Ontario Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Hon. Rick Bartolucci’s Keynote Speech to Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities Conference – (Timmins, Ontario – May 12, 2011)

Check Against Delivery

Thank you, Al for that introduction.

The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing is pleased to partner with FONOM for this conference and to continue to support the important work FONOM does.  I want to thank the City of Timmins for hosting this conference. Timmins, Sudbury and the rest of Northern Ontario have a lot in common.

We are determined and resilient. We know what it’s like to live in a resource-based economy and the ups and downs that brings. When it comes to Northern challenges, nobody knows more than our government exactly what that means. 

Luckily, we have a strong seven-member Northern caucus and our government has done what previous governments have not:  ensure there are three cabinet ministers from Northern Ontario – with two being from North-eastern Ontario. 

Northern Ontario has a very strong voice around the cabinet table, and this voice influences everything our government does. We are passionate advocates for you, and I’m proud of that advocacy.

The Chief Economist for the Bank of Montreal said last week that the North is poised for growth in the immediate future, and I say to you, this is not accidental. The Northern economy and other regional issues, including distance to markets and to other communities have challenged previous governments.

But I say without apology or reservation that our government hit the ground running when first elected in 2003 to address these issues with unprecedented determination.  And we’ve never stopped.

The theme of this year’s FONOM conference is ‘A Golden Past, A Brighter Future,’ but I say to you, while nice words, that prediction is not a given. 

Nothing comes without a struggle and hard work and most importantly, the right partners at the table who understand and respond accordingly.

To ensure ‘A Brighter Future’ the right choices must be made and those choices must be made by individuals who inform themselves of the facts.

I have been hearing that some of the Northern Mayors including Cochrane Mayor Peter Politis who was quoted in the Timmins Daily Press as saying the North is ‘tired of being ignored’ by our government and I want to address this head-on today because nothing could be further from the truth, and those of us with long memories know that. 

To site one example, the Northern Growth Plan was drafted by northern government bureaucrats who live, work and raise families in the North, with northern politicians and other northern organizations. 

The $5 million our government is investing in the North Policy Institute that we recently announced will be staffed entirely by Northerners.

We are a government that has ALWAYS engaged in strong relationship building with northern communities – and that’s not something the North has seen with previous governments.

Here are the facts.

The previous Harris/Hudak government treated municipalities – particularly those in the North – like underlings who were expected to do what you were told without input. 

They were heavy handed and made decisions that were of serious detriment to our area. 

With our government, as evidenced by the AMO MOU table and a slew of other initiatives I will reference in a short while, it’s clear our government is at the SAME table as municipalities.

We recognize municipal governments as a mature, independent order of government and that’s reflected in our approach with you.

Again, I say to you, you can’t afford to have a short memory when it comes to previous governments and their Northern record.

Under the previous Tory government Northern Ontario saw the largest out-migration in Canadian history – exceeding that of the east coast with it’s long-standing sluggish economy – as our sons and daughters, friends, neighbours and colleagues were forced to move elsewhere to secure work, build lives and futures. 

The Harris/Hudak government removed important public service jobs and essential services, moving them to southern Ontario.

And now Tim Hudak is talking about abolishing the Local Health Integration Network which will result in job losses and decisions being made centrally in Toronto. 

Hudak won’t talk about his ideas too much – he focuses on criticizing. 

But once and a while we see that old ‘Mike Harris’ ideology and it should make us very uncomfortable. Tim Hudak is a clone of Mike Harris and we all know, Mike Harris was certainly no friend of Northern Ontario. 

I think it speaks volumes and therefore worth a mention, that during the Harris/Hudak years, they diminished the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines to a part time Ministry with a part-time Minister. 

You know that old saying; the proof is in the pudding?  Well with the Harris/Hudak regime, the proof was in the policy.

His government also rammed downloading down our throats – he forced municipalities to take fiscal and administrative responsibility for the delivery of several services and programs, but did not provide the money to support this ill conceived plan which, at the end of the day, didn’t’ save anybody money.

And before that we had the NDP who CUT northern highway spending by over 14 per cent.

There’s not a person retired from the public service – and as a former teacher I include myself in that, whose pensions weren’t affected by the so-called ‘Social Contract.’

And as part of this despised policy, the NDP cut over $285 million in support for municipalities like your own. 

They raised hydro rates by 40 per cent but did nothing to generate new electrical supply and did not ensure special rate programmes for Northerners as our government has done.

When the NDP tell you they understand the North, I challenge you to ask them why they removed $60 million from the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund and put it into general government revenues.

Economics has never been a strong point for the NDP, but anyone knows that grossly depleting the fund in such a manner is just plain bad news for the North.

When the Ontario Liberals were elected we hit the ground running.

I, as a Northern representative and Northern Development and Mines Minister, was chomping at the bit to change the Northern-hostile policies of the previous government. 

