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.


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.


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.



Door to Door…

Going door to door is stressful.

I want to give you the opportunity to talk, to tell me things, to ask me things; but a lot of the time I just feel like I’m interrupting your life.

If I’m interrupting your life, I apologize.  I just want to give you the chance to talk.  If you don’t want to, that’s fine.

This is my postcard I’m leaving at doors:

post card front

post card back

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.


Zorra Township Budget 2018…

This is still one of the biggest things on my mind right now…

Specifically I’m thinking about five things:
1. Roads
Public Works is the single largest cost department in the budget every year. Zorra has a lot of roads and a low population density which makes it very costly per kilometre to maintain roads. However, they are one of the things residents use most, and they need attention.  Residents have observed this, Public Works has observed this, and I’d like to see this better reflected in the long term Capital Asset Management Plan.  Public Works has some new recommendations for the Capital Budget based on the 2017 Roads Condition Study.

2. Embro and Harrington Environmental Assessments
The Environmental Assessments, almost completed, but not yet decided on by UTRCA (where I sit as a member of the Board of Directors appointed by Zorra) of the Embro Pond and Harrington Pond represent a large cost liability for Zorra regardless of which alternative is selected.  As Zorra is the only “benefiting Municipality” for both structures (as neither is a flood control structure) any costs will be paid by Zorra.  Whether it is to remove the dam(s), or replace them, or keep them, there will be large amounts of capital and/or operating money required.

3. Debt
Given Zorra’s current high debt, the need for an improved maintenance plan for roads, and anticipated heavy capital spending on the Public Works Yard and the Embro and Harrington Ponds in the next 5 to 10 years, I would like to see a significant increase in transfers to the Capital Asset Management Plan Reserve.  If we don’t begin building up money in that reserve then even if we begin reducing debt the Township could continually be going back into debt for capital projects.  That could mean there would be no debt room for a “rainy day” or unexpected grant opportunity (that might require matching funds).

4. Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund cuts
Over the last few years the Province has cut OMPF funding to Zorra by one million dollars in total.  I believe we can anticipate another cut this year.  
This increasingly means the Township must rely on taxation to pay for our capital and operations. This is wrong. Municipalities own two thirds of Ontario infrastructure but only get a total of 9 cents of every tax dollar (the other 91 cents go to the Provincial and Federal Governments).
However, this is our reality: increasingly, we have to pay our own way.

5. When Council debates and weighs options, and prioritizes items in the Budget it sets the tax rate.  This term of Council adopted a 5 year Capital Budget Plan in an attempt to get better control over long term spending.  There needs to be a strong expectation from Council that those items will be completed in the year that they are planned, budgeted, and taxed for.  And an equally strong expectation that Council will be responsible and accountable for the plan.  It’s a work in progress, but I believe that combined with the Strategic Plan, the 5 Year Capital Budget Plan will bring more predictability to spending needs, and that should lead to better control of spending, and therefore taxation.

All this will mean a careful eye on other items in the budget if the tax rate is not to be significantly affected.
I am expecting there will be some hard choices.

The Recreation, Arts, and Culture Master Plan is not expected to be complete until after the 2018 Budget is complete, so I expect that any major budget decisions as a result of recommendations from that Study will be dealt with by the next term of Council in the 2019 Budget…

Marcus Ryan
Councillor Ward 3

FB: Marcus Ryan – Zorra
FB: Community Schools Alliance

Who should decide school closures?

