Premier's Remarks at the Association of Municipalities of Ontario Conference
Hello, Bonjour, Ahnee, Bojoo. It's great to be back in Ottawa and here on the traditional territory of the Algonquin and Anishinaabe Peoples. Thank you, Russ, for that kind introduction.
It's wonderful to be here with all of you. I'm so pleased to be joined by so many outstanding members of my team. You will hear from some of them throughout the conference. I want you all to know how much I respect the work you do and how much I value your understanding of your communities. Our relationship is very important to me, and very instructive in the way I do my job and the vision of my government -- and that is what I am going to be talking about today.
Now, I realize that I am not the first person you've heard from today, and that this morning's opening speaker is a very, very tough act to follow. This year marks my eleventh visit to AMO, but I cannot compete with someone who has gone to space three times. I can't think of a better person to have chosen to open your conference than Chris Hadfield, especially as the theme of this year's event is "Inspiring and aspiring." Commander Hadfield inspired us all during his final mission to the space station, and he gave us something to aspire to as well. You may recall his one-of-a-kind musical performance. I was at the Science Centre with a room full of students when he did his final broadcast from the space station, and there was one lyric that stood out for me: "You can't make out borders from up here."
In that simple phrase, he reminded us just how interconnected we all are, when we focus on the wider perspective. He did it with the photographs he Tweeted as well, many of which showed our province lit up at night. From Kitchener-Waterloo, to Barrie, Ottawa and Windsor, you could see each municipality shining like the stars in a great constellation. He showed the brightness and the beauty of Ontario from where he sat, hundreds of miles above our province. As the first Canadian to command the International Space Station, Commander Hadfield saw your communities clearly, and how they relate in the big picture. I'm not in the space station, but as the first person to go from being Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing to being the Premier of Ontario, I see those connections too.
Many of you may have worked with me in my previous roles with various ministries - from the Ministry of Transportation, the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs --and those roles have informed my perspective now that I hold this office. On many fronts I understand where you are coming from and what your needs are because I have listened to you and worked with you in every role I have held. I have not changed my priorities or my style of doing business since becoming Premier. Decisions based on evidence, community input and collaboration are the best decisions.
Today I will talk most about collaboration because it is a challenge, but evidence and community input inform my decision making. I have maintained my focus on finding collaborative solutions.
I firmly believe that strong relationships and open communication are the foundation on which we will create the best policies for your municipalities and the strongest province for all of our friends and families. That is why I will continue to build on the meaningful discussions we've had through our MOU meetings, and it's why I've been travelling extensively since I was sworn in last February.
I aspire to be the Premier for the whole province and that means recognizing that Ontario's 444 municipalities are an ecosystem, and that our province can only hope to succeed if each one of your municipalities can succeed and each one of your residents can prosper and thrive. We can't treat urban, suburban, rural or northern issues in isolation from each other, or say that one place or one demographic takes priority over another.
I want to build my relationship with Ontario's municipalities so that we can find ways to work together on our shared priorities. That's why I held the first cabinet meeting in the North in nearly 20 years in Sault Ste. Marie - thank you, Mayor Amaroso for hosting. It's why I have visited Mayor Brocanier in Cobourg and Mayor Laughren in Timmins, and toured Merrickville with Mayor Struthers so he can show me the issues that he is dealing with. I have met with Mayor Lehman of Barrie, Mayor Francis of Windsor and had breakfast with Mayor Watson here in Ottawa, so I understand their priorities and their concerns.
I have tried to get to as many of your municipalities as possible and to meet with people in communities across Ontario. This is what I need to do to figure out what you are up against, and what I can do to help. I know, for example, that because of the current state of our global economy, many of you are losing some of your tax base. That's a problem you face every day, and so my government is focused on building regional economies and creating jobs in all of your municipalities. My ministers and I have held jobs roundtables in many of your communities, and it is why we continue to invest in our successful regional development funds.
