Ontario PC Leader Patrick Brown 2015 AMO Annual Conference Speech

Published on August 17, 2015

I want to thank AMO President Gary McNamara for that kind introduction and for his leadership of AMO over the last year. I also want to commend him for his long service not only to AMO, but to the people of Tecumseh.

And I want to thank AMO for giving me the opportunity to speak today.

I’m here to tell you my plans to move forward and work with municipalities across Ontario to strengthen our communities.

I began my elected political career as a Councillor for the City of Barrie at a time when it faced many tough challenges as its population grew.

So I understand many of the challenges you are faced with, and how difficult it is to meet your obligations associated with it.

The only way to ensure that our cities are thriving is by giving municipalities the tools they need to succeed and to attract investment.

Because frankly, Ontario’s cities continue to be shortchanged. Ontario was once the economic engine of Canada and it is now a have-not province. We have to ask ourselves why. Why has Ontario fallen behind?

Those of you in this room know why because you face these issues every day.

On May 27th, when speaking to the Windsor Star about losing a bid for the new Jaguar Land Rover plant, Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens said that he was assured the city did everything right.

And when Mayor Dilkens asked what the city could have done differently, the answer was “nothing.”

I’d like to read you a quote from Mayor Dilkens.

He said:

“So, it wasn’t Windsor, it wasn’t Essex (County), it wasn’t our region. There were other factors in play, beyond our control, that put us at a competitive disadvantage.”

This is a guy who represents people that are relying on manufacturing jobs.

The loss of jobs, skyrocketing hydro prices, a lack of funding for infrastructure, are province-wide.

That’s why politicians and the government need to work together, to get things done.

Because the only way to know what tools our municipalities need, is to listen to your concerns and ask the right questions so that collectively, we can make our cities and province thrive.

It’s by listening to municipal leaders, like Mayor Dilkens, that we can understand how to improve our province. He stated loud and clear that the auto industry is in trouble in Ontario, yet this government is moving forward with the ORPP.

That’s why, last month, I made a point of touring through Southwestern Ontario and visiting the University of Windsor - Fiat Canada Automotive Research and Development Centre. This was the same week that Fiat Chrysler CEO, Sergio Marchionne, detailed how crippling the ORPP will be for jobs.

When it comes to the this job-killing payroll tax, we have an unprecedented situation, with the Ontario Chamber of Commerce and 150 signatories– including major employers like GM and Canadian Tire - writing to the government to oppose it.

A recent survey from the Ontario Chamber of Commerce showed that if faced with the proposed mandatory payroll tax, 44 percent of businesses would reduce their current payroll or be forced to hire fewer employees in the future.

Even internal Ministry of Finance documents confirm tens of thousands of Ontario jobs will be lost under this proposed payroll tax.

And yet, the new tax is going forward, with little regard for how it will affect Ontario’s cities and businesses.

Guelph Mayor Cam Guthrie has highlighted that the ORPP is scaring business investment away.

It’s about time we start listening to our municipal leaders.

We should be focused on making it easier for cities to thrive in Ontario, not harder.

Ontario’s high hydro rates are driving businesses out of the province – or stopping them from expanding or setting up businesses here.  

Businesses have told me they are relocating some of their operations to other jurisdictions, primarily because Ontario electricity rates are among the highest in North America.

Companies like Xstrata – which moved its operations to Quebec, in large part because of hydro rates.

I know many of you in this room share that concern. I’ve spoken to municipal leaders in the North and in Southwestern Ontario who are worried about the future of manufacturing plants in their communities.

Sadly, it doesn’t stop there. Hydro rates were estimated to increase 42% between 2013 and 2018. And now we face the potential of even higher rates with the fire-sale of Hydro One.

Municipalities can’t be expected to retain jobs and garner investment when we have energy prices that are almost double that of neighbouring provinces and states – our main competitors.

Earlier I mentioned that we need to ask ourselves why our once strong and prosperous province has fallen behind.

One of the reasons is that it has become increasingly difficult for businesses to operate in Ontario.

There are more than 350,000 regulations in Ontario and it is choking our province.

Having to spend time and resources filling out excessive paperwork or jumping through endless hoops is a roadblock for municipalities.

And there isn’t any real process to deal with red tape.

For example, when it comes to funding applications, there are different criteria required by each grant program offered by the federal or provincial governments, as well as a different method of reporting.

ROMA recently highlighted an example of one municipality that tallied up the reports it provides to the province on a yearly basis: 287.

That’s more reports than there are work days. So it’s no wonder that smaller municipalities have a harder time applying for programs that would benefit their residents.

They just don’t have the resources.

All of these things - new payroll tax, skyrocketing hydro rates, and red tape – hurt Ontario’s ability to retain business and creates more uncertainty at a time when companies need stability in order to invest.  

I want to make Ontario the easiest place in the world to invest, which sadly is not the case today. Those businesses I mentioned earlier that are moving to other, cheaper jurisdictions, whether it’s the Toyota line moving to Mexico or Goodyear halting its multi-million dollar plant expansion in Napanee - they didn’t want to leave. They didn’t have a choice.

I want those jobs in Ontario. In our towns, counties, and cities. We need those jobs in Ontario.

The Ontario PC Party understands the value of professional policing and emergency services. We value the safety of our communities, and we share the concerns of municipalities about providing the best emergency services possible.

According to Statistics Canada, one in five contacts with first responders in 2012 involved someone with a mental or substance abuse disorder.

In 2013, calls related to mental illness cost London police more than $14 million, which is roughly 15% of their budget.

