Association of Municipalities of Ontario Conference, Ottawa August 19-22

The 2018 Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) Conference is over and I thought I’d write a blog to tell you what you got for the expense of sending me to Ottawa.

Over the four days we made Delegations to the Ministry of Transportation about the High Speed Rail Proposal, the Ministry of Natural Resources about gravel pit operations, the Ministry of Education about rural schools, and the Ministry of the Environment to talk about the proposed South West Landfill.

The delegation to the Ministry of Transportation arguing for alternatives to the High Speed Rail Proposal to be considered went well (I posted the full text of Mayor Lupton’s comments on Facebook).  Minister Yakabuski seems open to the idea that there may be better, more cost effective ways, to improve transit, but my sense is that the new government hasn’t “officially” decided to include alternatives in the Environmental Assessment…yet.  I am optimistic.

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Minister of Transportation John Yakabuski.

The Ministry of Natural Resources delegation was presented by Councillor Keasy and the main requests were better regulation of gravelpit operations to reduce the impacts on neighbours, and an increase in the royalty payed to the Township for the gravel extracted.  In Ontario we get 19.8c/tonne which does not come close to covering the damage done to roads by the gravel trucks, and makes it very difficult, and unfair, to simply tax residents to attempt to maintain roads damaged by industry.  In Alberta they get 30, and in Quebec 50 c/tonne.  The industry representative group the Ontario Sand, Stone, and Gravel Association (OSSGA) even supports the increased levy as it is a small increase compared to trucking costs and it is hoped it would help to pay for some rehabilitation and enforcement of haul routes.  Minister Yurek was concerned about our issues and is familiar with them as there are also many pits in his riding of Elgin/Middlesex/London (which is on the other side of Cobble Hills Road). But again, it is early days for the Minister and all we got so far was a commitment to keep talking to us and that they would look into some things.

I presented the Delegation to the Ministry of the Environment to talk about the proposed South West Landfill.  We made our two main concerns clear: drinking water, and the injustice of a community like Zorra and Oxford who have done so much to reduce our waste having another community’s waste forced upon us.  An unwilling host municipality is unacceptable for a project of this scale.

I presented the Ministry of Education delegation as the Deputy Mayor and Vice Chair of the Community Schools Alliance.  While we have a 19 point detailed list of requests for the Minister, we started off by simply introducing ourselves and requesting that they continue the existing moratorium on school closures while they consider policy changes, and that they support policy that recognizes the differences between rural/northern schools and urban/suburban schools.  The Minister was very forthright that “we cannot develop our rural communities without our schools”.  During the Ministers Forum at the conference I was also able to ask her another question.

And again later on I had a “hallway conversation” with her that was very promising.

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Education Minister Lisa Thompson

One of the best parts of these conferences is the “hallway conversations” you have with people, the unplanned meetings where you get to really talk about stuff in detail with a real expert.

I had several with different municipal politicians, and some Ministers as well, but the best, and longest (we’re both talkers…) was with OFA President Keith Currie.  We talked for over an hour about all kinds of agricultural issues and municipal government.  In particular about property tax policy and the need for municipal governments to keep the farm tax rate low.  We talked about how Oxford had recently lowered it’s rate, but agreed that it should have gone lower.  We also talked about enabling farms to add value to their product on farm before shipping it.

IMG_8130Ontario Federation of Agriculture President Keith Currie.   Great guy, great talk.

The Community Schools Alliance held our AGM at the conference.  Two new members were elected to the Executive, we are in good financial health, but most importantly we have been getting good work done.  As Chair Doug Reycraft said in his Annual Report “The past two years have been the most eventful, and I would humbly suggest, the most successful in the nine-year history of the Community Schools Alliance.”

I am really proud to be a part of this group and the work they’ve done:
– moratorium on school closures
– changes to accommodation review process
– $20M Rural & Northern Education Fund that ALL Zorra schools qualify for

IMG_8108The Community Schools Alliance Executive.

The formal education sessions at this conference weren’t as good this time I felt, but the informal learning with people more than made up for it.

I have a lot of homework to do after this conference to try to turn the things I’ve learned into good policy for Zorra.

 

Marcus

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