Local reps advocate for cell gap project
By Chad Ingram
Published Feb. 5, 2019
Politicians from throughout the county made their way to Toronto for the annual Rural Ontario Municipal Association conference, an event where municipal politicians get a chance to partake in lectures, workshops and panel discussions, as well as interact with provincial cabinet ministers and party leaders.
In December, the provincial government announced it was conducting a review of the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund, which provides annual funding allotments to municipal governments to help offset operating and capital costs, with an indication that the overall spending envelope for the program would decrease.
It is not clear exactly when municipalities will discover what impact the changes to the program will have for them individually, and Algonquin Highlands Deputy Mayor and Haliburton County Warden Liz Danielsen told the Echo those details were not provided at the conference.
“It was evident during the conference that OMPF funding in particular is on the minds of all communities as we work on our budgets,” Danielsen said in an email. “While it is an urgent matter for our four municipalities given that the funding equals as much as 25 per cent of our overall revenues, other communities rely on as much as 77 per cent of their budgets from OMPF. The loss of that much funding would be devastating. Unfortunately, we were unable to get any commitment from the province on the timing of their review and decision but we did hear that rural and northern remained the province’s focus.”
The program’s initial focus was essentially to provide equalization payments to the province’s smaller, poorer municipalities, but has grown over time to a more general municipal funding stream.
Danielsen, along with other county politicians, partook in delegations to ministers regarding issues of importance to the Haliburton Highlands.
“I participated in several meetings with Minister [Steve] Clarke and others (including a session with Andrea Horwath, leader of the opposition) to stress the need for funding for the Eastern Ontario Regional Network’s cell gap project, for a fair decision/resolution to the province’s review of OMPF funding for rural and northern communities, for reduction of reporting requirements and red tape as well as assistance in funding housing for families at all income levels across the province,” Danielsen said in her email.
Among the sessions Dysart et al Mayor Andrea Roberts attended was one on food tourism.
“I went to a session on food tourism, which is a priority at the county,” Roberts said in an email. “We heard an update on cannabis legislation as well as some general information from MPP Ernie Hardeman, OMAFRA and the theme that Ontario is open for business. The government wants to remove red tape but maintain public health and safety.
We heard from Premier Ford and his message is that rural Ontario matters. ‘Toronto is a bubble, rural Ontario is the real world.’ The minister’s forum is always a packed room where the ministers take questions from the floor. The conference in general is an opportunity for professional development. It’s a busy time but I found it well worth it. At Dysart’s next council meeting we will have the conference on as an agenda item for verbal update from those who attended.”
One of the sessions Dysart et al Deputy Mayor Pat Kennedy attended was called Shifting into Higher Gear: Processes to Streamline Planning and Development.
“I recently attended a dinner meeting with the Haliburton County Homebuilders Association,” Kennedy said in an email to the paper. “Their message of the need to streamline processes was one of the key messages I took away from that meeting. Although the presentation was more geared toward staff than politicians I still found the experiences of Bruce County implementing the ‘lean process’ which have substantially reduced the development application process to be worthy of further investigation. Township of Lake of Bays created a ‘community planning permit’ process that basically (if I interpreted the presenter’s comments correctly) amalgamates all potential requirements for a predetermined type of development into one application.”
Kennedy said he also got to see a project under development that would create an online development process, allowing staff and developers to monitor projects through the system.
“I suspect our staff are aware of these initiatives but now I am somewhat more aware of the potential savings in staff time, and lowering of permit time frames and developer frustration these types of initiatives can potentially have for Dysart if implemented here,” he said.