The Town of Midland’s 2023 AMO (Association of Municipalities of Ontario) delegation was proudly representing our resident’s interests at this years conference hosted by the City of London August 21-23. My team included Councillors Bill Meridis, Jamie-Lee Ball, Beth Prost, Deputy Mayor Jack Contin, our CAO Rhonda Bunn and Acting Director of Planning (aka “growth”) Steve Farquharson. Together we attended numerous learning sessions around infrastructure funding, asset management and the ever-evolving Provincial planning changes, housing affordability, homelessness prevention, community safety, engaging youth, risk and liability, indigenous service delivery and numerous forums including the Honourable Elizabeth Dowdeswell, Lt. Governor of Ontario, Ontario Regional Chief Hare and the Women’s leadership forum.
In addition to the three days of plenary sessions, networking and mingling with peers from the 443 municipalities in Ontario (one less now due to the sudden dissolution of the Region of Peel), we met with Ministers and their staff to advance critical issues to our growth and sustainability. Click here to review the list of delegations and our asks of the Province.
Thanks to our new CAO’s connections in the Province, Rhonda was able to secure an impromptu meeting with the Honourable Kaleed Rasheed, the Minister of Public and Business Service Delivery, where we discussed growth and development opportunities and committed to follow-up.
Our meeting with Minister Neil Lumsden (Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport) went extremely well and we discussed the challenges and opportunities for our waterfront and the timing of grants and funding. While sharing all the amazing tourism initiatives already in our community, including Ontario’s Best Butter Tart Festival, and events centred around our waterfront such as Tall Ships, Tugboat Festival and our desire to grow our position as a premiere destination in the new Great Lakes Cruising Strategy that began last term, we came prepared with butter tarts for the staff (a great idea by Karen Mealing our Manager of Culture and Community).
I should add that the elephant in the room (Greenbelt land sales) was not part of any comments or responses by or from anybody from the Province. It seemed odd and awkward and aside from the quiet resignation of Minister Clark’s chief of staff (widely viewed as the sacrificial lamb in this matter), the subject was avoided entirely except immediately before Premier Ford took to the podium, when Regional Chief Hare (Assembly of First Nations) blasted the Province and demanded that Minister Clark be re-assigned or fired for his part in the controversy and the Province adopt the only recommendation in the auditor general’s report that the Province has refused to embrace – reverse the greenbelt land sales.
The addition of 21 more “strong mayors” and a $1.2 billion dollar funding announcement from Premier Ford and Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark that purport to reward larger municipalities that over-achieve on their housing targets left small urban and rural communities wondering what supports or incentives were available to us. The “building faster fund” declaration that 10% of the new fund would be earmarked for the smaller communities without defined growth targets was somewhat re-assuring but offered no details about how we would be judged or evaluated for our concerted efforts already underway to help the Province meet their housing targets and help with the supply shortages in our communities.
Ambiguity and vagueness appear to be hallmarks of most of the new bills released over the past 12 months, including the as-yet undelivered promise to make municipalities “whole” for the projected $25 million dollars in lost tax revenue from the changes to development charges (DC) in new legislation such as Bill 23. This was the first question asked to Minister Clark at the Minister’s Forum (aka bearpit) and was skillfully dodged and deflected – a standard political tactic in most levels of government, and cited as one of the top reasons that people dislike and distrust politicians. To be honest, most of the following questions about unrelated topics, to a variety of ministers, were dealt with the same way. This is not a jab at the PC party, as this has played out the same way over time immemorial with any ruling party whether in Provincial or Federal politics – and likely in Municipal politics too. My goal is to never resort to that tactic and I ask that you hold me to this pledge.
Surely this new over-achiever incentive funding announced yesterday is not how they intend to make us all whole for the losses of DC, as it is tied to housing starts – something none of us have any control over. Developers, armed with our approvals that we fast-tracked to avoid repaying fees, are not compelled to put shovels in the ground and most won’t now due to the high cost of borrowing, the cost of goods and labour and the cooling new home sales market – all beyond a Municipality’s control.
As expected, homelessness and housing affordability were hot topics and there were daily sessions including a full morning of panel discussions about what work is being done through the Province, other municipalities in Ontario and by the service organizations that work closely with those experiencing homelessness or on the brink of homelessness. These learnings will be shared with the Midland community at our upcoming Community Safety Symposium on Thursday October 19th at the North Simcoe Sports and Recreation Centre (more to come)
Overall, it was a great conference, reportedly with the best attendance ever and the stage is already being set for next year’s event in Ottawa. I thank our staff and Councillors for taking time away from their day jobs to attend this event and help learn, share and gather ideas that can help us in our mission to serve our residents with value, compassion and vision as we grow our community and leave nobody behind.