That same year, Ottawa police apprehended 1,401 people under the Mental Health Act. Beyond the apprehension, on-duty police officers are spending a lot of time waiting at the hospital until the arrested person is seen by a health care professional.

We need to ensure that the mental health concerns facing Ontario’s first responders are no longer underfunded.  

The province needs to properly fund mental health to reduce the cost and burden on our cities.

I struggle with the fact that municipalities are quietly, but consistently, having capital contributions for health care forced upon them.

For example, in 2005 the City of Barrie gave $52 million to the Royal Victoria Hospital to help fund its expansion and regional cancer care centre.

The City of Burlington is providing $60 million to redevelop Joseph Brant Hospital, and the City of North Bay contributed $20 million to the North Bay Regional Health Centre.

Oakville Town Council approved $130 million in its 2015 capital budget for its new hospital, and two months ago, the City of Sault Ste. Marie committed $29.5 million to the Sault Area Hospital.

In Penetanguishene, the local council just had to commit to $32,500 each year for the next 15 years to try and attract a local health hub after the province closed its only hospital. That’s a town of just over 9,000 having to pay nearly half a million dollars just to retain some sort of health care service within its city limits. The province should be there for municipalities, not forcing them to go it alone

Ontario’s municipalities are being forced to do too much, and are being held hostage to funding new areas because of a spending problem at the provincial level.

And don’t even get me started about physician shortages across the province and the government’s recent decision to cut 50 medical residency positions.

Another direct result of the province’s growing debt is the reduction to the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund (OMPF).

This year spending in the provincial budget increased by $2.4 billion, but the OMPF that municipalities depend on was cut again, hurting cities in need of infrastructure repair.

The government isn’t listening to Ontario’s mayors and councillors. They claim that cuts to the OMPF are offset by uploads, but many of your towns and cities aren’t seeing that benefit, as the savings are being experienced by a different level of government. We need to get this right, or municipalities’ resources will be stretched even further as funding from the province is continuously reduced.

Without this co-operation, infrastructure in this province will continue to deteriorate. Ontarians will continue to face unnecessary congestion, wait times, and gridlock.

An example of this needed co-operation is in the City of Bracebridge. They want to start a transit program and provide a better quality of life for their residents. The city needs funding to help get it up and running, but the provincial gas tax can only fund transit plans that are fully operational.

There is no one cookie cutter formula for the transportation needs of each municipality.

Congestion and gridlock is dragging our economy and our quality of life down.

The government’s response is to blame the previous government or the federal government, but after 12 years in office and huge increases in spending, the truth is that this government could have changed the funding for municipalities if they had wanted to.

There needs to be less talk and more action. We need to be your partner to move Ontario forward so that it can once again be a leader among Canada’s provinces, versus the have-not province it has become.

We need to tap into the potential of Northern Ontario, which has been overlooked for too long.

But as with any of our cities, municipalities in the north need to be given the resources and support they require to attract investment and grow.

And in Northern Ontario, there is real concern over transportation corridors, forestry, and mining.

In 2013, former Timmins Mayor Tom Laughren described the cancellation of the Ontario Northland passenger train service as an example of the lack of understanding and respect towards Northern Ontario.

Last year, Timmins Mayor Steve Black wrote an open letter urging the government to revisit the state of mining and forestry industries in Northern Ontario after Resolute Forest Products announced it would be closing its mill in Iroquois Falls.

He wrote:

“A decade ago Ontario was the number one desired location for mining companies to do business in. Today we have fallen to almost 30th. Our forestry industry should be growing and adding jobs to our region and province, and yet we see it continue to struggle.”

I mentioned earlier how Ontario’s high energy rates are driving businesses out of the province, citing Xstrata as an example.

Even with the NIER Program, hydro prices in the North are very expensive, making it extremely difficult for a company to operate there, versus an equally sized company in Manitoba or Quebec.

Why would a company in Kenora stay when they are paying almost $60 more per megawatt hour than their neighbours in Manitoba?

But every now and again, this government claims to look out for the interests of the North. Just a few months back they even announced they would reform the Provincial Land Tax system to make it fair for all municipalities who provide services to unincorporated areas.

I want the government to get this right, but I also want them to actually do it. I’m tired of empty promises and I’m tired of photo ops. I want to believe they will follow through on this promise – and if they do I will applaud them. Sadly, I share the views of Kenora Mayor Dave Canfield when he said “I’ll believe it when I see it.”

In addition to listening to our municipalities, we need to work together in partnership. This conference and the meetings many of your delegations are having with me and my Municipal Affairs Critic, Ernie Hardeman, are an important first step.

I believe we need sensible, pragmatic solutions to building a better economic climate in Ontario so that our municipalities can succeed.

In order to have a prosperous province, you need to have a strong economy. And to have a strong economy, you need to have strong municipalities.

Mayors, Wardens, and Reeves can be the best salespeople for cities, towns, and counties.

We want to unleash you to attract investment from the best in the world.

Ontario must reduce red tape and have a transportation network that gets people to and from work, and products to the marketplace. We need to oppose job-killing pension schemes, and have affordable hydro rates.

I strongly believe in an Ontario that works co-operatively with cities.

A strong partnership with our municipalities is crucial for the future of our communities.

I look forward to continuing the conversations that have been started here so that we can find sensible, pragmatic solutions to the issues facing our cities and Ontario.

By doing so, together we are going to build a better province.   

Municipalities are the drivers of our economy and I want to give you the tools to succeed. We want to be your champions at Queen’s Park so that you can confidently market your city and Ontario to the world.

Thank you.