Mayor, CAO meet with nine ministries at ROMA Conference
Tim Brody - Associate Editor
The 2018 Rural Ontario Municipal Association (ROMA) Conference was busy and productive for Sioux Lookout Mayor Doug Lawrance and CAO Ann Mitchell.
Held in Toronto from January 21 to 23, Lawrance and Mitchell met with nine provincial ministers.
Lawrance remarked in a municipal press release, “The ROMA conference is a key opportunity for rural officials to raise local priorities with the provincial government, foster partnerships and learn about new opportunities. Funding Municipal services and infrastructure continues to be a recurring key theme, one that will be important heading into the provincial election.”
Speaking to that matter Lawrance commented, “The Association of Municipalities of Ontario started doing this research a couple of years ago on how to develop a funding mechanism to address the municipal infrastructure deficit. My understanding is they’ve looked at 40 different methodologies and whittled it down to 10, to five, and the one that they’ve come up with after all their research and polling, they polled the public, was this one per cent HST (proposed increase). I think 70 per cent of the public they polled supported this.”
Lawrance explained, “Ontario has seen that level of HST before… the one per cent (proposed increase) is dedicated as what’s called a local share, dedicated, as is the Federal Gas Tax now, to municipal infrastructure. Municipalities would have the freedom to spend that money on what they see their needs are. It would be dedicated, predictable, annual, and non-competitive; it’s recognizing a need that there is an infrastructure deficit. It’s well known.”
“In Sioux Lookout,” Lawrance explained, “That infrastructure deficit was tagged, I think a few years ago, at $65 million. These are the deep pipes underground that need to be replaced that have been there, some since the 1940s; its ongoing maintenance of roads.”
Lawrance commented, “It would be a simple formula based on population. So you know what you’re going to get based on your population. That benefits northern communities like us because we would get more HST than our residents spend on HST… I think, based on our population, the numbers that I’ve seen it would be in range of three quarters of a million to a million dollars a year.
“We could do a lot with that… the projects we’ve undertaken in this term, they’re two to three million dollars per project. That typically is about two blocks of infrastructure. Knowing you’d be doing that on an ongoing basis would give you a chance to catch up and keep up.”
The projects Lawrance is referring to were the King Street and Wellington Street projects which replaced sewer and watermains and improved roadways.
Lawrance said of the proposed one per cent HST increase, “I absolutely am supportive of it. We all know there’s an issue out there. This is research that’s been done. It takes it out of the direct residential property tax payer and puts it into the general tax and expands it into, I think, the right taxpaying level. Somebody has to pay for it. We should pay for part of it. It is our infrastructure. We can’t pay for all of it, but we need a mechanism to do it that doesn’t mean another hit on residential property tax.”
He added, “At NOMA (Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association), at the board level I’ve supported it, and now over the next six to eight months, individual municipalities will be asked to pass resolutions supporting it.”
Lawrance and Mitchell met with ministers of the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, Ministry of Housing, Ministry of the Attorney General, Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, Ministry of Status of Women, Ministry of Energy, Ministry of Education and Ministry of Early Years and Child Care, Ministry of Environment and Climate Change, and the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines.
Lawrance said of securing that number of delegations, “That’s the most we’ve ever had in this term of council. It was engaging and a busy time.”
Asked what he attributed securing that number of delegations to he responded, “I think it comes over time; years and years, councils and councils, the previous councils of Mayor Dennis Leney and Mayor Kathy Poling. As we’ve moved forward, this council, we’ve been very proactive in engaging with the province and building relationships, building respect, and telling the story of Sioux Lookout. Telling the opportunities and challenges that we face.”
Lawrance and Mitchell lobbied the Minister of Health and Long-Term Care for more long-term care beds for the community.
“I think it’s well known that we’ve been lobbying for this for some time, presenting the ministry with the facts of the matter. This was the first delegation in this term of council where we actually got to meet with the Minster of Health and Long-Term Care,” Lawrance said.
He continued, “I would say that his reaction was rather surprised that this file hasn’t been acted upon sooner. We presented him with the numbers and referenced him to multiple documents that have been prepared for him by others, as well as the Municipality. The details are all there. He seemed to have some awareness of it coming into the meeting. Coming out of the meeting, with the direction he gave to staff, the CAO and I felt really quite optimistic.”
