Day two of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario conference brought two big speakers with some different ideas about the needs of cities. In one slot was the man currently serving in the post of the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, and in the other was the man who’s currently the only elected opposition leader in the Ontario legislature, and they offered very different visions indeed.
On Tuesday afternoon, Minister Steve Clark brought platitudes and glad tidings to the members of AMO and the municipal leaders in attendance, and then he re-affirmed the Government of Ontario’s direction to help cities and towns deal with the housing crisis in Ontario.
“The message has been clear – municipalities need the tools and flexibility to get shovels in the ground faster on priority projects, especially housing. That’s why our government introduced legislation that would give the mayors of Toronto and Ottawa the ability to drive policy changes, select municipal department heads and bring forward budgets,” Clark said. “We want to empower our municipal partners to be able to get things done.”
Clark said that this was just “one concept” that the government is looking at to accelerate housing construction along with the development of the Housing Supply Action Plan, the Community Infrastructure and Housing Accelerator, and updating the Ontario Building Code to account for innovative construction materials and techniques to save time and money.
Also, while municipal leaders were looking to Clark and the Ontario government for help, Clark made his own appeal to a higher level of government.
“Ontario is currently being underfunded by approximately $490 million for housing and homelessness over the term of the National Housing Strategy based on the province’s level of Core Housing Need, which is the highest in the country,” Clark said. “We need our municipal partners to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with us and urge the Federal government to pay its fair share, so we can continue working together to deliver supports and resources to vulnerable populations.”
“We will continue advocating for Ontario to ensure federal programs align with our priorities and the needs of Ontarians,” he added.
Earlier in the day, Guelph MPP and Green Party of Ontario leader Mike Schreiner took to the stage to talked about the need for a “New Deal for Municipalities”, a fair fiscal framework with less downloading of costs to the municipal property tax base and stable long-term funding to plan responsibly.
“Instead of concentrating power in the mayor’s office, let’s quickly build more homes by ending exclusionary zoning so municipalities can ramp up housing supply without threatening our food security and the $50 billion food and farming economy,” Schreiner said alluding to the Strong Mayors, Building Homes legislation.
Alternatively, Schreiner proposed that the Government of Ontario invest in improving main streets around the province, and that includes vital assistance for the most vulnerable members of the community who are facing issues like homelessness.
“Poverty costs this province $33 billion per year, so let’s end legislated poverty by doubling social assistance rates. Let’s invest in expanding mental health and addiction services. And let’s house the most vulnerable with wrap-around mental health, addiction and other supports,” Schreiner added. “These investments will save lives, improve quality of life, boost local economics and, ultimately, save money. Surely funding these solutions is more important than inflated electricity subsidies and licence plate gimmicks.”
Tuesday’s conference program also featured sessions on housing and homelessness, emergency management, planning, reconciliation, public health, climate change, and the Blue Box program.