Proposals for better municipal-provincial partnerships

By MPP Toby Barrett

All is not well with respect to provincial and municipal governance.

Lack of accountability has driven up the size and cost of provincial government by a staggering 70 per cent over the past eight years. And 67 per cent of homeowners say they are unhappy with municipal taxes – a recent Leger poll found Ontario leads the nation in opposition to high property taxes.

Action is required to reverse this trend including sticking to a budget, and adhering to the principles of accountability, consistency, and respect for local-decision making – principles that are being undermined by the present government.

The McGuinty wage freeze for instance has proven to be a work of fiction. The deals the province strikes with public sector workers have a direct impact on municipal wage demands. There is no accountability as arbitrators thumb their nose at the province and hand out rich wage increases to the civil servants while municipalities are forced to keep pace. They use contracts awarded in cities to dictate wage settlements in other parts of Ontario.

Recently, the Reformer’s Kim Novak wrote, “We don’t care what municipal staff in Guelph or Brantford get paid. We care about what Norfolk can afford.”

As Opposition Leader Tim Hudak proposed in his address to the ROMA/ Good Roads AGM, “We will bring more transparency and accountability to the arbitration system, so you know the reasoning for their decisions; we will provide you with clear and tight timeframes that you can count on; we will ensure that public sector agreements reflect the ability of families to pay the bills.”

Municipalities also require greater consistency from the province. We have seen the government make promises to local councils only to backtrack at a later date.

Municipalities have been let down by broken promises on job creating infrastructure projects like the Mid-Peninsula Corridor through Hamilton and Niagara, and the 407 East to Highway 115/35.

When it comes to infrastructure funding, perhaps the worst case of inconsistency is the provincial gas tax. In Haldimand-Norfolk, like many small communities, we pay the same gas tax as everyone else, but we don’t receive a dime of provincial gas tax funding because we don’t have a transit system. It is incumbent on government to fix the broken provincial gas tax program and include municipalities who currently don’t get any access to funds for roads and bridges.

Finally, respect for local decision making is crucial.

We’ve seen a troubling trend where the priorities of unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats, managers and administrators are trumping elected local governments.

And there is perhaps no better example of this government substituting local decision making powers for the provincial political agenda than the Green Energy Act. Here, they stripped away planning authority from municipalities and gave it to Dalton McGuinty. In the face of strenuous local objections, and despite 75 municipalities putting forward resolutions objecting to the government’s decision, government ploughed ahead with giant industrial windfarms wherever they saw fit.

Why is it councillors can have a say on a new Tim Hortons, but not on an industrial wind farm? That is wrong-headed.

It’s time to re-establish the keys to good government by respecting our partners, keeping our word and sticking to a budget. Restoring accountability, consistency and respect for local decision-making would be a start.