TORONTO—One of the many issues on which Ontario municipalities are hopeful for a good response from the province has to do with the latter maintaining Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund (OMPF) funding. The funding was put in place to offset downloads to municipalities from the province, and municipalities recently received a letter from the province indicating that the program is under review.
A Manitoulin Island politician noted that the issue of OMPF funding came up at the Rural Ontario Municipal Association (ROMA) annual conference held earlier this week. While no commitments were made by provincial representatives as to when or if funding will be provided to the level as it has in the past, Ian Anderson, the mayor of Billings Township said some of the funding has been provided.
“It was a really good conference,” Mayor Anderson told The Recorder on Tuesday. “There were a lot of good discussions and a lot of good topics raised and talked about. Premier (Doug) Ford talked about the current state of affairs in the province.”
“No, there were no starting commitments; as we all know the province is in a large debt situation (approximately $350 billion) and the message we heard from the premier and other ministers is that we all need to do things better and more cost efficient,” said Mayor Anderson. He explained, “for the provincial funding (OMPF) that municipalities have received in recent years it is my understanding that we as municipalities have thus far received 25 percent of what we received last year. No, at this point there was no commitment as to when additional funds or if what we have received in the past will be continuing.”
Mayor Anderson said that municipal representatives made it clear to the provincial officials that without a similar level of funding it will be very hard to operate municipalities and will affect their budgets. “The message we received is that everything is under review and that the province is looking for savings and cost efficiencies. That’s not surprising in light of the province’s current financial debt.”
“The message we received is that collectively we all have to work to get back on track,” said Mayor Anderson. He added, “the conference was very positive and we (Billings councillor Bryan Barker also attended the conference) learned a lot and will be bringing information back that we hope will benefit (Billings).”
Premier Ford, in his speech presented at ROMA, said the government is making sure rural communities are open for business by cutting red tape and making it easier to create and protect good-paying jobs.
“For too long, rural Ontario has been ignored. Our hardworking farmers have been ignored,” said Mr. Ford. “Ontario’s economy relies on agriculture. Our natural resources and forestry industries are major economic drivers. We need to do everything in our power to get our farmers and rural businesses the support they need to grow and create more local jobs.”
Premier Ford highlighted the actions the government is taking to lighten regulatory burdens in more than a dozen sectors and the positive effects these actions will have on the industries many rural communities rely on, including natural resources and agriculture. These actions will lower business costs, make it easier for farmers to run their businesses and make Ontario more competitive.
He addressed a long-standing request from municipalities and announced that the Ontario government intends to consult on joint and several liability. The government will look at evidence and develop solutions that make sense for the people.
The premier also committed to delivering better healthcare to rural communities. The government is investing $175 million in infrastructure upgrades at 128 hospitals across Ontario in places like Renfrew, Sarnia and Espanola.
“We promised to support our rural businesses and communities and we’re keeping our promise,” said Premier Ford. “We’re lowering electricity costs, we’re slashing red tape and we’re getting out of the way of businesses so they can focus on growing and creating jobs.”