Before the holidays, Mayor Doug Struthers and other local area mayors were asked to attend a discussion about the 2020 Ontario budget by Minister of Finance Rod Phillips. The discussion took place on December 18 at the Brockville Memorial Centre. Mayor Struthers said four local mayors attended the discussion, including himself and North Grenville Mayor Nancy Peckford.
Each mayor was given the opportunity to share their ideas about how the government can put more money in people’s pockets, invest in critical public services, and pursue the path to balance the budget by 2023. The minister was especially interested in hearing the mayors’ thoughts on how to make life more affordable, prepare people for jobs, create a more competitive business environment, connect people to places, build healthier and safer communities, and make government smarter.
Mayor Struthers was more than happy to seize the opportunity to advocate for the needs of small, rural and northern municipalities in front of Minister Phillips and Minister Steve Clark, who was also in attendance. The Mayor’s goal for the meeting was to remind the Minister of Finance to maintain a setting at the table that serves small and rural municipalities. “We need long-term stable funding,” he said, referring specifically to the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund (OMPF) “It sends a chill when the Premier says there will be interim funding in 2020. What does that mean for 2021?”
He also told the Minister that supporting small, rural and northern municipalities is not all about adding more money to the budget. It can also mean making sure that the wording in current grant programs are tailored to the needs of these municipalities. He would, he says, love to see a grant tailored for infrastructure that could help Merrickville-Wolford address the infiltration issue with their water treatment system. “It takes time and money to address,” he says. “Funding to help complete that assessment and mitigation would have tremendous return on investment.”
Their project would help Merrickville-Wolford become more sustainable, because it would defer the cost and pressure to expand the water treatment system, optimize existing infrastructure, and help protect the natural environment. “[It is] responsible asset management at a relatively low cost for long term benefit,” he says.
He also reminded the ministers how important the municipalities along the Rideau Economic Corridor are to the GDP of the province. According to a study conducted by the Rideau Heritage Route Tourism Association in 2017, the municipalities along the corridor, not including Ottawa and Kingston, contribute $680 million to the province’s GDP.
Although Mayor Struthers is unsure whether the meeting will have a significant impact on this year’s provincial budget, he did note that both Minister Clark and Minister Phillips listened intently to what the mayors had to say during the session. The meeting in Brockville is just one of many being held throughout Ontario during the pre-budget consultation process. Ontario mayors were also welcome to make written submissions if they were unable to attend the meeting in their area.