The Eastern Ontario Development Fund has helped create and protect more than 14,000 jobs in that region. And the Southwestern Ontario Development Fund supports more than 6,000 jobs. From London to Belleville to Kingston, I have heard business leaders tell me again and again how vital these funds are to the health of the manufacturing sector. A company in Brockville is using this support to invest in new water treatment technologies so it can excel in the global marketplace. The technology they are building on was developed right here in Ontario. In Cobourg, a plastics manufacturer is hiring about 20 new employees with support from these funds. And in Peterborough, a major parts manufacturer is expanding its operations, creating more good, local jobs.
We want to see that kind of momentum take hold across every region and every sector in this province. That's why we are continuing to adjust the funds so they work well for you. Just on Friday, we announced that we are expanding the boundaries of these funds. We listened to the concerns of communities who felt they were slipping through the cracks of these programs, and adjusted the boundaries to address their needs. That is the relationship I want us to have. I am here to help your municipalities succeed by building on the strengths and priorities of your communities.
Ontario is defined by the strength of its people. Our best asset is our educated, innovative and diverse workforce, and every municipality needs to be able to tap into that strength and that savvy as it prepares for the future. In places like Ottawa and Kitchener-Waterloo, that means we're going to help build on your knowledge-based economies and make sure businesses can access the capital they need to innovate and fund new ventures. We are going to make sure young entrepreneurs have the right resources to turn their ideas into realities.
My government is going to promote local food across this province so we can support farmers, food processors and research in places like Perth, Leamington and New Liskeard. To address the needs of communities around the Ring of Fire, we're going to make sure that natural resource extraction comes with the critical programs and infrastructure necessary to support growth and create positive opportunities for the people who call that region home.
We are doing all of that because we know it will help address the issues you face every day. But I want to do more. When I'm in Windsor, and I hear that there's a shortage of 200 welders, I want to help train those people so that the city has the skills base it needs to remain a vital manufacturing hub for our province.
When I'm in Cornwall or Brockville, and I hear that local businesses need skilled mechanics or electricians, I am determined to make sure our young people know those are good, strong careers that will give them a solid future in those communities and other parts of our province.
When I'm in New Dundee and I hear producers talk about how they need more young farmers, I want to make sure we shine a light on the rich diversity of opportunities available for our young people in the agri-food sector. And I want to figure out ways to help young people get into agriculture even if they don't come from a farming family.
That is why we have launched our new Youth Jobs Strategy, to connect young people with good careers, and to build communities through economic opportunity and expansion.
We have challenges in this province - there are hills to climb. But the more time I spend in your municipalities, the more clearly I see the solutions. I am optimistic about the future because I see how much your communities have to offer. And because of that, I see my role as an advocate for your needs and your priorities. I want to work with you on our shared priorities. But I also want to take your experiences and insight, and work on your behalf with other levels of government.
I will be your voice outside of Ontario. That's why I attended the Great Lakes Governors meeting on Mackinac Island earlier this year. I know that declining water levels are having a negative impact on Ontario communities on the shores of the Great Lakes, and that their economies are hurting as a result. In addition, I know that we must be stewards of the quality of our Great Lakes. So I took my place at that table so I could be part of the government solution - so I could stand up for Ontario's needs.
I also brought the municipal perspective to the meeting of the Council of the Federation, which I hosted earlier this summer in beautiful Niagara-on-the-Lake. There, I met with my provincial and territorial counterparts and as Chair I led the conversation on the need for job creation, skill development and infrastructure investment in this province. Because those are the issues that will impact every part of Ontario, no matter the size of your municipality, or your location, or your predominant industries.
I believe it is my responsibility to fight for investment in this province, and I convinced my colleagues to join me in this shared cause to advocate to the federal government to dedicate funding towards strategic infrastructure in this country.
