The Association of Municipalities Ontario (AMO) is the collective voice of Hamilton and all other provincial cities, towns, and regions in advocating to the Provincial Government our common concerns. The annual AMO conference has just taken place and I was pleased to meet, along with our City Manager Chris Murray, with several cabinet ministers and others to discuss our city’s priorities. Here are a few of the highlights:
On Monday August 20, we met with the Minister of Infrastructure and Transportation Bob Chiarelli and members of his staff, including the Deputy Minister. Mr. Chiarelli initiated the conversation by asking whether we had pursued LRT funding with the Federal Government. On the question of LRT funding, he stated that a number of approaches are being considered in preparation for the Metrolinx budget presentation scheduled for June 2013, and that we should look at the Waterloo model as one example of how different levels of government might participate. There is to date, no specific funding formula but the clear message from the minister was that all municipalities are expected to be contributors.
We attended the keynote address by Premier McGuinty, during which he reiterated his pledge to complete the uploading plan to relieve municipalities of certain costs. He also underlined the continuing government priority is a reduction of the $15 million dollar provincial deficit.
Later that day, we had the opportunity to meet personally with the Leader of the Opposition Tim Hudak. We spoke informally on a number of issues, but Mr. Hudak made it clear that he did not support the Premier’s plan for casino operations, suggesting that the present arrangement with slots and the horse racing industry could still have viability by “tweaking” what is now in place.
On Tuesday August 21, we attended the Opposition Leader’s speech to the AMO delegates where he discussed “…three differences in my approach that I will bring to the job, should I have the honour of being elected Premier in 2011.Greater transparency, more consistency, and less interference in local decision-making.” The issue he particularly cited on the third point was “Highways like the Mid-Peninsula Corridor through Hamilton and Niagara and the 407 East in Durham have been outright shelved and stopped.”
Mr. Hudak’s presentation was followed shortly after by NDP leader Andrea Horwath, who said the provincial government is putting the municipalities in an untenable situation by either abandoning essential supports for people or raiding other budget lines to take over responsibility for them, like the elimination of the Community Start Up and Maintenance Benefit, and reduction in discretionary benefits.
On Tuesday afternoon, we met with the Environment Minister James Bradley who listened intently to our presentation, which included the clean-up of coal tar deposits in the harbour at Randle Reef. We were given assurance of the Ministry’s concerns for the issues we raised, but received no firm commitments or advice beyond the suggestion that the matters are under review.
On Wednesday August 22, we met with the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Kathleen Wynne. She was impressed with the City Manager’s outline of innovative approaches used by the City of Hamilton to deal with the needs of our residents. She was made aware of our concerns regarding withdrawal of various benefit programs that many residents have accessed, and the shortfall in Affordable Housing funding.
At the wind-up of the convention, Dundas Councillor Russ Powers formally took over as the new president of AMO. It is obvious Russ is well-known and highly respected among the AMO delegates.
My thanks to the City Manager Chris Murray, Chief of Staff Peggy Chapman, Councillor Russ Powers and all others who contributed to our preparation for the AMO conference.