Rural Ontario Municipal Association Conference 2018

I’m on the train on my way home now and thought I’d give you a little summary of my time at the ROMA (Rural Ontario Municipal Association) Conference.

The TAPMO (Top Aggregate Producing Municipalities of Ontario) meeting was informative as always. This organization (of which Zorra is a member) collects the data, analyzes it, and puts forward practical new policy alternatives to the Ministry of Natural Resources. But the MNR is very slow to consider changes to the ARA (Aggregate Resources Act) which is very powerful legislation that almost totally curbs a Municipality’s ability to control pits and quarries, and to get anything approaching cost recovery from royalties. I think there is an opportunity with this organization for Zorra to be more involved and try to push this issue more aggressively.

There was a session on rural broadband, but it was disappointing. It was focused on convincing residents and politicians that high speed internet is a legitimate need. I think that in 2018 access to high speed internet is like access to a phone: you need it. Period. This needs to be a top priority for Zorra.

Zorra requested a Delegation with the Ministry of Transportation, but was turned down. However, I think Councillor Doug Matheson had a chat with the Premiere about that too…

I attended a session on Bill 68 – Updates to the Municipal Act and Municipal Elections Bill. This bill makes many good changes to Municipal governance structures, but will be A LOT of work for Municipal Staff to implement locally.

One area that it changes is the definition of a “meeting”. Now, under the new Act, if a Council member phones another Council member to discuss an issue and then discussed the same issue with another Council member over coffee, it could be interpreted as a “serial meeting” if the discussion “materially advances the business” and could be interpreted as an illegal meeting.

I was invited, along with Doug Reycraft (Community Alliance Chair) and Katherine Sedgwick to present to other politicians on “Keeping Community Schools Open”. This was easy. We all lived that experience together and it’s always easiest to speak what you know about first hand. In fact, after “We SAVED A. J. Baker!” Daniel West and Henriette McArthur and I sat down to come up with a “how to” of lessons we learned from the experience, and I basically just presented that. It was all revived, over 75 people total attended both sessions.

Of course there was the Delegation to the Education Minister on Rural schools that I presented on behalf of Zorra and the Community Schools Alliance. I posted on that separately on FB, I’ll add another Blog on it here too.

You may notice that I have not mentioned the South West Landfill proposed to be in Zorra. In my opinion, at this point there is little to say. There is extensive work going on in the EA (Environmental Assessment) and by the Community Liaison Committee (where Zorra is represented). Until there are results from the EA there is little new information to discuss. There is a Motion before Zorra Council to demand the right of a Municipality to refuse a landfill (which I FULLY support in principle), but (and I have posted separately on this) there is some problematic wording for me in that it could inadvertently set a precedent by also allowing “adjacent” or “affected” Municipalities to refuse. Zorra will be getting a legal opinion at the next Council meeting (Feb 13 at 11am).

One aspect of these conferences that I have not made the most of in the past is the “schmoozing” or “buttonholing” MPPs and Policy Advisors. It’s awkward and probably counterproductive until you have a bit of a relationship with them. Well, this time I jumped in feet first. I talked informally with Senior Policy Advisors to the Minister of Education (several times), the Minister of Education herself in addition to the formal Delegation, and Ernie Hardeman.

In the “bear pit” (where the Premiere and entire cabinet sit on the stage and take questions from conference attendees) I asked the Premiere if she would commit to implementing the specific changes we’ve been asking for with respect to rural schools. She didn’t really answer, so when I saw her later I asked her again and we had a good conversation about it. She asked me good questions and listened to my answers, but the proof will be in the policies that will be released in a few weeks and the Provincial budget to come after that…

Overall a good Conference. I think a good expense that will pay off if we get the Rural school policy changes we want, and if we utilize some of the things learned in developing future strategies to advance Zorra’s goals of being Prosperous, Vibrant, Engaged, and Environmentally Conscious.

#doingmypart

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