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Premier's Remarks at the Association of Municipalities of Ontario Conference


Premier's Remarks at the Association of Municipalities of Ontario Conference

Office of the Premier


It is great to be back -- and hard to believe that it is my 3rd AMO as Premier and my 13th time here as an MPP.

I always look forward to this gathering -- to reconnecting with you, the meetings and discussions and the momentum we generate together for the year ahead.

To those who were just elected last fall and are here for the first time - congratulations and welcome.

I want to acknowledge Niagara Falls as a sacred gathering place for many Aboriginal Peoples of Turtle Island.

And to recognize the long history of First Nations and Métis Peoples in Ontario, and show respect today to the communities of the Six Nations of the Grand River Territory and the Mississaugas of the New Credit...

Before I talk about how our partnerships are building a stronger, more sustainable Ontario, I want to share something I learned about Niagara that some of you will know and I think you'll all find interesting.

After the War of Independence, colonists loyal to the British Crown fled the newly independent United States.

Some came here, to Niagara, then known as the Nassau District.

Nassau's newly formed townships did not have anything close to what we recognize today as democratic municipal government.

Local governance fell to Crown appointments and to the regional court, which met down the river in what is now Niagara-on-the-Lake.

This did not sit well with everyone.

So in 1788, Niagara's court issued an order that each township was to hold a meeting "for the election of Constables and other Public Officers in the different Townships of this District."

Whether this was a significant step towards democratic local governance is disputed by historians, and it's true that the Crown would resist devolving power locally for another 50 years.

Still, the innovation unleashed on the Niagara peninsula is the first documented attempt by non-Indigenous people to set up a democratic system of local governance within the present-day boundaries of Ontario.

Neighbouring districts and the colonial powers took notice.

I wanted to start here for a few reasons.

I like how this history connects us to this beautiful part of Ontario and how it connects us to AMO -- to the very reasons we are all here.

What Niagara did was bold.

It was assertive.

It was about new solutions.

And it speaks to your theme this week, "A Voice for You."

Jumping forward to the challenges we face in building prosperity and securing our future in the 21st century, we can draw inspiration from what happened here over 200 years ago.

Because we do need new approaches and this requires something from each of us.

First, finding those solutions demands a new level of collaboration.

And second, as today's political leaders, we need the will to be bold and innovative, just like those first settlers of Niagara.

From my perspective, we do have that will and together, we are finding those new ways forward.

And what better place to measure our progress and chart our path than at AMO, the voice of strong, progressive and innovative municipal governance in Ontario for over 100 years.

So today I am going to talk about climate change, I am going to talk about infrastructure, about transforming services, about financial sustainability and about intergovernmental relationships -- all areas in which we have made progress this past year and all areas in which we will continue to move forward as partners. 

Let's start with the fight against climate change -- what many consider the defining challenge of our time, and with good reason.

Climate change represents the single-greatest threat to our health and prosperity -- today and for generations to come.

You know this at the local level, we know it at the provincial level and one way or another it will become clear at the federal level too.

But until then it is up to us and, together, we are getting it right.

By focusing on the two pieces of good climate policy, adaptation and mitigation, we've made Ontario a North American leader in fighting climate change.

The actions already underway at the municipal level are incredible and I want to applaud you for your leadership.

The challenge of preparing for increasingly extreme and unpredictable weather events is already unfolding -- we know it is an enormous one, but so is the cost of doing nothing.

When homes, crops and businesses are destroyed, it is not just your constituents' livelihoods that are destroyed -- it is your tax revenues and your capacity for future growth, too.

Since I've become Premier, several extreme weather events have underscored the extra burden that climate change puts on municipalities and we have worked closely with you to make sure you are supported.

That is what the Ontario Disaster Relief Assistance Program is for, but what these recent disasters made clear is that ODRAP is outdated.

It needs to work better for your governments and for the people we serve.

So, as Minister McMeekin announced yesterday, we are splitting ODRAP into 2 new, separate programs and making significant changes.

The Municipal Disaster Recovery Assistance program will bring in a new application and approvals process with clear and publicly available qualifying thresholds and criteria. 

It will be more transparent, more predictable and more accommodating -- no more guesswork and no more rushing to apply within 14 days of a disaster.

On the individual side, the new Disaster Recovery Assistance for Ontarians program will do away with the current requirement for matching fundraising.

When people lose everything they should not face undue delay in receiving help.