I wear three(!) hats on this issue: as a resident whose children attend A.J. Baker P.S. in Kintore in the Thames Valley District School Board, as a Municipal Councillor in the Township of Zorra, and as the Vice Chair of the Community Schools Alliance.
The position of the Community Schools Alliance is “to have municipalities become partners with school boards in making decisions about where new schools are built and where schools are closed.”
To that end we have made several delegations (through member Municipalities) to the Minister of Education including a very positive delegation I presented at the Association of Municipalities of Ontario Conference in Ottawa in August (  Specifically I asked the Minister to engage in a “wide ranging consultation process, with all stakeholders including a variety of community groups, and Municipal Governments, to fully consider the significance of schools to rural, northern, and single school communities in developing the policy changes to the Funding Formula and PARG to end the Moratorium.”
I pointed out to the Minister that while schools are not “capital A” assets of Municipalities, they are “small a” assets.   Without our schools Municipalities cannot be complete communities that truly have the ability to plan and develop our future.
This delegation was very different in tone to past year’s delegations, it was open and consultative.  But the proof will be in what type of policies the Minister proposes to end the current Moratorium.
I encourage you to lobby your local Municipal Governments to become members of the Community Schools Alliance and help us to continue to fund research on this topic and advocate on their behalf.
Both personally as a parent, and as a Municipal Councillor, my position is a bit more far reaching: I believe that the decisions about where schools should open and close should rest entirely with Municipalities.
Municipalities have Planning Departments that do exactly this type of work.  Municipalities have Public Health Departments that have a wealth of knowledge on building vibrant, healthy communities.  Municipalities already build the majority of infrastructure in Ontario.  All these functions (Planning, Public Health, infrastructure, and Education in our communities) would be better achieved by having Municipalities control where such a vital piece of community building infrastructure as a school should be.
I know some people would argue that it is too big for Municipalities to take on, but I disagree.  Currently all capital funding is provided to School Boards by the Ministry of Education; transfer that to Municipalities.  Already almost all contracts with Education Staff are (at least initially) negotiated by the Ministry.  The curriculum is almost entirely written and mandated by the Ministry and only administered locally by Boards (and in my opinion not very “locally” as most Boards are too geographically large for their to be legitimately local understanding).
So I believe that not only are Municipalities capable of adding an “Education Department” to Public Works, Public Health, Planning, etc., I think that it would in fact result in better planned communities, more integrated communities, and more local knowledge and democracy in school opening and closing decisions.
All of these topics, and more, will be discussed in an open forum at the 2017 Ontario Rural Education Symposium being hosted this year by the Township of Zorra on Saturday November, 25th in the Embro Recreation Centre.
MOE Staff have confirmed that they will be attending to hear input on the recently announced policy changes…
I hope to see you there too.
2017 Ontario Rural Education Symposium:
To register:

Marcus Ryan
Councillor Ward 3

Mobile: 1.519.301.1634
FB: Marcus Ryan – Zorra
FB: Community Schools Alliance

Rural Education Symposium: Rural Ontario needs its schools.

