OTTAWA – Ontario municipal leaders coping with recession battered communities will be lobbying the federal government to “step up to the plate” in maintaining social programs like childcare.
Discussing ways to help Ontario communities through the current economic times is expected to dominate the annual conference of Ontario’s municipal leaders this week.
“We’re on the front line,” said Peter Hume, an Ottawa council member who is president of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario.
“We’ve got broad shoulders,” Hume said in a phone interview. “We’ll be able to shoulder the burden for our communities as long as we have the provincial and the federal governments shoulder theirs.”
One potential burden, which Hume described as an “imminent threat,” is that the federal government is about to abandon a commitment to childcare spaces that amounts to $63-million for Ontario communities.
“It’s really going to put at risk some communities’ economic prosperity because they rely on those childcare spaces as part of their economic equation,” Hume said. “We really shouldn’t be fooling with that.”
According to AMO, municipalities are required to spend more than $220 million a year on child care. AMO contends the result is that Ontario municipalities are forced to divert property tax revenue from infrastructure and other community services.
Municipal leaders will also be updating each other on how new infrastructure projects are progressing, social housing and the plight of communities affected by the downturn in the auto sector.
Although the federal and provincial governments have announced aid to communities that depend on the auto sector, many mayors and councillors are sore about the sluggish pace of aid being announced.
“They could have been more timely,” said Hume, who added that municipal leaders hope in future the two senior governments will listen to what they have to say.
“We know what’s going on in our communities,” he said. “We’ve got our ear to the ground and if you’re listening to us then the decisions that you make and the funding that you make are going to be more effective for communities in Ontario.”
AMO’s annual conference began Sunday and is to run until Wednesday.
Premier Dalton McGuinty is scheduled to speak Tuesday as is federal Transport Minister John Baird, an Ottawa-area MP.