Be clear, consistent and keep out of the way

By MPP Toby Barrett

Municipal and Provincial governments won’t always agree, which is understandable.

But agree or disagree, both sides should count on a partner that keeps its word. The era of promises that are politically expedient, financially unaffordable, easily made and more easily broken must end.

Last week I attended meetings in Windsor of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) – meetings that stressed the importance not just of strong municipalities, but also of a strong partnership to build a better future for all.

In his keynote address to AMO, Opposition Leader Tim Hudak advocated that good government comes from respecting your partners, keeping your word, sticking to a budget and staying true to the principles of transparency, consistency and local decision-making power.

With regard to transparency, there is no doubt that people deserve straight talk and clear answers.

However, we see a lack of transparency in Ontario’s Local Health Integration Networks (LHIN’s). Recently Ontario’s Ombudsman reported that LHINs have been engaging in “illegal” and “secret” meetings – where they literally make life-and-death decisions for local families and communities. Yet the LHINs never have to face electoral accountability. It is clear these bureaucracies are broken and have to go.

Ontario’s next Premier is going to have to make some very difficult decisions.

We know the provincial government as bloated and expensive. And we know that handing out unsustainable wage settlements for provincial public sector workers has a direct impact on municipal wage demands. That’s why public sector agreements must be brought in line with the private sector’s ability to pay.

Consistency is another essential element in a good municipal-provincial partnership.

We have seen Government make promises to municipalities only to later backtrack. Transit projects in York Region and Kitchener-Waterloo have been delayed and shortchanged. Highways like the Mid-Peninsula Corridor through Hamilton and Niagara have been outright stopped and shelved.

In the past month alone we have seen three different prices for solar energy subsidies, and watched McGuinty tie himself into a human pretzel over mixed martial arts and on-line gambling.

Another component for a productive provincial–municipal relationship would include action to bring an end to the constant interference in local decision-making. Voters put their faith in elected councillors to make the best decisions for local communities. Today, we see a troubling trend where the priorities of unelected and unaccountable bureaucrat are trumping elected local governments.

From Places to Grow, to the Greenbelt, to a broken gas tax formula that picks winners and losers – government continues to interfere with local communities’ power to make decisions.

McGuinty’s Green Energy Act strips away planning authority from elected municipal government – and bestows it on faceless bureaucrats at the Ontario Power Authority. This is why – in the face of often strenuous local objections –schemes to install giant industrial wind-farms wherever the province sees fit to continue to plough ahead. This is wrong. Certainly, renewable power should be part of Ontario’s supply mix. But only where welcomed – and at prices ratepayers can afford. That’s why we work to restore the decision-making powers the Green Energy Act stripped away, empowering municipalities to direct modern, affordable energy investments in their communities.

It’s time for greater transparency, more consistency, and less interference in local decision-making.