It is great to be here with you in London.
I am so pleased to be back at this conference with you for the twelfth time! I have been at AMO every summer since I was first elected. I first came here as a Parliamentary Assistant, then as the Minister of Education and as Transportation Minister, and only two years ago, I was here as Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing and Aboriginal Affairs.
AMO is something I look forward to every summer. The opportunity to learn from you and the important discussions that take place here are fundamental to the way I approach my work.
I know the same goes for my colleagues from Queen’s Park, and I am pleased to be joined by many of them today. My friend and one of London’s most passionate advocates, Deb Matthews, is here. As Deputy Premier and in her new role as President of the Treasury Board, Deb is leading our government towards more openness, accountability and modernization. And I am so pleased that Deb has taken charge of our poverty reduction strategy. It is a crucial piece of what we are building together. Deb’s experience and compassion are a great strength as we prepare to launch our second five-year reduction plan.
Yesterday you heard from Ted McMeekin, our new Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing. Ted has a long history of serving his community, both provincially and municipally. I first met Ted in the ‘90s when he was the Mayor of Flamborough. He understands how our two orders of government can support each other to build communities up. And as you heard yesterday, Ted is truly excited about building partnerships with you and working together to build up our communities. Ted also spoke about his first involvement in politics, as Hamilton’s youngest city councillor.
I’m going to start somewhere similar, by going back to when you first became involved – because I want to thank you for making that leap into public life. Thank you for putting yourself forward to be a leader in your community. When you put your name on the ballot, you put everything aside and a lot on the line. You open yourself up to criticism that is not always fair. There are frustrating times when you feel you are not being heard, and moments when the challenges seem so great and so many that you wonder how you ever believed that you could make a difference.
But you are heard. And you do make a difference. I know what a difference you are making because I see it all the time, all over Ontario. Since becoming Premier, I have been to 106 ridings, the four compass points of the province and most places in between. I’m there to see you, to meet with your local business leaders, to listen to your neighbours as they talk about their hopes for the future, to find out what your council is doing to attract investment or house the homeless. I’m there to share our plans, hear yours and find ways that we can do more if we work together.
On these trips I learn something new about our province at every turn. Your challenges and solutions can be as varied as the geography that separates your communities, but I see this as part of the magic that makes Ontario work – that we are blessed with such diverse regions, each with different talents. It is an asset we cannot passively rely on. So I try to get away from Queen’s Park when I can.
In an hour on Talbot Street in St. Thomas, I can learn so much about Ontario and the different paths to our bright future. The same goes for an hour-long meeting with tech leaders in Ottawa, or a fish-fry lunch in Marten Falls. Every region has strengths we need to build on and weaknesses we need to address. But we have already come a long way together.
Over twelve years of working with you, here at AMO and then throughout the year, I know without a doubt that it took every part of Ontario to get us where we are today, and it is going to take every part of the province to take us where we want to go.
I’ve just mentioned mainstreeting, a timely reminder that many of you are busy preparing for municipal elections this fall. I like elections for the same reason I like spending time in different places all over Ontario. Setting aside the mudslinging and bromides that litter the modern campaign trail, elections create profound connections within the community. We learn about the experiences of so many individuals, openly share ideas that we think will strengthen the community. And, although differences of opinion will remain, we ultimately select a path forward together, whether as a province, a community of 100,000 or a village of 100.
Elections help us understand each other, our collective challenges, our common purposes and the ways we think government can help people and communities thrive.
We saw this during the provincial election. As you know, that election only happened when it did because the Opposition would not support our budget and economic plan for Ontario. And during the election, two starkly different visions emerged. Ours stated that government is a force for good. We asked people to support our vision of government as an active, centred partner in building opportunity in their lives and building thriving, healthy communities. That’s what I ran on. It is what we were elected to deliver. And it is what we are beginning to deliver now that we are back at work and we have passed our budget.
So yes, the budget and the economic plan that people chose on June 12 is going to mean something in your communities – because that is the job we believe in and the job we were asked to do. It’s not some academic piece of provincial policy separated from the reality of day-to-day life. Every line in our budget is about making day-to-day life better for people in every part of Ontario – today and ten years from today.
We made a commitment to build Ontario up today and secure the future. It meant making some difficult choices in writing our budget. We stuck to the 2017-18 path to eliminating the deficit, and we committed to a number of investments to help people succeed and grow the economy. That means there are still going to be difficult moments – but, as I’ve said, we have made a lot of the hard choices already. The task now is to work together to make sure we deliver – and to do this while staying on the fiscal path we have laid out.
I’m reminded of a meeting I had with a group of mayors not long ago. One of them gave a fairly long presentation about how their community needed an investment in infrastructure – then in the very next breath said, “But you’ve got to balance the budget faster.” Our plan doesn’t dance around this tension. We’re coming straight at it. Yes, we need to eliminate the deficit on time – and that will entail fiscal restraint today, right now. And yes, we need to invest in sustainable economic growth today, right now. But these priorities do not compete. Together, the path to balance and the investments in growth take us where we need to go, to an Ontario where a healthy, growing economy and a balanced budget mean government can keep investing in people and communities, and to keep building a fair and prosperous society for everyone, in every region.