Lawrance stated, “The province has, it’s been in the news, they’ve announced 5000 new long-term care beds across the province. What we pointed out was that about 25 years ago when the long-term care was built here, it was 20 beds for, at the time, a town population of about 3500. If you took Drayton, etcetera, it was a population of about 4500-5000. That translates into about, if you said 4000 people, it translates into five beds per 1000 people. We’re now at, because of the expansion of the north, the establishment of airstrips in the north, and Meno Ya Win Health Centre, we’re servicing 30,000 people… We still only have 20 beds. Do the math and we have two-thirds of a bed for every thousand people. The provincial average, as I pointed out to Minister (Eric) Hoskins, is about six and two-thirds beds, many times what we have here… We just want, as the documents already been presented, it’s an additional 76 beds, which would take us to a 96 bed facility, and that would bring us still, not quite to the provincial average.”
Also speaking with Minister Hoskins, Lawrance and Mitchell lobbied for a detox facility for the community.
“So many of our issues here, the challenges - we don’t have detox. Kenora has detox. Thunder Bay has detox. The police are put in a situation where at 30 below zero, where do they take people? The shelter is full, they don’t need hospitalization, they’re going to the local jail cell for their own protection. We need a facility where people can have the opportunity to detox, have the opportunity to get out of the cycle they’re in.”
In their delegation to the Ministry of Housing, Lawrance and Mitchell lobbied for a new emergency shelter, which they hope might incorporate a warm up shelter component.
Lawrance commented, “We need a warm up shelter where people can go in, get warm, get a cup of coffee, get out of the elements, use the washroom, be safe.”
Lawrance said they also lobbied for assistance to address a chronic housing shortage in the community across all sectors.
Lawrance and Mitchell lobbied the Ministry of the Attorney General for a 20-unit bail bed facility complete with 24/7/365 program support, and for a Crown Attorney to be permanently based in Sioux Lookout with all necessary administrative and facility supports.
Speaking with the Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services, Lawrance and Mitchell lobbied for more OPP officers to serve the community and for the OPP to try to increase the diversity of its officers in Sioux Lookout to reflect the community.
They also addressed the cost of policing.
“We did achieve some relief on our policing costs a year or two ago,” Lawrance noted. “That relief lasts through this current billing model, which is end of 2019. Later this year, certainly in 2019, they’ll be reviewing the billing model to see what changes they may want to make for the next five year period. We’ve constantly been saying we’d like to be part of that process to make sure communities like Sioux Lookout don’t get left out the way we were the last time.”
Speaking with the Minister for Status of Women, Lawrance and Mitchell lobbied for funding to expand First Step Women’s Shelter and for a second stage housing facility to accommodate women and women with children after they leave crisis housing.
In speaking with the Minister of Energy, Lawrance and Mitchell lobbied for support as Sioux Lookout pursues a biomass project with a Finnish company and support as Sioux Lookout participates in a Modern Wood Heating Pilot Project.
They also lobbied for an increased hydro rate subsidy for northern communities without natural gas.
Speaking with the Minister of Education and of Early Years and Child Care, Lawrance and Mitchell lobbied for funding to increase the number of infant care spaces available at Norah Love Children’s Centre.
Speaking with the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Lawrance and Mitchell lobbied for support on Municipal initiatives related to energy, waste reduction, recycling, and climate change initiatives.
Finally, speaking with Northern Development and Mines Minister Michael Gravelle, Lawrance and Mitchell relayed requests to Gravelle they had made of other ministries and asked for support for Sioux Lookout’s cafetorium project, to be located in the new high school.
“This is a true example of a community hub and partnerships. The Municipality worked with the Keewatin Patricia District School Board, Confederation College, Firefly Youth Services, and the local Rotary Club to create a community hub in the new high school. Despite promotion of community hubs, the Province cannot seem to find a way to support a community who is walking the talk. The cafetorium project provides for a 250 seat auditorium in the high school with shared use by students and community,” a municipal press release explains.
“We’re asking them to put their money where their mouth is in terms of community hubs. We’ve got a unique one here. Help us out,” Lawrance remarked.