No timeline given on OMPF at conference
By Chad Ingram
Published Feb. 7, 2019
Politicians from throughout the county made their way to Toronto for the annual Rural Ontario Municipal Association conference, an event where municipal politicians get a chance to partake in lectures, workshops and panel discussions, as well as interact with provincial cabinet ministers and party leaders.
In December, the provincial government announced it was conducting a review of the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund, which provides annual funding allotments to municipal governments to help offset operating and capital costs, with an indication that the overall spending envelope for the program would decrease.
It is not clear exactly when municipalities will discover what impact the changes to the program will have for them individually, and Algonquin Highlands Deputy Mayor and Haliburton County Warden Liz Danielsen told the paper those details were not provided at the conference.
“It was evident during the conference that OMPF funding in particular is on the minds of all communities as we work on our budgets,” Danielsen said in an email. “While it is an urgent matter for our four municipalities given that the funding equals as much as 25 per cent of our overall revenues, other communities rely on as much as 77 per cent of their budgets from OMPF. The loss of that much funding would be devastating. Unfortunately, we were unable to get any commitment from the province on the timing of their review and decision but we did hear that rural and northern remained the province’s focus.”
The program’s initial focus was essentially to provide equalization payments to the province’s smaller, poorer municipalities, but has grown over time to a more general municipal funding stream.
Danielsen, along with other county politicians, partook in delegations to ministers regarding issues of importance to the Haliburton Highlands.
“I participated in several meetings with Minister [Steve] Clarke and others (including a session with Andrea Horwath, leader of the opposition) to stress the need for funding for the Eastern Ontario Regional Network’s cell gap project, for a fair decision/resolution to the province’s review of OMPF funding for rural and northern communities, for reduction of reporting requirements and red tape as well as assistance in funding housing for families at all income levels across the province,” Danielsen said in her email.
The potential elimination of some of that redundancy and overlap when it comes to municipalities’ reporting requirements to the province is welcome news to Minden Hills Mayor Brent Devolin.
“Procedural layers and complexity and time . . . this government seems to have a sincere appetite to [reduce] that,” Devolin said. “And certainly, as they roll that out, we’ll work diligently if we can dovetail that with what we’re doing in the municipalities to help obtain better outcomes, with planning and development, and some of those things.”
Haliburton County, for example, last week requested exemption from ministerial approval for amendments to the county’s official plan.
Devolin was also optimistic about potential changes to joint and several liability, which says that in a lawsuit where multiple defendants are named, if it’s proven that some of the defendants can’t afford to pay their damages, those damages can be transferred to a defendant who can afford to pay them. This is why townships are often named as defendants in lawsuits. Ontario municipalities have been lobbying for changes to the law for years.
“Not only just the premier spoke of joint and several, but subsequent ministers and subsequent conversations that happened during the course of the convention is that they’ll let us know that soon ... and by soon, my expectation is that at, or before the spring budget ... there’s something coming forthwith there,” Devolin said.
Algonquin Highlands Mayor Carol Moffatt told the paper one of the most important conversations she’d had during the conference was regarding physician recruitment.
“The most valuable - and timely, conversation I had this year was with the program manager of the Rural Ontario Medical Program (ROMP),” Moffatt said in an email. “Haliburton’s previously robust relationship with ROMP needs to be reignited given recent discussions, and I look forward to folding further discussions with ROMP into our ongoing work with the Family Health Organization around physician recruitment.”
County council will consider the hiring of a physician recruiter during its 2019 budget deliberations.
As for the messages coming from party leaders, Moffatt said she was keeping notes amid all the buzzwords.
“Listening to the party leaders is little more than entertainment these days because they speak to a captive audience using all the right buzzwords and touch points,” she said in an email. “It’s whether, and how, they follow through on those speeches that counts. I made note of the common phrases I heard: cutting red tape, flexibility, policy simplification, reflecting local conditions, moving away from ‘one size fits all’ and using more technology such as self-serve. In discussion, some thought that all sounded like less will lead to more, where others thought it sounded like downloading by stealth. There are certainly some polarized views out there and it will be interesting to see how it all unfolds.”
Among the sessions Dysart et al Mayor Andrea Roberts attended was one on food tourism.
“I went to a session on food tourism, which is a priority at the county,” Roberts said in an email. “We heard an update on cannabis legislation as well as some general information from MPP Ernie Hardeman, OMAFRA and the theme that Ontario is open for business. The government wants to remove red tape but maintain public health and safety.
“We heard from Premier Ford and his message is that rural Ontario matters. ‘Toronto is a bubble, rural Ontario is the real world.’ The minister’s forum is always a packed room where the ministers take questions from the floor. The conference in general is an opportunity for professional development. It’s a busy time but I found it well worth it. At Dysart’s next council meeting we will have the conference on as an agenda item for verbal update from those who attended.”
Minden Hills Deputy Mayor Lisa Schell also attended the food tourism food session.
“The speaker of the session suggested local municipalities create ‘cottage food laws,’” Schell explained in an email. “These bylaws ease regulations while maintaining food safety. The law allows a person to produce and sell food from their own home without the expense and licensing that it would normally require to start a food business. In a community where many struggle with transportation and start up fees for business, the law can promote small business by allowing them to start through easier means – costs and hassles people normally have to go through in order to produce and sell their own products. The intent is to benefit local economies – supporting farming, locally grown, fresh and higher end (value added) produce and products.”
Schell indicated there is also some concern from municipalities about the provincial requirement that each have an integrity commissioner on retainer to handle complaints, and what the cost of handling frivolous or vexatious complaints might be.
“It would appear that having an integrity commissioner in the county may be opening Pandora’s Box for any complaints to go through the integrity commissioner causing the cost of the service to be astronomical,” Schell said in an email. “The integrity commissioner comes into effect on March 1 of this year so time will tell if the service actually does what it is intended.”
One of the sessions Dysart et al Deputy Mayor Pat Kennedy attended was called Shifting into Higher Gear: Processes to Streamline Planning and Development.
“I recently attended a dinner meeting with the Haliburton County Homebuilders Association,” Kennedy said in an email to the paper. “Their message of the need to streamline processes was one of the key messages I took away from that meeting. Although the presentation was more geared toward staff than politicians I still found the experiences of Bruce County implementing the ‘lean process’ which have substantially reduced the development application process to be worthy of further investigation. Township of Lake of Bays created a ‘community planning permit’ process that basically (if I interpreted the presenter’s comments correctly) amalgamates all potential requirements for a predetermined type of development into one application.”
Kennedy said he also got to see a project under development that would create an online development process, allowing staff and developers to monitor projects through the system.
“I suspect our staff are aware of these initiatives but now I am somewhat more aware of the potential savings in staff time, and lowering of permit time frames and developer frustration these types of initiatives can potentially have for Dysart if implemented here,” he said.