screen-shot-2016-11-28-at-1-07-06-pmMy speech from the Rural Education Symposium November 26, Parkhill Ontario, North-Middlesex
Rural Education Symposium ( speech
Moses didn’t come down from the mountain with the Funding Formula…
The current Funding Formula was written by the Conservatives and modified many times by the Liberals…so there’s plenty of blame to go around, but I’m not interested in blame…I’m interested in change.
What I want you to think about is that the Funding Formula, School Boards, the Ministry of Education, Municipalities were ALL designed by US to serve US.
If they are not doing what we want then we change it, and that’s what I want to talk about: change.
I never had any plans to become a Councillor, I worked as an Engineer for 10 years, I’ve been a Stay at Home Dad for 10 years, about 4 years ago I started my own Engineering business from home, but then… the Thames Valley District School Board began considering the closure of A.J. Baker P.S. in Kintore…my kids school. I got very involved with the community effort to “Save AJ” and really enjoyed and got great satisfaction from the community involvement. So I put my name forward for Council.  Also during the “Save AJ” fight, I got to know Doug Reycraft and the Community Schools Alliance, and as a result got on the Executive of that group to help Doug revive and reinvigorate the CSA.
During that fight I came across one of my favourite quotes: “Fair doesn’t mean everybody gets the SAME, fair means everybody gets what they NEED.”
This has guided me in a lot of Council decisions and I bring it up today because it is especially relevant to this issue.
A Funding Formula that doesn’t recognize the inherent differences in rural and urban in a Province the size of Ontario is giving everyone the SAME but no-one what they NEED.
Consider an example outside education. My sister lives in Toronto, just off Yonge St. just North of the 401: there’s a LOT of traffic.  So let’s say the City consults with the Ministry of Transportation for ideas to improve the traffic flow in an intersection. The MOT collects data, analyzes it, simulates solutions, and presents a solution to the City of Toronto Public Works: multiple lanes each direction, right turn ramps, left turn lanes, traffic light sensors, etc. The City of Toronto likes it and implements it and a year later everyone loves it: traffic is moving, commuters are happy, businesses are happy, residents are happy.
About this time the County of Oxford calls the MOT to consult on an intersection in Kintore…they have some pedestrian safety issues they’d like to consult on. The MOT thinks this is great we have a PERFECT solution and they race down to present their “City of Toronto solution”…
Of course the Oxford County Public Works people think this is crazy. They tell the MOT that it’s just not relevant to the issues they have. The MOT comes back with the same proposal again: after all they KNOW it works, they’ve done it, they have the data.  Again, Oxford says no, this is not a solution for the problem we have…again the MOT says this is the best solution…
Eventually Oxford sends them away and goes with their 4-way stop and a hanging flashing red light and some painted cross walks…
Clearly the same solution doesn’t work for the MOT in different Municipalities, and it doesn’t work for the MOE in different Municipalities either:
Back in 2015 about a tenth of schools in the Province were more than half empty, in the TDSB it was almost double that.
Last year in the TVDSB 5035 of 8844 Elementary Empty pupil Places were in the City of London.
The same solution doesn’t work at the MOT or MOE…if it did…TDSB & TVDSB wouldn’t have as many empty schools in urban areas as they do, and rural Ontario wouldn’t be losing schools it needs…
In a PAR introduced at the TVDSB on November 22 according to Senior Administration in order to satisfy the MOE Funding Formula and get the student numbers needed to build 1 school in South East London they would have to affect 12 rural schools (including 4 closures).
Rural is literally being asked to sacrifice to accommodate urban growth. 
Why? Because of the Funding Formula…
Under the current Provincial Policy Statement rural Municipalities protect Prime Agricultural Land.
In Zorra we’ve said not to residents wanting 2 acres for a family member…
We’ve said no to solar farms even if a large part of us wanted to say yes…
Because protecting Prime Agricultural Land is important.
The other side of that deal is that urban Municipalities densify and in-fill and make better use of their infrastructure.
Recently the Town of Ingersoll approached Zorra wanting to annex 200 acres of Prime Agricultural Land.
Cities are growing by about 1% per year — a lot of it because of immigration and natural population growth — while rural numbers overall are staying steady.
The deal wasn’t that rural protect Prime Agricultural Land and LOSE our schools to urban growth…
Rural is protecting Prime Agricultural Land and being punished for it.
Ontario needs a different MOE Funding Formula for rural as part of deal to protect Prime Agricultural Land.
We need a Funding Formula that recognizes distances, single school communities, and smaller sizes are reality of rural life…
This IS NOT to say that Toronto, London and other urban areas don’t need, or aren’t deserving of, schools. Simply that the same Funding Formula for urban and rural doesn’t work.
Same solution doesn’t work at MOT or MOE…if it did…TDSB & TVDSB wouldn’t have as many empty schools in Toronto and London, and rural Ontario wouldn’t be losing schools…
Ontario needs a Funding Formula that recognizes distances, single school communities, and smaller sizes are reality of rural life and rural is doing it’s part and deserves a fair deal.
To me the next fundamental issue is who should own schools?
School Boards always owned schools because they were local.  The decisions of where to build or not build, and where to close were made by people in the community with a keen awareness of the consequences of these decisions.
Everyone knew their Trustee and the system was highly accessible, transparent, accountable, and democratic.
But those days are gone:
– Boards are too big with too many schools and communities for Trustees to be expected to make truly informed LOCAL decisions.
– the MOE makes all curriculum so Boards have almost no say in that
– the MOE negotiates contracts…
– Boards can’t raise funds themselves, so the MOE controls funding…
All this results in Boards that are NOT accessible, NOT transparent, NOT accountable, and NOT democratic.
So, you could try to fix the School Boards…
But why?  Why have School Boards?
School Boards should be absorbed by local Municipal governments.
Lower and Upper Tier Municipal Council & Staff are WAY more accessible/transparent/accountable/democratic than the School Boards.
But how would you do it?
The Ministry of Education already negotiates the majority of contracts, and sets the curriculum. 
Municipalities would have a Department of Education just like they have Planning Departments, and Departments of Public Works, Public Health, Recreation, etc.
Where would the Staff come from? We’d hire the Staff doing the job at School Boards now.
School opening/closing decisions would be made in coordination with Planning Departments AS THEY SHOULD BE.
Forget Hub Advisory Committees, there would be no no “silos” around Ministries, Hubs would create themselves under Municipal control BECAUSE IT MAKES SENSE at a local level to coordinate these things.
I need only hint at the possible cost savings of absorbing School Boards into Muncipalities…
Ontario needs a Funding Formula that recognizes distances, single school communities, and smaller sizes are a reality of rural life, Ontario NEEDS rural, and rural is doing it’s part and deserves a fair deal.
And we need to put the decisions about school buildings where they belong: with accessible, transparent, accountable, and democratic Municipal Government.
Or…put another way
We don’t want the big fancy intersection…
…we want our 4 way stop and our flashing red light.
Because “Fair doesn’t mean everybody gets the SAME, fair means everybody gets what they NEED.”
And rural Ontario needs it’s schools.

Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: