By MPP Toby Barrett
One of the highlights of my winter, besides farm meetings, is ROMA – the annual meeting of the Rural Ontario Municipal Association.
There were many familiar faces at the convention, as well as new ones who were elected last fall. As usual there were a host of new and ongoing issues for discussion.
At a time when municipalities are facing challenges, the provincial government is not only cutting financial transfers but turning its back on protecting municipalities from further expense. It concerns me that decisions are being made at Queen’s Park with little, if any, regard to how it impacts rural and northern communities and their residents.
Case in point, the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund – which helps municipalities pay for policing – is being cut by $75 million over the next two years. This is at a time when the costs of providing emergency services are escalating.
There is probably no better example of government failing to respect and consult with municipalities than the Green Energy Act. Despite strenuous local objections from across the province, including Haldimand and Norfolk, the province plowed ahead with industrial wind turbines and took away municipal decision making powers. The Official Opposition remains committed to restoring these local decision making powers.
Another glaring example is the provincial road tax that funds public transit in the GTA and other towns and cities. Municipalities lacking buses aren’t eligible. Remember the uproar about a proposed gasoline tax to solve the transit gridlock in the GTA, and how the government backed down? Now we again see proposed higher prices for diesel and gasoline, but under the guise of a carbon tax.
Next on the list of government decisions that will impact rural communities is a new approach to school closures. This new government policy removes a lot of the community consultation that had been required previously – a policy that will allow a school to close in as little as 10 weeks with only one public meeting.
The Ontario government continues to ignore a resolution from my colleague, Perth-Wellington MPP Randy Pettapiece, calling for insurance reform. Despite all three parties supporting his resolution, the government decided municipalities should be left on the hook for disproportionate damages. It’s simply not fair a municipality found to be one per cent liable for damages could be burdened with paying 100 per cent of the damage. As a result, municipalities have seen a 22 per cent increase in liability insurance premiums that obviously puts pressure on their budgets.
Another piece of legislation worth looking at is the Fair and Opening Tendering Act, proposed by Kitchener-Connestoga MPP Michael Harris, which would allow municipalities to get quotations from non-unionized contractors for infrastructure projects.
In his keynote address to ROMA, Opposition Leader Jim Wilson stressed the importance of the provincial government to municipalities. “Your voters put their faith in you to take care of your community’s prosperity, but you can only succeed in your shared goals if you can count on a provincial partner that keeps its word and recognizes that your priorities need to be theirs as well.”
By and large, the key to a good provincial-municipal working relationship comes from respecting your partners, keeping your word, sticking to a budget and staying true to the principles of accountability, consistency and respect for local decision-making power.