Because of our partnership and your guidance, they no longer will.

And to allow municipalities to focus on rebuilding, the program will be directly administered by the province.

Now let's move from the reactive side of climate change to the proactive side.

This spring, we announced a cap and trade system to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while fostering a more innovative, competitive business environment...

And last month, the provinces and territories finalized the Canadian Energy Strategy to put the whole country on a more sustainable path to growth. 

Locally, we are building more resilient communities and mitigating emissions in our homes, our workplaces and in the way we travel between the two.

Tomorrow, Minister Murray will talk about our support for municipal partners in this regard.

So I want to dig into an area of our economic plan related to this work -- the largest infrastructure investment in Ontario's history -- more than $130 billion over 10 years.

As you know, some of this investment is the direct result of our partnership -- of your leadership.

Last year at AMO, I announced that we would make the province's $100 million Ontario Community Infrastructure Fund permanent.

78 projects have been approved under the application-based half of the fund.

And it is great news that a second intake window is now open. 

More recently, we announced the return of a new Connecting Links program because we heard how municipalities were suffering from the loss of a program that quite literally connects communities.

We were able to do it because of our Moving Ontario Forward plan.

In April of 2014, we announced Moving Ontario Forward as one of the signature pieces of a budget and, ultimately, an election platform that was all about building Ontario up for today and tomorrow -- about jobs and opportunity, growth and security, and a responsible path to balance by 2017-18.

Moving Ontario Forward will invest $31.5 billion over 10 years in transportation and priority infrastructure across the province, including natural gas connections to support the competitiveness of rural businesses.

When we came forward with the plan, we said that to eliminate the deficit in a way that is fair to people, we needed a way to pay for the new infrastructure.

We spoke with people across Ontario, and decided that new revenue should not come from a higher HST or gas tax, or from higher taxes on middle-income earners.

In a still fragile recovery, people need to make every dollar count.

And so does our government.

It's why we began our review of provincially owned assets before last year's election.

And it is why we are acting on Ed Clark's recommendations to broaden the ownership of Hydro One.

This will unlock around $4 billion to increase Moving Ontario Forward funding and put shovels in the ground faster.

I want to highlight that Moving Ontario Forward is broken down into two separate amounts and both benefit from the changes to Hydro One.

About $16 billion is available within the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, and about $15 billion is available outside of the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area.

This distribution is per capita, based on StatsCan data, for inside and outside the GTHA.

That may not be the way it's always been done, but when I talk about building Ontario up, I am talking about all of Ontario.

Of the amount available to communities outside the GTHA, about $11.5 billion is unallocated because we want to hear from you, our municipal partners.

So in May, Minister Duguid launched consultations to identify your priorities.

I want to thank those who have participated and encourage everyone to engage and take advantage of this historic opportunity.

I want to say more on Hydro One.

The fact is, using the old model, successive governments have failed to transform Hydro One into a company that meets the standards rural customers expect and deserve.

It could be better run and, by broadening its ownership, Hydro One will be better run.

But what won't change is the fact that Hydro One will not set rates.

Rate-setting will continue to reside in the independent hands of the Ontario Energy Board, and we have introduced legislation that, if passed, would strengthen the regulatory powers of the OEB to protect ratepayers further.

I know some of you still have your concerns and I appreciate those concerns.

Skepticism is good for our democracy.

It is healthy to challenge one another and openly debate the best way forward.

But by that same token, it is healthy to challenge the status quo too.

And the status quo had public value trapped in Hydro One.

In the short- and long-run, that value is better put towards new, productivity-enhancing infrastructure assets.

So holding onto the entirety of Hydro One simply because we've always done it this way is simply not a good enough reason.

"We've always done it this way."

We should all be on the lookout for this phrase, because it can be the most destructive little phrase for any organization -- and for government in particular.

If there was inherent wisdom in those words we'd still be taking our orders from the Queen and the Lieutenant Governor and not from the people who elected us.

And the people who elected me -- they elected me to build for the future, which is exactly what we are doing through Moving Ontario Forward.

Here is another example of doing things differently and this one comes from the municipal sector -- community hubs.

Last week, we released the Community Hubs Strategic Framework and Action Plan.

Led by Karen Pitre, who spoke here earlier today, the Advisory Group undertook extensive consultations.

Their report marks an important step in bringing services together and using spaces to better serve communities.

Already, community hubs are established or being planned in schools, neighbourhood centres and other public spaces across Ontario.

At its core, this initiative is about you and your communities -- about supporting the amazing, pioneering work you are doing to coordinate health, education and social services, unlock more sustainable service models and build stronger communities.

But that requires the provincial government to take an honest look at itself.

Too often, the only obstacles you face in making these transformative innovations are those put up by rigid provincial rules or bureaucratic structures.

Too often you are more likely to be told "No, we've always done it this way" than "Yes, that sounds like a great idea."

Frankly, we need to do a better job.

This is what I have told my ministers and what I committed us to doing when I accepted all 8 of the report's recommendations.

I encourage you to learn more about Community Hubs this week and to engage with us on this exciting initiative.

What Community Hubs speak to broadly are the pressures we are all under as we try to deliver better services within limited budgets and at the same time, create a more attractive and competitive environment for businesses and people to thrive.

So I want to talk briefly about the revenue challenge in the context of our relationship and then conclude by relating that to the ongoing project of Canadian federalism.

This year we undertook several reviews related to municipal planning and revenues.

Financial sustainability is a focus of the Municipal Act review and you have until the 31st of October to make a submission.

I look forward to the progress we will make there, because financial sustainability and ensuring that you have the tools to serve your communities go to the foundation of our partnership.

It is why, this year alone, provincial uploads will save municipalities more than $1.7 billion -- savings that will only increase as we work toward the full upload by 2018.

And when the legislature resumes we will make passing the Smart Growth for Communities Act a priority -- and if passed, move quickly to implement it.

This legislation lets municipalities leverage development charges to pay for transit and pushes the review of new official plans from a 5-year cycle to a 10-year one.

From climate change to infrastructure to services, planning and revenues, I don't think I am overstating it when I say that we have made real progress together and because of that, in the lives of the people we serve.

You told us you needed a new Connecting Links program -- we listened.

You told us ODRAP wasn't working -- again, we listened.

As Premier, I have made it a particular priority to listen to you, our municipal partners.

We have set up regular meetings and other mechanisms to ensure we hear your concerns and ideas on an ongoing basis.

We are working together on so many fronts -- investing in infrastructure, uploading social service costs, making policing costs fairer and more rational -- to name just a few.

What we do in each of these areas will affect municipalities differently -- but these changes are necessary and will require our collective good will to design and implement.

Do challenges still remain?

But we are heading in the right direction.

And we will continue to listen.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the provincial-federal relationship in Canada.

The tough conversations, the ability to understand each other's perspectives and reach compromises... those have been essential to the progress that provincial and municipal governments have made in Ontario.

But Ontario doesn't have that in its federal relationship.

That concerns me.

I know AMO is looking to see the municipal agenda included in the federal election discourse and I applaud that.

Canadians deserve to know how their candidates for federal office will support the growth and success of their communities.

It wasn't so long ago that the municipal voice was absent from the national conversation.

But you have educated all of us -- governments and Canadians alike -- on the need for a municipal voice in national affairs.

And truly, intergovernmental co-operation is the only way to ensure formal Constitutional jurisdictions are adapting to the ever-evolving realities of building opportunity and security for people in 2015 and beyond.

In this way, when federalism is working, Canada is innovating.

Universal health care, the CPP, housing solutions or the Gas Tax transfer to municipalities -- all innovative solutions, all required a federal government with imagination, a willingness to listen, vision and an appreciation that government's job is not just to govern day-to-day or seek re-election...

It is to plan for the future.

To build for a brighter tomorrow.

And as we understand here in Ontario, the best way to do that is through more collaboration and more voices, not fewer.

So whether infrastructure or affordable housing or climate change or First Nations or any one of a number of other areas we are working on to build a future of opportunity and security for the people of Ontario, we need a federal partner who is willing to listen and to work with us.

To go back to the beginning of my remarks, representative local government started here because in order to develop the potential of a hopeful young colony, things needed to be done differently.

People got together, came up with new ideas and a voice for you was born.

Some 225 years later, we are here to use that voice.

You are here to do your job -- to stand up for your community.

And I am here to do my job -- to stand up for Ontario.

It is why I have never missed an AMO.

I cannot build Ontario up without the partnership of the 444 municipalities that make this province the best place to live, work and raise a family.

So thank you for your passion, your ideas and your leadership.

Together, we are building a brighter future for our communities, for our children and for the generations who will follow.

Merci. Meegwetch.