From The Mayor's Desk
Doug Lawrance, Mayor, Sioux Lookout
Advocacy at AMO 2023
In late August along with Municipal CAO Michelle Larose I attended the annual Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) Conference. This year it was held in London, Ontario. As always at AMO Conferences there was an opportunity to request delegation meetings with Provincial Ministers. We were fortunate were granted six delegation meetings. At each of these delegation meetings, as we always do, we presented and discussed a Briefing Note to the Minister or the Minister’s representative. Following is a summary of our presentations and requests on behalf of the Municipality at each of those meetings.
Ministry of the Attorney General: We pointed out that from January 2015 to August 2023 the Municipality has had over 120 formal interactions with the Provincial Government on topics related to the justice system, policing, and measures to address the high volume of calls for police service (CFS) in Sioux Lookout. We provided a tabular summary of those delegations, meetings, letters, and appearances before committees. We pointed out that the high CFS are driven by factors outside of Municipal control. We also noted that for many years the Municipality has both implemented and advocated for programs, services, facilities, changes, that would help to address the high CFS – and yet our policing CFS continues to rise. We asked that the Ministry of the Attorney General work to create solutions within the justice system and through alternatives to the justice system, both in Sioux Lookout and in the home communities of the people engaged in the calls for service.
Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing: We provided background information on Sioux Lookout’s unique role as a hub community for thirty First Nations. We noted the decades long and increasingly critical housing shortage in our community. We pointed to recent unsuccessful applications that we and others from Sioux Lookout have made to Federal Government CMHC housing programs. We also noted that we have responded to the most recent Federal housing program – the Housing Accelerator Fund – and that we are waiting for announcements on applications to that fund. We asked that the Province allocate funding specifically to address housing shortages in Northern Ontario through less restrictive funding programs that fit our community. We also asked that the Province petition the Federal Government for more funding for northern Ontario.
Ministry of Transportation: In this delegation we were able to continue our discussion with the Ministry of Transportation related to the Ministry addressing the need for upgrades to the Ed Ariano by-pass to prevent the over-road flooding we saw during the high water in 2022. We also requested information on the action that might come from the recommendations made by the Northern Ontario Transportation Task Force submitted to the Minister in April 2023. Another ‘ask’ related to the deteriorating condition of Highway 72 close to Sioux Lookout and requesting information on Ministry plans for addressing that section of highway. Finally, we asked if the Ministry could revise their ‘connecting link’ policy so that former connecting links such as Alcona Drive could be included in their capital upgrade plans.
Ministry of the Solicitor General: In this delegation we discussed a document we had sent to the Solicitor General in July which outlined trends in policing CFS in Sioux Lookout since 2010. We referenced the Solicitor General to our many submissions to his Ministry on policing costs. We asked that our policing costs be normalized and further that the Solicitor General support initiatives that reduce police and ambulance calls for service, emergency department visits, arrests and incarcerations. These initiatives include ones such as the Mobile Crisis Response Team, Safe Sobering Beds, and diversions from corrections and justice systems.
Ministry of Natural Resources & Forestry: We followed up with the Minister on our delegation with him in January 2023 at which we asked for assistance expediting the release of Crown Land to the Municipality at the Cedar Bay site and at the west end Prince Street. We also discussed the consultation process with First Nations with the Minister as it relates to lad release and development and asked for as much clarity and assistance as possible to help us meet our obligations.
Ministry of Health: In a pre-meeting with Minister Tibollo we discussed our needs related to mental health and addictions services. We thanked the Minister for his assistance to date and reiterated the need for expansion and funding in the future. We also discussed the need for funding for the Crisis Response and Harm Reduction Outreach Team. The funding has been provided for this program by Health Canada as a pilot project through the Northwestern Health Unit. The three-year funding will end in March 2024 and we are asking the Province to step up and fund this very necessary and successful program. We also discussed the in-between nature of Sioux Lookout with respect to health care – in-between Federal/First Nation and Provincial systems – and the potential of reviving the Four Party Agreement.
In my role as Chair of the Board of Health for the Northwestern Health Unit, I also participated in a delegation to the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services. That delegation provided information on the need for funding for two programs. The dire need for school-based lunch programs in northwestern Ontario was pointed out with statistics and a specific request for funding was made to support provision of a nutritious daily lunch to approximately 2,000 students. The second request related to the Healthy Babies Healthy Children program which is targeted to at risk families and designed to ensure children who are at risk of physical, cognitive, communicative, and/or psychosocial problems have access to effective, consistent, early intervention services. The delegation requested an increase to base funding for this program to cover rising costs.