By MPP Toby Barrett
Ontario needs to put local communities back in the driver’s seat. That was the underlying sentiment at this year’s Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) conference in Ottawa.
Over the course of four days, provincial representatives held 900 meetings with municipal leaders. I was able to attend some of the meetings with Haldimand, Norfolk and Six Nations.
The Ontario government’s relationship with municipalities and AMO is important and remains a priority. We need to help, not with top-down approaches directed by Queen’s Park but from the ground up.
It’s no secret the province inherited a massive debt and deficit from the previous government. Not only did we inherit massive fiscal problems, we also inherited broken systems like hallway health care, poor student outcomes, and social services on life support.
Within this context, municipalities are in a position to make every dollar count because they know where they are needed most. The solution is giving all transfer partners the tools they need to have more flexibility with their budgets to find savings, drive efficiencies, and modernize service delivery. We cannot continue throwing money at the problem as our predecessors did.
Ontario established the Audit and Accountability Fund earlier this year and 90 per cent of municipalities have taken up the offer of funding for line-by-line reviews. We offered this to school boards as well, but only two signed up. These reviews are a $7 million dollar investment to help school boards and large municipalities protect core public services for future generations.
Our government also set up the Municipal Modernization Fund, investing $200 million dollars to help 405 small and rural municipalities achieve efficiencies and plan for their future.
Red tape and too many regulations also stand in the way of local communities focusing on the things that matter most – the frontline services people rely on every day. For example, we have eliminated a rule that required an environmental assessment before a municipality could plow its streets.
This fall the province will also launch renewed consultation with municipalities and its partners in public health and emergency health services.
In 2019-2020 we will repair and grow our community housing system with an investment of $1 billion. One of the highlights of the past year was our More Homes, More Choice Act. This is a plan that means a better mix of housing, more housing near transit and more rental housing. Reducing red tape is also a big part of our Housing Supply Action Plan.
A few weeks ago, we announced the cost of the Blue Box program will be transitioned away from municipal taxpayers to make producers of products and packaging fully responsible. This will allow municipalities to put those funds to better use.
There will be no changes to Ontario Works funding levels in 2020, but it will be held to 2018 levels. However, we will move ahead with the transformation of employment services.
The province will be maintaining the current structure of the Ontario Municipal Partnership Program for an additional year.
Over the past year, we have learned how important it is to continue to talk, listen and work together with Ontario’s 444 municipalities. Despite things moving fast, we will continue to maintain a strong relationship with AMO and all our municipal partners.
Toby Barrett is the MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk