District councillors grilled Municipal Affairs Minister, Ted McMeekin, on everything from hand-cuffing municipalities in their decision-making, to the role of the provincial Obudsman, the formula used to determine District representation[ratings]
The District Municipality of Muskoka rolled out the red carpet for a special guest on Tuesday, August 24.
Councillors were not shy about expressing their concerns to the Minister, who owns property in Gravenhurst and plans to retire here someday.
“We’re constantly begging you for money for different projects. We’re constantly begging you for authority to do different things. As a former mayor and former municipal councillor, I’m sure you’re aware of the hand-cuffing like nature of dealing with the Province when you’re a municipality,” noted Huntsville Mayor Scott Aitchison. “Would it not make more sense for the Province to say, this is a responsible form of government and to take their gloves off and allow us more opportunities to generate revenue than just the property tax base?”
The Minster said he’d be willing to look at the issue if there were specific new tools identified and endorsed by the Association of Municipalities of Ontario and any other organizations of the like.
Other concerns fired at the Minister by Muskoka councillors included not only asking the Province to give municipalities more autonomy and financial tools in their daily affairs, but giving municipalities a say on how municipal taxes are distributed as well as asking the Minister to give municipalities a break on delinquent accounts, municipalities are expected to collect on.
Lake of Bay mayor Bob Young queried the Minister about the current formula for representation around Muskoka’s council table and asked if the Minister would do something about it. He lamented that while all other municipalities, save Lake of Bays and Georgian Bay, have four representatives at Muskoka’s council table, his municipality and Georgian Bay only have three.
“I would invite you to work with your colleagues around this table and if a resolution were to come to my office from this table in support of what you’re suggesting then ya, I’d sure be interested in hearing that and probably doing something about it,” responded McMeekin.
The Ontario Ombudsman was also a hot topic.
“We’ve got an Ombudsman in Ontario that does nothing but foster cynicism about municipal government on a daily basis using social media and other tools as a bit of a pulpit to expend accusatory and often derogatory views about municipal government. That leaves a bad taste in everyone’s mouth and a lot of people are afraid to speak up.” Bracebridge mayor Graydon Smith.
Smith asked the Minister what the Ombudsman’s appropriate role is, as it seems to him that he’s crossed the line.
“Boy you sure ask easy questions,” quipped the Minister.
He said the ombudsman is appointed as an independent person who works for the legislative assembly and is chosen by a committee of three – one from each political party.
“We get a lot of pressure from citizens about accountability, be it the health care system, the post-secondary system, the human rights system, the municipal system. And not every municipality in Ontario functions as well as this council does.”
McMeekin also said while municipalities are able to appoint their own ombudsman at a cost, the Province is also looking at the possibility of clustering a number of municipalities and enabling them to appoint their own.
The Minister said the Province is also examining the business that is conducted by the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation.
“I think it’s difficult, if not intolerable, to have an agency that is largely municipally controlled by the way, doing an initial assessment of a situation and then when it goes to an assessment review process that assessment is reduced by 80 to 85 per cent. I don’t think that is sustainable,” he said.
He also told councillors that were it up to him, any municipal development in conjunction with the private sector containing a social housing component would not be open to Ontario Municipal Board appeals. He invited Muskoka’s mayors and chair to lunch at Queen’s Park to further discuss their concerns.
Councillors thanked the minister for his visit and for making himself as well as his staff available. They also applauded the Province’s new disaster relief program for Ontario.