"Presentation on The Province of Ontario and its Municipalities"
Presentation on "The Province of Ontario and its Municipalities" Remarks by: Michael Power, President of AMO Mayor, Town of Geraldton Public Policy Forum New Mandate - New Challenges Luncheon February 8, 2000 -12:15 p.m. - 2:00 p.m. Crowne Plaza, 225 Front Street West, Toronto The Association of Municipalities of Ontario Thank you for your invitation to be with you today. It is most appropriate to have as a theme "New Mandate - New Challenges". The Government of Ontario has a new mandate and faces new challenges. Some of these challenges are not new, but they require new solutions. In their first mandate the Progressive Conservative government of Mike Harris had laid out their agenda in the Common Sense Revolution. Not everybody, group or organization read or interpreted the documents in the same manner. Thus there were some surprises when the government began to implement their program. The speed with which the new government moved was astounding to most. The days of white papers and green papers was gone. The established process of consultation was abandoned. The municipal order of government had not foreseen the breadth, pace and magnitude of change that began. The Association of Municipalities of Ontario had to undertake a fundamental reorganization of itself in order to keep pace with the rapid developments. This was the only way we could meet the needs of our membership and provide the necessary input on all issues. As might be expected there were conflicts between the provincial and municipal orders of government. In their haste to put their program in place and achieve their goals and objectives, the government did not always seek input or accept advice on implementation. There appeared to be a mistrust of the advice givers. It was viewed that the advice was designed to delay or avoid program implementation. I can only speak for the municipal sector. In our case the advice we were providing was about how to help the government achieve their objectives without adversely affecting our common constituents - the property taxpayers of Ontario. One thing I have learned as I crisscross this great Province of ours is the high level of expertise we have at council tables in every city, town, village, hamlet and county in Ontario. Add to that the level of expertise among the appointed officials and you begin to understand why we, at AMO, can so readily and clearly say to the Province that we can help them to meet their goals if they will only listen and accept good sound advice. Both orders of government have the same objectives - delivery of services to the property tax payers in an effective and efficient manner. The Province does not always listen. But we will continue to work with the Province to try to implement their solutions in ways that will minimize the negative impacts on property taxpayers. And we will continue to press advice that provides the province solutions and methods to implement their agenda that does not adversely affect property tax payers. I believe that AMO can be described as the ultimate grass roots organization in Ontario - the first order of government. Our members are the first order of government that taxpayers turn to when they have problems. It doesn’t really matter if that problem is a municipal, a provincial, or a federal responsibility. Taxpayers look to their Councils and to municipal staff for solutions. As the central voice of municipal leadership in Ontario, AMO works closely with its members to reflect those taxpayer concerns. There have been a number of actions by the Provincial Government in the last few months that have caused great concern to municipal government because they have just appeared - without consultation and in the absence of any apparent plan. It appears to be an ad hoc group of decisions loosely formulated around the concept that we should have less politicians and therefore generate savings for taxpayers. It also appears to be formulated around the idea that municipalities have the right to make decisions - so long as they are the right decisions in the eye of the Province at a given point in time. If the decisions are not "right" they will be changed by regulation. This is no way for the Municipal Order of Government and the Provincial Order of Government to work together in the common interests of the people we both serve - the property tax payers of Ontario. In 1995, at the AMO Annual Conference, Premier Harris said: "I believe we will be able to look back in the years to come, and identify this meeting of the Association as the turning point; the time when ideas such as "disentanglement" and "provincial cooperation" become more than fine words." "Our levels of government have been talking for years about partnership. Let’s stop talking, and start acting like partners. Partners don’t mislead each other, and you can expect my government to give you the straight goods. Partners stand by each other and you can expect my government to truly work with you and beside you." He talked of the lack of solutions when we point fingers and he said, "It is time to start pointing our fingers and our common solutions, instead of at each other." I share this goal as does the entire municipal sector. So, how can we be proactive? Instead of attacking people, how can we attack the problem? Instead of taking closed and hard positions how can we explore interests and remain open to persuasion? Instead of either/or situations, how can we develop multiple options? We need to point our common fingers. This can be done by developing a New Deal - a new arrangement - a real partnership between the municipal order of government and the provincial order of government. This re-defined relationship should be based on: • shared planning process • shared information • shared principles and common outcomes • shared clarity on who has responsibility for what • shared understanding and process on how conflicts in overlapping areas will be resolved This will allow the taxpayers of Ontario to understand who to hold accountable for what. This new relationship needs to be based on a degree of trust and understanding. We can develop this new relationship and legislate it in a new Municipal Act that meets these objectives. If we use our energies to develop a proper foundation the pieces will more easily fall into place. It has been my experience that disagreement is often the result of a misunderstanding of the meaning of words and phrases used by the other party or parties. We need to avoid this error. We have the experience of other provincial jurisdictions in Canada to use as a guide. The municipal order of government is prepared to sit with the province and other stakeholders to develop this new Municipal Act. We are prepared to commit our expertise and resources to achieve this objective together in a short time frame. This will utilize all our energies to the benefit of the property tax payers of Ontario. This open and harmonious relationship will lead to new innovations and opportunities for us all. This is a solution to one of the challenges facing us in the new mandate. Together the Municipal Order of Government and the Provincial Order of Government can achieve what the property taxpayers of Ontario want - effective and accountable government. Thank you.