I know infrastructure is a big concern for you. I listened when you told me that municipalities need stable funding to address their pressing infrastructure needs. And that is why our government has launched a new, $100 million fund this year, to help small, rural and northern municipalities pay for critical infrastructure such as roads, bridges, water and wastewater projects. Municipalities will be able to receive support starting in October, and our government will make this program a permanent source of funding, because that is what you told us you need. It's also why we made the gas tax permanent in our budget this year.
I heard you. I am working with you to improve our infrastructure. But the federal government also has a responsibility to act. For a bit of context, this year, Ontario plans to invest about $13 billion in strategic infrastructure. The federal government plans to invest less than $6 billion... in provincial, territorial and municipal infrastructure across the country. I think we can expect better.
We have seen this problem clearly this summer, through the impact of freak storms and in the terrible circumstances of Lac-Mégantic. We have to prepare our systems for extreme events, and we have to invest in our own safety. Your own asset management plans are a big part of this process - they tell us your priorities and allow us to work together to find solutions and smart investments.
Every member of my team is committed to working with you. We will fight to address your issues and we will not shy away from real debate. But we have to answer the right questions and address the real roots of our problems, rather than just making empty gestures or falling back on meaningless rhetoric. These real issues are not always glamorous or easy to sum up in a 30 second sound bite. They are not necessarily easy to solve. Progress on those solutions begins with practical programs that address your local concerns.
We want to cut red tape to attract investment across the province and create new jobs in your communities. To that end, we are moving forward with the Investment Ready Program. It is Canada's first province-wide "certified site" program. It shows companies around the world the places in your municipalities that are ready to be developed, giving them increased certainty about environmental concerns, utility lines and servicing access. In practical terms, it means businesses can quickly make more informed decisions, and help expansion projects get underway sooner. For municipalities, it provides another tool to promote your communities, attract new investment and foster growth.
Tomorrow, you'll hear from Linda Jeffrey, our Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing. She will talk to you about additional parts of our plan to adequately respond to the changing needs of your communities, and to make sure that municipal planning tools are strong and effective. As we move forward, Linda and I rely on your input and your partnership. You know your communities' needs.
I appreciate your help on so many fronts: You helped us redesign the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund to make sure it continues to meet the needs of Ontario's communities. We are going to announce the details of the newly redesigned program in the fall - in time to support your budget planning process.
We also continue to rely on your valuable input on interest arbitration. I know this is an issue that is very important to you. Our government is determined to build a sustainable model for wage negotiations that is respectful of both collective bargaining and a fair and transparent interest arbitration process. Our Minister of Labour, Yasir Naqvi is committed to working with all of our partners to achieve that. I hope you will approach this process as openly as possible. It will take collaboration between you and your labour partners to solve this issue. But we have to stay focused on addressing the real issues, and building on the strong relationships that can help us navigate through these challenging times.
I really do believe that we can talk through many of our issues. It's what I've been doing since I took on this role: sitting down with stakeholders, labour partners and members of the Opposition to try and find a better way forward. What we do is so important - as municipal leaders, as ministry representatives, as a provincial government...but the way we do it is important, too. It is easy to be negative and to find points of conflict, but the reality is that we are in this together; we are on the same team. And my focus on collaboration and real, practical solutions is inspired by my belief in you and quite frankly, the way you do business. It's inspired by my belief in your communities and your constituents.
Our government understands that we cannot slash the services on which you rely to address our bottom line - that wouldn't be fair. That's why we're continuing to upload municipal costs.
We also know that investments in vital transit and transportation infrastructure can't place more pressure on your property tax base. We have to find real solutions because that is what the people of this province deserve.
This September, we will resume the legislature in our minority government. The political climate does not make it easy to introduce real progress, but I will not give up on what is possible. I am focused on governing and I am here to work with you and for you. I want to grow and innovate together and build Ontario's future on the strength of our communities. That is what Commander Hadfield inspired in me with those pictures... To think of the big picture, the view from above that shows how connected we all are.