From the Mayor's Desk
Mayor’s Report on Rural Ontario Municipal Association (ROMA) Conference in Toronto January 27-29
Doug Lawrance, Mayor, Sioux Lookout
The ROMA Conference is held annually every January in Toronto. ROMA, along with the Association of Municipalities of Ontario annual conference held every year in August, provide municipalities such as Sioux Lookout an opportunity to meet directly with Provincial Ministers to advocate for specific municipal issues. Typically these delegation meetings are 15 minutes and involve the presentation of a ‘briefing note’ from the municipality to the Minister. Our briefing notes typically include background information on Sioux Lookout, a factual description of a specific challenge, and a statement of municipal ‘asks’ often framed as an opportunity for the Province.
This year Sioux Lookout was able to secure five delegation meetings at ROMA with Ministries of: Transportation (MTO), Municipal Affairs and Housing - Finance Division (MMAH), Community Safety and Correctional Services (MCSCS), Health and Long Term Care (MoHLTC), and Attorney General (MAG). The topics we advocated for in this year’s delegations are noted in the following paragraphs.
MTO: Our asks included upgrades to Highway 516 through to 599 that would allow for removal of seasonal load restrictions, improve alignment, improve surface, and make the highway suitable for anticipated heavier traffic that will come from development of all-weather access roads in the north, anticipated truck loads with Watay Power project, and traffic associated with any mining developments in the northern region.
We also asked MTO to coordinate the development of a northwestern Ontario integrated regional transit system. The loss of the Greyhound service provides an opportunity to have a regional transit system that services the region rather than passes through it.
Our final ask of MTO was for award of the Ontario Community Transportation Grant Program funding that Hub Transit had applied for in early 2018. On this one we were told at the meeting that the application had been approved the day before along with 30 other Ontario communities. Congratulations to Hub Transit on receiving a grant of approximately $150,000 per year for five years. This will go a long way to making Hub Transit sustainable.
MMAH: Our presentation and ask to the Finance Division of MMAH was essentially a request that they not decrease the Ontario Municipal Provincial Fund payments to municipalities. We also asked that they reconsider the indicators used in the funding for community specific factoring. Many municipalities would be asking for stability in OMPF funding. Our Municipality receives approximately $1.5 million per year, although this number has been decreasing in recent years and the Province has indicated an intention to have deeper cuts this year. If nothing else, we requested that the Province defer changes until 2020 to allow municipalities time to adjust through their budgeting process for next year.
MCSCS: Our requests for MCSCS have been consistent for several years. They fall into two categories: the first category involves doing things that reduce the calls for policing service and the second is for cost relief for Sioux Lookout through a revised subsidy. We continue to request alternative justice methodologies, detox facility, bail program to reduce breaches and violations, and a new fully resourced emergency shelter. Many of these things involve many sectors and require cross-ministry support. On the police billing subsidy we continue to advocate for deeper subsidy and we have provided a path for the Ministry to achieve this – we will continue to advocate and we are hoping for consultation with the Ministry in the coming months.
MoHLTC: Our primary discussion with MoHLTC focused on the status of our application for long term care beds and our request that the Ministry move ahead with implementation as soon as possible. We also asked for cross-ministry support for some of the initiatives involving detox, mental health and addictions, and supportive housing. We also noted that we had concerns relating to the LHIN system and that the changes suggested so far would move us farther out of the loop of engagement with the health care system than we already are.
MAG: Our requests to the Attorney General remain very similar to those that we make to MCSCS and involve cross-ministry support. Specific to MAG is our request for alternative justice methodologies and for an Assistant Crown to be permanently based in Sioux Lookout.
Through my involvement in the Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association (NOMA) I was also able to be part of the Associations delegation to a multi-Ministry table. NOMA presented on four issues: energy, finance, transit, and policing. The energy issues largely relate to transmission and availability of power for economic development in different parts of the northwest. In particular Sioux Lookout advocated for approval and funding of the Watay Power project and a transmission line going north from Dinorwic to Pickle Lake and beyond that would pass close enough to Sioux Lookout for a tie-in. That tie-in would resolve our situation of being on a single supply line with no redundancy and would assist with local distribution issues and for growth. The finance issue was the stability of the OMPF which is referenced in our own Municipal delegation. The transit issue was the request for a rational, integrated, regional transit system in Northwestern Ontario. And the policing issue was the one noted in our own municipal brief and the fact that many regional communities in the northwest have the same challenges and need similar solutions and cost relief.
As a Director on the Kenora District Services Board (KDSB) I was also able to participate in KDSB delegations to MCSCS, MAG, MMAH, Education (Early Years), Community and Social Services, and Infrastructure.
It continues to be my belief that the ministerial delegation meetings associated with the ROMA and AMO conferences are critical to small, northern, remote communities such as Sioux Lookout. If we don’t speak up for ourselves, inform the Province of our challenges and opportunities, and be persistent and consistent doing it – no one else will and we will be forgotten, ignored, overlooked. The approach is always factual, informative, respectful, and provides solutions along with the challenges.
If anyone would like to discuss with me any of the delegations or advocacy being done through them, please feel free to contact me at the Municipal Office.