Local officials share concerns, boasts and frustrations at AMO

·7 min read

Local politicians had an opportunity to share local success stories and make a pitch for support of municipal needs to provinical leaders earlier this month.

At the recent 2022 Association of Municipalities Ontario (AMO) conference in Ottawa, delegations were obtained by Midland, Penetanguishene, and Tiny Township individually – and for two instances as a joint alliance – to address both concerns and points of pride for their municipalities and the region.

“It’s an opportunity to get in front of the various ministers and their parliamentary assistants and make a case for what you’re doing,” explained Midland Mayor Stewart Strathearn. “Two were organized on the basis of Simcoe North; it was Tiny Township that took the lead in getting us in front of the ministers.”

Two joint delegations by Midland, Penetanguishene, and Tiny Township

In their first joint meeting, mayors and CAOs from the North Simcoe municipalities participated in a 15-minute delegation regarding the Culture Alliance with Laura Smith, the parliamentary assistant to Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport Neil Lumsden.

“We were just letting the minister and ministry know that the Seed grant that they provided through (the Trillium Foundation) allowed the Alliance to pull together an asset map and a number of programs that kept interest in culture alive and well in the riding,” said Strathearn.

Along with Tay Township and Beausoleil First Nation, the group of five municipalities in the Culture Alliance were regarded as a unique regional program. Strathearn felt the group warranted acknowledgement to the ministry that such community-investment grant programs like this were a success story.

“We were just showing them what their return was on this funding to date, and also to let them know that we’re probably coming back for what’s called a Grow grant which is the next stage up from the Seed grants; we’ll be applying to Trillium when that particular category comes back online.”

Tiny Township Mayor George Cornell added, “It was a good news story, and trying to suggest that this may be a model that could work elsewhere in the province.”

Second for the joint delegations was a request of Minister of Health Sylvia Jones to look for investments about three things regarding the Georgian Bay General Hospital (GBGH), as pitched by interim president and CEO Matthew Lawson.

Those items were: to be put on a list for an MRI as GBGH is the largest acute care hospital without the service in the province; to address a requested approval for a stage 2 submission for a 36-bed acute mental health program addition to be attached to the emergency room; and support to make full use of an “underutilized” second surgical room.

“You’re seeing, both in the case of MRIs and surgeries, people having to travel outside of Simcoe County,” noted Strathearn. “43 per cent of over 3,700 patients travel outside Midland, and 35 per cent still travel within Simcoe County. We have most of the staff, we just need support from the province to round it out and get it going.”

MPP Jill Dunlop also attended the GBGC delegation, which both Strathearn and Cornell felt was well-received.

Three Midland delegations

Midland officials participated in three delegations at AMO.

Under the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport, Midland was one of eight member municipalities (including Toronto and Parry Sound) of the Cruise Ship Industry Group which received grant funding years ago to undertake a business plan for cruise ships in the Great Lakes.

“The plan was developed, submitted to the Ministry, and is being promoted as a foundational document,” said Strathearn. “In fact, I sat on a panel down at the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative AGM back in late June, in which one of the modules was about ‘blue economy’ and Great Lakes cruising and how it’s growing, and what the industry is looking for in terms of what the municipalities can do.

“Our deputation started there in saying: ‘You paid for the plan (and you) provided funding for developing experiences, because the people cruising today in their cruise ships are looking to pitch in.’”

Midland also attended a delegation with Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark to speak about concerns with Bill 109, and the possibility that it could slow down planning approvals instead of its intended function of speeding them up.

“We wanted to point that out,” said Strathearn, “and also ask that small municipalities not be painted with the same brush that (they’re) painting the larger municipalities like Toronto and Ottawa, that we have different abilities and different needs than a large metropolis.”

Finally, Midland officials spoke with Attorney General Doug Downey regarding recidivism, a federal matter which Strathearn knew couldn’t be fielded by the province.

“It’s disheartening. We’re spending funds through the OPP to see these things taken care of,” said Strathearn. “They’re doing a great job of it, only from our perspective to be let down by the Crown Attorney’s office or the folks working under the Attorney General who are inundated with serious crimes.”

He added that Downey was sympathetic to the plight, despite not being able to directly interfere with attorneys or judges in due process.

Two Tiny Township delegations

Delegations to two ministries overlapped for Tiny Township: the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF); and the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP) “about resources with respect to inspections and monitoring on the aggregate and shoreline alteration front as well on the environmental registry,” said Cornell. “We wanted them both to be aware of this.”

According to Cornell, the township and its residents were becoming frustrated over not being informed of ministry notifications for several issues, while the two ministries were also stating that they had provided those notifications.

Cornell added that MNRF Minister Graydon Smith commented there was a glitch in the system.

“I think to be fair, the MECP was a little more defensive, but also did agree that they would take a look at it because they were quite sure that we would have been notified and we assured them that we hadn’t.”

Individually, Tiny spoke to the MNRF about a reassessment of classification with regards to aggregate operations from a tax point of view.

To the MECP parliamentary assistant John Yakabuski, representative for minister David Piccini, Tiny also brought up the issue of the spreading of septage on fields in the township.

“We had understood on our last meeting going back three or four years,” Cornell said, “that the province had been looking at a plan to eliminate the spreading of septage in the fields – is what we were told was no longer the case – and that we would have to look at a more local solution if that’s where we were headed.

“That’s something that staff and council will have to think about.”

Their final point to the MECP was in praise of the Severn Sound Environmental Association (SSEA) as an eight-municipality alternative to a conservation authority, and how pleased Tiny was for the outcome, work, progress, and value received from SSEA efforts.

“We wanted to make sure the ministry was aware of that; and also on behalf of SSEA if there is any sustainable funding that’s available through the ministry that could help them,” added Cornell.

One Penetanguishene delegation

Mayor Doug Leroux and CAO Jeff Lees were granted a 15-minute delegation with Solicitor General Michael Kerzner regarding the responsibility and downloading of policing costs at the Central North Correctional Centre in Penetanguishene.

“This delegation is a continuation of the same matter that Council has been very engaged in over the past twenty months,” responded Leroux by email. “The discussion was positive, but will require continued dialogue between the Town and the Province. Further details will be shared in an update to Committee on September 14.”

Leroux continued, “This matter continues to be extremely important for the residents of Penetanguishene. Not only today but into the future.”

He concluded that, “I continue to look forward under Minister Michael Kerzner’s leadership with sustained support from MPP Jill Dunlop, that a fair and equitable resolution will be realized for the residents of Penetanguishene.”

Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, MidlandToday.ca