Town delegates voice concerns with province

Duane Hicks

While in past years they’ve been more focused on lobbying for money, local delegates instead voiced their concerns about various issues to provincial representatives last week at the 2010 Association of the Municipalities of Ontario conference in Windsor.
Coun. Paul Ryan, who attended the conference with Mayor Roy Avis and CAO Mark McCaig, said during Monday night’s council meeting that the ministerial meetings they attended were very productive, but the discussions “were very frank.”
“We put our cards on the table immediately; the exchange of pleasantries only took a minute and we got right to the subject,” he recalled.
“So they’ll have to respond to our briefs and we’ll see what kind of result we’ll get out of it,” Coun. Ryan later added.
“But I can tell you our discussions were very frank and right to the point.”
McCaig said the meetings were a little different than previous years in that the town wasn’t asking for money, but rather presenting briefs and “stating a position that we had that we weren’t necessarily happy with how things were going with the respective ministry.”
They met with Mike Coles, parliamentary assistant to Community Safety and Correctional Services minister Jim Bradley, and presented two briefs.
The first had to do with the blockade and obstruction of local highways through protest by First Nations and the second with the continuous escalation of the costs of OPP services.
“You never know when you deal with the people who represent the minister on an ongoing basis whether the minister really hears about it or not,” Coun. Ryan said.
“But I can tell you he heard about it when we were there last week.”
Then they met with Aboriginal Affairs minister Chris Bentley about the land claim issues surrounding Pither’s Point Park.
“As you know, Ontario sided with Canada [in the court case] and we were kind of left standing by ourselves,” said Mayor Avis.
“But I think we made the point that we felt the government let us down and that they should help us just a little bit.
“[Ontario] should work with us rather than against us,” he stressed.
“I think it’s important to note that although we said we expressed disappointment that Ontario chose to appeal the recent injunction along with Canada, we did say that the town remains, as we have been in the past, committed to exploring solutions outside of litigation and are still very much interested in mediation of some form, of getting together with the parties and talking,” added McCaig.
“We’ve always been of that position, and I felt the mayor presented the brief in a very direct, concise manner and the message was heard loud and clear.”
The trio also met with Community and Social Services minister Madeleine Meilleur regarding the Rainy River District Social Services Administration Board, with the key topics being the apportionment costs to each municipality and how it can be changed, as well as the future uploading of services by the provincial government and how municipalities can guarantee that the funding goes back to them.
“We had some very good conversation on those matters,” said Mayor Avis.
“In fact, we were told a representative from the ministry would come down and meet with our CAO and discuss those issues.”
The delegates also heard various speakers, including Economic Development and Trade minister Sandra Pupatello, Premier Dalton McGuinty, NDP leader Andrea Horwath, and economist Jeff Rubin.
As well, they attended a “bear pit” session and various caucus meetings.
Coun. Ryan said Rubin gave delegates a good insight into the current economy and where it’s going.
“It’s all based on oil, and Canada has a lot of it,” he recalled. “He [Rubin] certainly touted the tar sands big-time, and the Keystone project, which is the pipeline going to Houston from the tar sands.”
Offering a general opinion of what he observed during the conference, Mayor Avis said he doesn’t think the town will be getting much infrastructure money in the near future “because the provincial government is broke, to put it in blunt terms.”
“It’s going to take a while before I think we’re going to start to see any major money come flowing that way for infrastructure,” he noted.
“So with that in mind, when we do our 2011 budget, we’re going to really have to grind some numbers out,” he warned.
Coun. Sharon Tibbs, who noted she’s received questions as to why the town sends delegates to such conferences, said it’s necessary because Rainy River District does not have an elected representative in the government that is in power, provincially or federally, and so the town has to be its own advocate.
“When they go, they go on behalf of us,” Coun. Tibbs stressed. “And I can tell you, from looking at the amount of grants from 2009-10, if it was not in our ability to go to these meetings, and send a delegation that is willing to talk to these ministries . . . that we wouldn’t have some of the funding that the province makes available.
“Right now, we’re going to be short on infrastructure and we know that ahead of time,” she added. “But we will seek other ways of trying to raise that money through other meetings that we attend.”