By MPP Bobbi Ann Brady
Last week, I had the pleasure of joining my municipal partners in Toronto at the Rural Ontario Municipal Association Conference (ROMA). The ROMA conference is a good opportunity for municipal politicians to meet with provincial government political leaders and key bureaucrats to discuss the issues and challenges facing their municipalities.
When appropriate, I was able to chime in and honestly share your concerns with some of the cabinet ministers and parliamentary assistants on hand. Those who know me understand that I’m a straight shooter and don’t hesitate to tell it like it is. And that includes your concerns, some of which may not be what the powers-that-be like to hear.
For example, meeting with the Western Ontario Wardens’ Caucus, I conveyed what I continually hear from constituents – we must take stock and get critical systems back on track before subjecting more people to the chaos. Examples include long wait times in emergency departments and diagnostic testing. We also know that some of our communities are ballooning to the point portable classrooms continue to be added to school properties. The government talks incessantly about the need for 1.5 million new homes in Ontario. Still, it appears they are having difficulty achieving targets because the environment to build does not exist at this time.
I pressed some municipal politicians and administration on some of these points at ROMA. One person took exception to what I was questioning/saying. I assured him he could take exception, but my job as an MPP, I feel, is to honestly take forward what I hear from you, and don’t worry, I see and hear what you are telling me.
In Europe, for example, they build the infrastructure and then bring people – here, we are doing the exact opposite, and I don’t believe it serves anyone well.
When I further pressed on why municipalities aren’t taking a harder stand, especially given they are all lined up for increased infrastructure dollars, the short answer I received was that they have no choice. Another representative used verbiage like, “We must be inclusive” and “We need people to work.”
One attendee gave the example where ten or more international students were living in two-bedroom apartments and houses. My point is that we’re having trouble providing primary healthcare and housing to our existing population; surely, inviting too many more without the proper existing infrastructure is cruel and unfair to them.
The more people we add, the more need for nurses, doctors, educators etc. As I listened to the requests from municipal leaders, I felt some were talking out both sides of their mouths. There’s a misconception that if municipalities continue to bring more people, there will be more money. I also think many of them agree with the sentiments I articulated but are too afraid to bite the hand that is supposed to be feeding them. I digress.
Despite these observations and frustrations, both Haldimand and Norfolk’s delegates represented our area in a professional manner. In my opinion, the most effective and productive meeting I attended was an impromptu meeting with Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Paul Callandra. The meeting was secured by Haldimand County Mayor Shelley-Ann Bentley, who waited for the minister outside a meeting room. He then agreed to add the county to his schedule later in the day. The meeting was short and to the point but likely the most productive of the conference.
While we don’t always have to agree on policy items, appearing as a united front is paramount.
Bobbi Ann Brady is the MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk