By Kevin Werner, News Staff
The president of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario urge all political parties to put away their political differences when the Legislature resumes next month and provide needed assistance to the province’s desperate cities and towns.
“I’m pointing the finger at all the parties,” said Russ Powers, a Hamilton councillor, during a media conference at the AMO’s annual general meeting in Ottawa Aug. 19. “They have to get their collective asses together in order to make a decision”
He said in the last legislative session there were 28 bills left on the table that could have assisted municipalities.
“Give us the tools to free up our costs so we can then reinvest in infrastructure (to) help with our (residents’) quality of life.”
But the Progressive Conservatives are determined to bring down the Liberals. A second contempt motion is scheduled to be introduced Sept. 9 when the Legislature resumes. The motion is in response to the justice committee unable to question a Liberal staffer about emails showing the Liberals were pressuring Speaker Dave Levac to change his parliamentary finding of contempt against the government over the gas plant scandal.
Leader Tim Hudak said during a news conference his party is willing to make government work, but there hasn’t been any legislation for his caucus to back.
“If a bill will create jobs, I will support it,” he said.
Hudak said the Tories has introduced Bill 73 that would open the tendering process for municipalities, and plan on presenting another bill that would reform the arbitration process for union contracts which has become a burden for municipalities.
NDP leader Andrea Horwath said the public sentiment after the recent five by-elections – which the NDP scooped up two ridings – is they want government to work.
“They just want results,” she said. “There is a real opportunity … to finally get things done.”
Powers reiterated the point to provincial federal politicians, that Ontario remains burden with a $60 billion infrastructure deficit.
Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne said her Liberals are attempting to provide some form of assistance to municipalities. The province will be investing $13 billion towards infrastructure, while the federal Tories are chipping in with $6 billion, she said. But Wynne, attending her 11th AMO conference, said “there are no easy decisions to be made.
“The political climate doesn’t make it easy to introduce progressive legislation,” said Wynne.
She said her government is reviewing how to provide municipalities with new revenue to help pay for improved infrastructure projects, particularly transit. Wynne reiterated that the Liberals have made the gas tax revenues to municipalities, introduced by former premier Dalton McGuinty, permanent. She said one area the province won’t look at is increasing property taxes on residents as a source of revenue.
The Liberals are also examining how to improve the arbitration process for municipality workers, including firefighters and police. Wynne said the government needs to protect the collective bargaining process, while also making sure it remains open and transparent. Powers said the arbitration decisions for municipal workers, especially police officers, need to be made in deference to the economic situation of a municipality. In addition, those decisions from the arbitrators need to be made public.
There needs to be “transparency and accountability” in the entire decision-making process, said Powers.
Escalating policing costs has become a hot button topic for municipalities across the province, including Hamilton. Councillors have continually raised the issue to provincial officials, and one session at the AMO conference includes how municipalities can deal with the problem.
Wynne received her loudest applause from a full house of provincial councillors when she confirmed the Liberals have reaffirmed their commitment to keep uploading social service costs from municipalities’ budgets until 2018.
“It’s so easy to be negative,” said Wynne. “The reality is we are in this together. We can’t slash services. It doesn’t work.”
Both Hudak and Horwath pledged to keep the uploaded services within provincial responsibility if they form the next government.
“It’s the right thing to do,” said Hudak.
Progressive Conservative MPP Frank Klees said Wynne provided the delegates with “nothing new” for their municipalities.
“It was a very carefully scripted address,” he said. “They are out of ideas.”
He said the premier didn’t talk about the real issues, such as the gas plant and Ornge scandals, that have cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.
“We look forward to holding them accountable,” said Klees.
Horwath talked about creating jobs and assuring municipal politicians an NDP government will be fiscally responsible.
“The NDP have a better record of balancing the books (of provinces) across the country,” said Horwath. “Better than the Liberals and Conservatives. “(The NDP governments) have shown they can tackle deficits.”