By MPP Toby Barrett

The ongoing provincial-municipal relationship has surfaced of late during testimony before pre-budget hearings and at the recent convention of ROMA, the Rural Ontario Municipal Association.

Discussions are dominated by the fact it’s an election year on both provincial and municipal fronts. The provincial contest is in June, with municipal following in October.

Municipal election promises are relatively restrained compared to those coming from provincial leaders. Municipalities don’t have much room to make sweeping changes.

As AMO (Association of Municipalities of Ontario) President Lynn Dollin explained at ROMA, “We’ll promise to get at those pot holes. We will promise to pave roads and replace culverts. We will promise to look after the things that most people want to forget about – like toilet flushes, garbage and snow. We will promise to deliver safe drinking water. If you need help, we will send it: police, fire and paramedics.”

People in Ontario live and breathe their local experience on a daily basis. They understand the challenges their local governments face.

Municipalities are particularly worried about their ability to finance and maintain infrastructure due to a growing need and the insufficiency of municipal revenue sources to finance large, multi-year projects.

Municipal governments cannot run deficits. They need to make ends meet.

We’re told the total cost of delivering municipal services is growing by a billion dollars a year – to now well over $50 billion annually across Ontario, through 444 municipal levels of government.

Many worry that municipal finances are not sustainable given cost pressures and revenue constraints.

The public and many groups continue to sound the alarm about the cost of infrastructure – to fix it, replace it and to expand it.

For example, municipal insurance costs are increasing. In the event of an accident, we’ve seen municipalities forced to pay a far greater portion of settlement than they are responsible for – leaving them on the hook for massive damage settlements. For taxpayers, this is a lose-lose. We must reform joint and several liability insurance to make municipal operations more affordable.

Those in power know our local governments are being squeezed. Inexplicably, the reaction from the provincial government has been to cut the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund by $70 million over the past five years. These cuts create even more pressure to raise property taxes, or reduce services.

Red tape is another huge problem – most municipalities submit between 90 and 200 reports each year to the province.

We have 95 municipalities today that are unwilling hosts to new wind turbine construction. Green Energy Act contracts have resulted in overpriced energy that Ontario doesn’t need, that we sell off at a loss, and that we’re wasting.  Yet the provincial government continues to approve more projects. It’s time to restore local planning authority over renewable energy projects. And it’s time to repeal the Green Energy Act once and for all.

The next municipal and provincial elections will be about who you trust to look out for you, your family and your community. It will be about who you can depend on to work with, as well as respect, rural and small town Ontario.  There has to be recognition of the need for change and a plan to make life more affordable.

Toby Barrett is Haldimand-Norfolk MPP