We can and must work together to do both – and I think yesterday’s announcement should give us all cause for optimism. I was with Minister Leal to announce that we are bringing greater predictability to your infrastructure budgets through the new Ontario Community Infrastructure Fund. Going forward, half of the $100-million-per-year fund for small, rural and northern communities will be distributed using a formula, so that you can plan your infrastructure projects over a longer term. This is important to all communities, but especially in the north, where the geography and harsher climate put added pressure on infrastructure budgets.
The fund itself is a telling example of how much more we are able to do for our communities by working with each other. It came into being and then was made permanent because of your advice to me, and to my team. Also with your requests in mind, we worked with the federal government to align the Small Communities Fund with the Ontario Community Infrastructure Fund. We want your resources to go towards your community and not to provincial paperwork. And we heard your calls for urgency loud and clear. Both funds are now open for applications. So let’s build on this success as we embark on a ten-year, $130 billion investment in public infrastructure across Ontario.
We are committed to investments that will grow our economy, so infrastructure is a critical pillar of our economic plan. We all know that businesses making investment decisions look closely at whether goods can flow freely and quickly, and that efficient transportation is vital to closing our productivity gap with key competitors. For too long we have relied on infrastructure built as far back as the postwar period. Aging, failing or inadequate infrastructure limits economic growth and poses a threat to community safety. And as Nik Nanos reminded us yesterday, it is painfully clear that people can’t afford to waste any more time stuck in traffic as they try to get to work or home, or get their kids to soccer or hockey practice.
It is time to shake off the timid approach of the past. It is time to unclog our highways and give people the transit options they need. That is why we will invest nearly $29 billion over the next decade in highways, transit, roads and bridges, and other critical infrastructure all across Ontario. Working with you, we will allocate this amount fairly, based on population. By creating a separate fund for the GTHA, we will ensure that the people of Wawa and Windsor see their share of the investment going to new roads and bridges in their region of Ontario.
On top of all this, we are bearing witness to a changing climate. Increasingly extreme weather events are putting added pressure on our infrastructure and on our responsibility to take action. In my short time as Premier, I have visited too many communities that have felt the impact of severe weather: flooding in Belleville, in Thunder Bay, in Rainy River; a tornado in Angus; inches of ice covering the Golden Horseshoe. Seeing first-hand the devastation, the business plans halted, the lives shattered and the strain this puts on municipalities firms my resolve to take action. Of course, we have the action we take through ODRAP. When disaster strikes, we are there on the ground with you right away, and working to help you rebuild long after. That is how we respond to disaster. But we also need to be partners in reducing the instances of catastrophe altogether.
With the new Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change, we will take the next steps to coordinate our mitigation strategies, and we will find ways to adapt and make our communities more resilient to extreme and unpredictable weather.
We have already done a lot to lead. All of the hard work that went into closing Ontario’s coal-fired electricity plants and improving conservation and energy efficiency is beginning to pay off. But we can’t rest on past successes. There is so much more to do.
Delivering this economic plan is a challenge that I know we are up to, but it is going to come down to how we work together. So before I conclude, I want to talk about how we work together as partners.
We talk a lot about our partnerships, so what does that mean? I have three defining criteria. I have always viewed partners as people who work together on long-term projects. We do that.
Partners are also respectful of one another, or else the partnership wouldn’t last very long. When I say respect, I am not talking about manners. I am referring to a true appreciation for the perspective each partner brings to the table, a desire to really understand the ideas of others. Again, we fit the bill. I love the perspective that municipal leaders bring to the issues we are all confronting, whether as citizens or politicians. You are so very close to the services and programs that change lives and build futures. It is what gives you a special insight, one I am pleased to have an abundance of in caucus and cabinet. My caucus shares more than 240 years of experience in municipal government. We have former Mayors, Deputy Mayors, Town Councillors, City Councillors, Regional Councillors and Reeves. And they care just as deeply about the municipal perspective as they did when they first ran locally.
Finally, I think partnerships demand compromises. You often hear people say that a person or government will “go it alone.” They mean they have no intention of partnering or compromising. But there is no “going it alone” in a partnership. We go together.
A quite recent example is OPP billing. We worked with our municipal partners to make the billing model fairer and more transparent. Moving from an unbalanced model towards one that is equitable is not easy. It means there will be some who will benefit, and others who will not. So, as we make changes to ensure that public policy is equitable across Ontario, we need to keep in mind these principles of partnership and remember why we choose to work together.
We are working on the long-term project of building opportunity and prosperity across our province. We need each other’s help to do it. The people in our communities are counting on us to deliver positive results, to seize new opportunities and spur growth. We are fortunate to have such a huge asset to work with – the powerful partnership we have built over the past decade.
Together, we have made a real difference for the better in people’s lives.
As we carry on this important work, we do so grounded in an understanding that strong communities are the foundation of a strong Ontario. I know how dedicated you are to serving your communities. I look forward to continuing to work closely with you to build a better future for everyone across our beautiful province.