April 22, 2005
Ontario Legislature: Bill 92
Bill 92 is an amendment to the Municipal Act which would require the provincial government to consult with municipalities on issues of mutual interest. The idea first arose when the province signed a memorandum of understanding with AMO (Association of Municipalities of Ontario.)
Of course, we all know just how seriously the government takes a written agreement signed by Dalton McGuinty (ask the voters in the City of Kawartha Lakes, or the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, or parents of autistic children)
MPPs Michael Prue and Toby Barrett made this very clear in their comments during Wednesday's debate of the Bill. (Our own MPP, Laurie Scott, was noticably silent!)
The full text of the debate is in Hansard
Here are some excerpts:
the Minister of Municipal Affairs -- [said] he would undo that amalgamation if the people of Kawartha Lakes wanted to undo it. A deal was struck between that Minister of Municipal Affairs, the people of Kawartha Lakes and all sides of this House that if a referendum was held and the majority of people voted to de-amalgamate, knowing full well the costs of the de-amalgamation, the pros and cons of the de-amalgamation, it would be honoured.
Did they know that?
They knew it. They had all of those facts available to them. They knew it, and in the last municipal election they voted -- not overwhelmingly, but by majority -- to de-amalgamate.
It is a shame what happened to them following that, because this minister, who now purports to want to have a dialogue, refuses to have a dialogue with the people who democratically voted to de-amalgamate their city, one that the majority of them feels does not work in the best interests of the people who live there. They have continued to organize; they have continued to have meetings. they have continued to come up with alternatives, because now the minister says he needs alternatives to de-amalgamation because he doesn't believe that all of the constituent municipalities of that new city are able to function on their very own.
If this is what we can see in this bill, that there will be consultation with municipalities, we can see, in at least two very clear examples, one involving all of the people of the city of Kawartha Lakes, who took the bother and the time to go out and vote and to exercise their democratic franchise, that the minister was not and is not, and this government could care less about consultation with them or what their democratic wishes are.
On the other hand, if we look to the more recent example, that of Peel, and if we see what has happened there, we can see quite clearly that this government did not wish to consult and imposed a person to do a study. When the study came out and the government didn't like what it said, it ignored it and unilaterally imposed its own findings upon the people of that region.
It is no wonder that politicians at the municipal level are skeptical of this bill. Even though the bill purports to do the right things, it quite frankly does not do so. No one will believe that the Association of Municipalities of Ontario is going to have the kind of clout that has been denied to ordinary cities and towns.
I would suggest the government needs to do a lot more. To begin to do more:
(1) Do a charter for the larger cities.
(2) Sit down and negotiate with the cities on a mature basis. I would put first and foremost the problem that has developed in Peel, Mississauga, Caledon and Brampton. That is a problem that cannot and should not be resolved by the minister standing up in this House and simply announcing that he is unilaterally taking action, contrary to the wishes of at least two of the member municipalities and contrary to his own government's report.
(3) The minister needs to reverse his position on democracy. It is the people, I believe, who always know best. Whether the government opposite believes that the people of Kawartha Lakes know best or don't know best, they certainly have made a decision that they wish to de-amalgamate. No one questions the decision they made to send a member to this House from Kawartha Lakes, from Haliburton-Brock. No one questions that, but you question their other democratic principles that you agreed to recognize in the beginning. The fundamentals of democracy in the municipalities is the third thing that must be addressed, and the government must reverse itself.
Randy Hillier provided an awful lot of hope for my tobacco farmers. I spent a year and a half in this Legislature asking questions about where the Liberals' promised money was for my farmers, and I admit, I got nowhere with my questions to the Minister of Finance, nowhere with my questions to the Minister of Agriculture and nowhere with my questions to the Acting Premier of the day.
I went back to the farmers last fall and explained to them that this place, in my view, was dysfunctional and that there is no movement at all on either tobacco or any other agricultural issue. Only when those tractors, led by Randy Hillier, ended up on the 401 did we see action from this government. I thank the government for some of the things they have done in response to pressure from people like Randy Hillier, the Lanark Landowners' Association and the Ontario Federation of Agriculture.
Speaking of the frustration in rural Ontario and of rural residents, another group that is affiliated with the Rural Revolution and the Lanark Landowners' Association is VOCO, known as Voices of Central Ontario. If you go on the Web and just type "Rural Revolution" and "Lanark Landowners' Association" into Google, you can get the link to VOCO, Voices of Central Ontario. This is an organization that has come together for reasons of municipal concern and concern with this government. They'll tell you that they were one of the first casualties in this government's commitment, I guess, to what they would consider -- I shouldn't put words in their mouth; they're my words -- to be a wishy-washy kind of Liberal-branded form of consultation.
Members of VOCO will tell you -- in fact, Speaker, I think you presented at one of VOCO's consultation sessions a year ago or so at the Rockton Fairgrounds -- that they are attempting to communicate to this government that putting Bill 92 forward -- this is the same government that continues to ignore what VOCO considers the ultimate form of consultation: the practice of democratically-arrived-at decision-making through referendum. A referendum is certainly a time-honoured tradition. I know that, down our way, they have been held during municipal elections. I ask the members opposite who have indicated a bit of interest in it this afternoon to take a look at that VOCO Web site. Under their Web site you'll find it titled as, and I quote, "McGuinty Lie Number 201."
It goes on to quote the Premier as stating --
The Acting Speaker:
I'm afraid you can't even quote someone else saying that word in here, OK? So I'd ask that it be withdrawn.
I will withdraw it. It's just amazing what comes up on Web sites.
I will quote the Premier, however, and I will leave it to the House and the Speaker to determine whether there is any -- I'd better not go there. I quote Premier McGuinty: "I have committed that a Liberal government will ensure a binding referendum is held to allow local citizens to determine whether or not to dismantle the amalgamated city."
I will emphasize the phrase "binding referendum." Directly underneath that are written the words, "The referendum was held. The people voted yes to de-amalgamate. McGuinty's Liberals say no."
Speaker, you can imagine what the people of VOCO have to say about this government's commitment to consultation. Actually, both you and I have heard what they had to say about this during our consultation with this particular group.
Full text in Hansard