the changes that it makes?  That was the commitment that we made to one another back in 2008.

We worked together to ensure that all Ontario governments can meet their respective responsibilities. That should still be the goal of those who care about the health and well-being of Ontario’s communities.

During the election, we were assured that Premier Wynne’s government would share that philosophy.  It would work in partnership with municipal government… support long-term planning… and help us to manage costs.

Our Memorandum of Understanding – or MOU process – already provides a framework for cooperation.  We just need to make sure it’s being used – and it must have greater emphasis on long-term planning, and that includes the fiscal framework.  It is an important part of the federal-provincial dialogue.  So too is the fiscal framework between the provincial and municipal orders of government.

We don’t have to work from scratch – much is ready.  The barriers to improving fine collection under the Provincial Offences Act are gone.  Let’s get that done… and done tomorrow.

We need to regain control over insurance costs, by placing fair and reasonable limits on municipal liability.  This week the Ontario government informed AMO that it would not act on this.  That does nothing to change the fact that a legal convention – called Joint and Several Liability – is being abused to by lawyers to raid municipal property taxes.

It’s immoral and wrong.

Other provinces have introduced sensible limits on municipal liability and protections for property tax payers.  We won’t stop until we get that done.  We are looking for changes to the Ontario Municipal Board.  The depth of people’s pockets shouldn’t dictate what goes before the OMB.

We need waste diversion legislation that respects municipal governments.

We need to reign in policing costs.  Ontario has the highest policing costs in Canada.  We need to re-think how we deliver policing – and we need to restore confidence in Ontario’s interest arbitration system.  When it comes to wage and benefit increases, police and fire are in a class of their own.

It’s not fair to others… and it’s not sustainable.

While we are at it, Ontario’s Legislature should support double hatter fire fighters.  Professional fire fighters who volunteer in their home towns on their free time should be applauded.  We shouldn’t turn a blind eye as their union threatens them with dismissal.

AMO works on these priorities and dozens more on behalf of Ontario’s municipalities.  Information about all of our work is available on our website.  Be informed.  Read every email we send because we need your voices locally.

As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

AMO has spoken up for more than a century – but we are only as strong as you make us.

You belong to AMO because you need the support of your neighbours – and because our neighbours need your support.  Our support for one another will be tested.

We expect to face challenges that could divide us – the 2014 Provincial election delivered a geographically divided result.  This presents challenges for the Ontario Government – we do not need this to be the municipal sector’s challenge.

Some of you may sit on councils that are deeply divided; places where debates are acrimonious and it’s difficult to achieve progress.  Some of you are luckier.  You serve on councils where colleagues set aside personal differences and work together, to achieve the changes your community needs.

That’s what AMO strives to be.

Members set aside their differences and focus on what they share in common.  We work together, wherever we can, to achieve as much progress as possible for Ontario’s municipal community.

Sometimes it’s easy.  Sometimes it isn’t.  But the effort is better than the alternative.  When we work together we can accomplish a great deal.  When we don’t, the Ontario Government tends to act unilaterally.

I want to thank my Board colleagues for the time and effort that they have dedicated to this role.  It’s a significant commitment – and it’s important.

We want AMO’s Board to be as strong – and as representative – as it can be.  The Association is only as strong as you all make us.

The Board is supported by excellent staff.  I appreciate the support that they have provided to me over the past two years.  My Mayor and Council in the City of Hamilton have also made my term possible.  All past Presidents told me the same thing: the workload is greater than you think it will be.  They were right.  You cannot do this job well if you don’t have the support of your Council colleagues.  I thank them – and I am preparing to bid farewell to them.

After 32 years, I am not seeking re-election to Hamilton Council this Fall.

To those of you who will be on a ballot, I wish you luck.  You are here today because you care about your communities – and because you want to help them to succeed.

Once again, on behalf of AMO, we hope that this year’s conference serves you well.


Russ Powers is the AMO President.  The speech was delivered today at the 2014 Annual AMO Conference being held in London, Ontario.

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