Local reps bend ears of ministers

FORT FRANCES—Delegates from Fort Frances got a chance to give their input to the provincial government on issues ranging from the international bridge to child care funding at the annual general meeting of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario last week in Ottawa.
Following the theme “Creating a New Municipal Landscape,” Mayor Dan Onichuk, Coun. Todd Hamilton, and CAO Mark McCaig joined hundred of others from across Ontario attending seminars at the Ottawa Congress Centre and The Westin Ottawa Hotel.
In an interview Monday, Mayor Dan Onichuk said the overall experience was “positive.”
He noted the town reps met with four ministers—Donna Cansfield (transportation), David Ramsay (natural resources and aboriginal affairs), Jim Bradley (tourism), and Mary Anne Chambers (children and youth services)—regarding issues such as the sale of the bridge here, slash policy in regards to bio-mass fuel, the Pither’s Point Park two-chain issue, moving the tourist information centre, and day care funding.
“In the past, there’s never really been a commitment from the other side of any nature,” said Mayor Onichuk. “But I’m very happy to report that out of all [four meetings] we had, we actually got a response from the ministers and they’re going to be doing something for us.
“It wasn’t like ‘Okay, we’ll consider that in the future.’ It was more like ‘We’ll do this or we’ll do that,’” the mayor remarked. “I thought all four meetings were very positive.”
“The ministers told us that ‘We hear you,’” echoed Coun. Hamilton. “It was all very positive.”
Mayor Onichuk also said he was pleased to see Premier Dalton McGuinty pledge to look into the burden of downloaded services on municipalities.
“One of the biggest issues we’re faced with, municipally, right across the province is the downloading of services—ambulance, public health, social services, housing, all those things that were downloaded to us,” he noted.
“He [McGuinty] gave an indication, and commitment, that they were going to do a review of all those things.
“The trend has changed under this current government, and they’re taking responsibility for a lot more and sort of bringing us back to the original commitment from many years ago,” the mayor continued.
“They’ve done a lot of work and put a lot of money into it, but they’re also going to do a review of the downloaded services in general and will meet with representatives of AMO under a letter of understanding.”
The mayor conceded some people weren’t happy with the timeline “because they’re looking at probably in excess of 18 months to do this review and people would have rather seen it quicker.”
“But it was good to hear, it was very positive,” Mayor Onichuk stressed.
“[Premier McGuinty] expressed that municipalities are the lifeblood of Ontario and the province should support them,” said Coun. Hamilton. “I found that very encouraging.”
Coun. Hamilton also said the AMO meeting was an excellent chance to meet municipal politicians from across the province, particularly those from elsewhere in the region, and network with them.
“You find out the problems we have in Fort Frances are the same [as] they have in Dryden, the same problems they have in Kenora, the same problems they have in Atikokan.
“That’s what AMO’s for—to lobby for solutions to the problems that municipalities face,” he noted.
In other news, Roger Anderson of Durham finished his term as AMO president last Monday.
Doug Reycraft, mayor of Southwest Middlesex, stepped in as the new AMO president, with Anderson serving as AMO past-president for the next two years.
AMO is an organization that represents nearly all of Ontario’s municipalities, and is mandated to support and enhance strong and effective municipal government.
(Fort Frances Times)