By Chad Ingram
Published Aug. 25 2016
The municipal politicians who attended the annual Association of Municipalities of Ontario conference last week may not have come away with the answers they were hoping or the feeling their voices are being heard says Minden Hills Reeve Brent Devolin.
This year’s conference which brings together leaders from Ontario’s 444 municipalities and features the premier and cabinet ministers giving keynote speeches was held in Windsor.
“There are two issues where there’s zero appetite for change” Devolin told the Times . “Arbitration’s one and joint and several liability.”
Devolin said there is widespread concern among municipal leaders over the process of negotiating collective agreements with unions.
“It was hammered on as part of the official program and in the bear pit [meetings with ministers] that arbitration’s broken” he said. “Nineteen times out of 20 it goes to the high-water mark so there’s no incentive for anyone to deal in good faith in bargaining.”
Joint and several liability says that in a lawsuit where multiple defendants are named if it’s proven that some of the defendants can’t afford to pay their damages those damages can be transferred to a defendant who can afford to the pay them.
This is why townships are often named as defendants in lawsuits.
Under joint and several liability a township can end up paying 100 per cent of damages in a lawsuit even if it is deemed the township is only one per cent responsible for the incident.
“The premier and these senior ministers . . . there is zero appetite for even 10 seconds of conversation” Devolin said. “They are not negotiable. Municipal politicians are mad.”
Algonquin Highlands Reeve and County Warden Carol Moffatt also attended the AMO conference and says the Eastern Ontario Wardens’ Caucus (EOWC) has repeatedly requested the province do something about the problem posed by joint and several liability.
“This is an extremely serious issue that stands to cripple municipalities and their ability to continue to provide services because of the increasingly litigious nature of society” Moffatt wrote in an email to the paper. “There are communities where the insurance premiums are so high they’ve chosen to shut down playgrounds because they can’t risk the inevitable lawsuit. The province said in 2014 that it wouldn’t take any action on joint and several liability and so municipalities are held financially responsible for situations they neither created nor were responsible for. EOWC is asking (repeatedly) for the province to implement a system similar to other provinces to ensure that the needs of injured parties are provided for by those responsible for the situation.”
Both reeves said climate change and province’s plans around carbon pricing and a cap-and-trade system for Ontario were a main topic of discussion at the conference.
“Climate change and carbon pricing certainly those are going to have the largest implications in our whole lives personally and municipally in terms of costs going forwards” said Devolin who added that with upcoming changes to other legislation such as the Police Services Act and the Ontario Building Code the demand on municipalities only continues to grow. “We have seen in the past couple of years and continue to see the volume and the pace and the scope of changes as it applies to municipal government is beyond the pale.”
Moffatt too has questions about how the province’s climate change policies will play out for municipalities.
“I also attended a session on climate change and how municipalities need to be ready to learn about and implement the provincial expectations that are coming” she wrote. “There are many questions as to how this should be approached how are we to become ‘climate resilient’ what exactly does cap and trade mean for rural versus urban municipalities how do we mandate efficiencies into our own projects as well as into our regulatory expectations of property owners and of course how do we pay for it? There is also lots of discussion about how not to jump the gun too far ahead of that provincial (and possible federal) direction.”
Moffatt’s activities as a member of the EOWC during the conference included meetings with several ministers as well as Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown.
The EOWC also met with members of the Western Ontario Wardens’ Caucus and Eastern Ontario Mayors’ Caucus to discuss shared interests.
“Examples of those shared interests are the costs expansion reliability and capacity of hydroelectricity and natural gas in rural eastern and western Ontario and joint and several liability in the context of continuing negative impacts on municipal insurance premiums” Moffatt wrote.
Moffatt also gave an update on Haliburton County’s challenges attaining high-speed Internet.
“Increased access to mobile broadband is anticipated to create angst over the towers required to provide the service; it truly is a damned if you do and damned if you don’t situation in our struggle to get high speed of any sort into our rural and rugged communities” she wrote.
The EOWC represents 13 municipalities and is home to 750000 residents.