Re-calibrating provincial-municipal relationships

By MPP Toby Barrett
At the time of Confederation in 1867, municipal government wasn’t very important – this according to Gary McNamara, president of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario.

In his recent keynote speech at AMO, McNamara stressed things have changed. Municipalities now provide most of the services people care about, including water, roads, emergency services, recreation, planning and waste management.

McNamara questions why provincial governments receive four or five times more tax revenue than Ontario municipalities, which currently receive nine cents on the dollar. This inequity makes it difficult for municipalities to retain the status quo, let alone invest in new infrastructure.

“AMO is fighting hard to simply hold the line on what we have. Eroding our tax base, bit by bit, and having laws that dictate how we deliver our services is a poor recipe for success,” McNamara said, adding the province’s support for mature, respected and unshackled municipal government may be slipping.

In his address to AMO, Opposition Leader Patrick Brown concurred, stating municipalities are being forced to do too much, and are being held hostage to funding new areas because of a spending problem at the provincial level.

A direct result of the province’s growing debt is the reduction to the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund. This year spending in the provincial budget increased by $2.4 billion, but the OMPF municipalities largely depend on was cut again, penalizing communities in need of infrastructure repair.

On the heels of AMO, municipal funding and planning was the first debate upon our return to Queen’s Park. Bill 73 amends legislation on municipal development charges. Development charges are a revenue tool designed to assist municipalities to pay for a portion of growth-related capital costs incurred by providing services to new residents and businesses. These costs are typically passed on to consumers. And while we support funding transit, we do have concerns it may allow development charges to be increased to the point that it slows economic growth and makes new homes unaffordable.

It’s no secret municipalities help drive our local economies – they just need the tools to succeed and confidently market their communities to the world.

As Patrick Brown said in his speech, in order to have a prosperous province you need to have a strong economy. And to have a strong economy, you need to have strong municipalities which include mayors, councillors, wardens, reeves and municipal staff – all of whom can be the best salesforce for cities, towns and counties.

Both municipalities and the province must reduce red tape and have transportation networks that move people to and from work, and product to market. We need to oppose job-killing pension schemes and unaffordable hydro rates.

Re-calibrating our provincial-municipal relationship is crucial for the future of our communities so that we can continue to work on sensible, pragmatic solutions.

Common themes ran through the two AMO speeches:
• We all need to work together
• Municipal costs must be manageable
• Funding should be predictable
• All three levels of government need to be financially sound, effective and mutually respected.

AMO president McNamara’s message to Ontario politicians, “When they say that they want to work with us to achieve better outcomes, we interpret that to mean that they want us to achieve better outcomes for us both – not at our expense.”