Unlike the Tory government who steadfastly refused to do so, we established a northern-specific formula to address northern policing issues.

Unlike the Tories and NDP governments who paid lip service to Northern transportation need, we are making record investments.

As mentioned earlier, the NDP removed millions from the NOHFC, while the Tories allowed non-northern communities to access the NOHFC and used it as a slush fund.

Our government, on the other hand, re-tooled this vital economic driver, to focus squarely on job creation and we made good on our 2007 promise to increase the NOHFC from $60 to $100 million. 

Now, the NOHFC is an application-based process, so communities actually have to APPLY to receive funding.  Here is just a sampling of projects funded under the NOHFC since 2007:

• Cochrane received $862,000 for their industrial park in 2002
• Timmins received close to $1.8 million in 2010 for the North-eastern Ontario GIS Centre of Excellence
• Lacwood Industries in Kapuskasing received $1 million in 2008 and in 2008, the Kapuskasing Economic Development Corporation received over $1.8 million for the Kapuskasing Regional Industrial Minerals Project.

The list of our NOHFC investments is a very long one and the examples are endless but suffice to say, we are investing strategically in projects that generate jobs and improve life in Northern Ontario.

I STRONGLY encourage your communities to get your applications in for projects vital to your area.

By now, most of you are finalizing your municipal budgets. You have to make tough decisions in light of the fiscal environment.

At the provincial level, we face the same challenges. However, we have kept our commitment to you.

Despite severe global economic challenges we had not seen since the Great Depression, the McGuinty government is continuing with the program cost uploads agreed to in the Provincial-Municipal Fiscal and Service Delivery Review.

This is not the case across the country. 

The Nova Scotia NDP provincial government, for example, has announced that in 2012-2013 it will stop taking on some additional costs it had agreed to start assuming from municipalities.

That province’s minister of municipal affairs said that Nova Scotia can no longer afford to honour the agreement it had signed with municipalities.

We, however, reiterated our promise in our 2011 Budget. The Province remains committed to working with municipalities. For 2011, we will provide over $1.5 billion in support to municipalities.

This is through the combined benefit of both the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund and the uploads of program costs.

There will be a combined benefit of almost $242 million this year in the FONOM area.

That includes almost $178 million in OMPF, or $665 per household. That is nine times the average in southern Ontario.

FONOM municipalities and District Social Services Administration Boards will also enjoy a $64-million estimated benefit from the upload of:
• the Ontario Drug Benefit,
• the Ontario Disability Support Program, and
• the phased upload of the Ontario Works benefits.

What is more, we are making sure that the OMPF will continue to remain responsive to changes in municipal circumstances.
We are targeting support for municipalities with high social program and policing costs.

As well, we are addressing the challenges faced by northern and rural communities.

In 2011, we are providing $4.9 million in targeted transitional assistance.

This is assistance designed to ensure that eligible municipalities receive a guaranteed level of support.

We are basing it on the combined benefit of both the OMPF and provincial uploads received by a municipality in 2010.

Furthermore, we have arranged it so that the guarantee of support for municipalities in the North is set at a higher level.

We are seeing results.

A Central Manitoulin official told the Manitoulin Expositor that “… municipalities are all seeing a bit of a relief this year in District Services Board payments … because (the Province is) … uploading social services (costs).”

And now to put on my hat in my capacity as Housing Minister: Our government is focused on assisting you in meeting the demand for affordable housing in northeastern Ontario.

Through the Northern component of the Affordable Housing Program Extension, we have provided $14 million to repair 908 units in the districts of Algoma, Cochrane, Manitoulin-Sudbury, Nipissing, Sault Ste. Marie, Timiskaming and the City of Greater Sudbury. 

We also provided more than $30 million to repair approximately 11,000 social housing units across northeastern Ontario through the Social Housing Renovation and Retrofit Program.

That program is also supporting $2.6 million worth of Renewable Energy projects throughout the Northeast. That includes roof-mounted photovoltaic systems in Greater Sudbury, Parry Sound and Sault Ste Marie.

That also includes solar thermal systems in Timiskaming, and geothermal heating and cooling systems for housing units on Manitoulin Island. 

Other initiatives I want to highlight across the northeast are new senior rental housing projects.
We have 85 new units in Nipissing district, 11 new units in Sault Ste Marie, 21 new units in Parry Sound district, and 24 new units in Cochrane district.

We also have 15 new units for senior and Aboriginal students in the Timiskaming district.

That amounts to a total of $ 28.7 million worth of Affordable Housing projects in northeastern Ontario.

As I understand it, many seniors have already moved into their units, or will be moving into these units this summer.

I want to conclude by assuring you that the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing is committed to being your strong partner in helping you realize the inevitable prosperous future that belongs to the North.

We may not always agree, but we ARE at the table with you and want to continue an open, productive dialogue for the sake of this region that we are all passionate about.

We are here with you as we work together to seize the opportunities that lie in the North.

Thank you.