The annual Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) conference wrapped up on Wednesday with some speeches from opposition leaders including Green Party of Ontario leader and Guelph MPP Mike Schreiner. After Premier Doug Ford’s somewhat rosy appraisal of the current response to COVID-19 on Monday, Schreiner notes there’s still a long, long way to go, and a lot of stuff that’s been overlooked by the provincial government.
“Instead of actually having the Province come to the table with some relief packages that are critically important to our economic recovery and addressing the pandemic he just kept passing the buck to the federal government over and over again,” Schreiner said about the Premier’s approach to pandemic recovery.
In his own AMO address, Schreiner called on the Provincial government to restore the old funding formulas for public health and childcare, to reverse proposed cuts to ambulance services, doubling the municipal share of the gas tax, and supporting transit.
“Transit is a huge expanse, and it’s vital to our communities and our economy, so I’ve been calling for the Provincial government to provide a 50 per cent operating grant to municipalities to keep transit going without significant fare increases,” Schreiner added.
Schreiner said that he’s also got his eye on the need for more emergency funding for Ontario cities, and while he calls the Safe Restart package “a step in the right direction,” it’s not sustainable enough to look after municipalities over the long term. Schreiner says his plan is to invest in infrastructure to create jobs and create new economic opportunity at the same time.
“The dining district has been a pretty big success, so how can we expand those kinds of changes to make them permanent, and then find ways to get communities across Ontario to support local businesses, support more economic activity in our downtowns, and have the kinds of infrastructure projects that create jobs,” Schreiner explained.
Schreiner brought up some of these ideas up in his address and went further by suggesting “green” measures like energy retrofit projects, the development of walking and cycling infrastructure, protections for local farmland and water resources, and supporting cleantech innovations. He also suggested making broadband an essential service, transitioning the CERB benefit into universal basic income, and doing more to make sure everyone has a permanent place to stay should we have to go back into lockdown.
“We’ve got to also be looking at addressing affordable housing needs and looking at our shelter systems, so we can protect and prepare to better support the most vulnerable in our communities,” Schreiner added. “The Province downloaded those costs on the municipalities, and that puts pressure on the property tax base.”
Although not a municipal concern, Schreiner also expressed the need to create more assurance that kids are going back to school safely in a couple of weeks time. “A safe return to school is absolutely critical to getting the economy back up and running,” Schreiner said. “We don’t want parents to have to choose between going to work or keeping their kids safe, and I hear that from a number of business owners and employees as well.”
Schreiner said that the government hasn’t prioritized their Back to School plans, and are tweaking their plans on the fly to be reactive as opposed to thinking long-term, and the reason maybe economical.
“If you look at the Sick Kids report that the government says they’ve base their plan on, it says the priority is smaller class sizes and the government’s been unwilling to deliver that because they want to pinch pennies,” Schreiner explained. “I think the Province has to step in with additional funding, which would include money for busing, even though I know the province is experiencing the largest budget deficit in Ontario’s history right now.”
In terms of the super local, Schreiner also said that he’s still advocating on behalf of constituents in the case of the potential placement of a power traction station at Margaret Greene Park, and notes that he’s committed to making sure that the wishes of the neighbourhood are ultimately respected.
“I’m going to be continuing to work with the community to deliver that message to Metrolinx, and my hope is that at the end of the day Metrolinx makes the right decision,” Schreiner said.