May 6 2014
By Chad Ingram
While it is difficult to gauge what impact last week’s OPP May Day may have had local politicians are grateful to the county residents who participated and are continuing their lobby against the proposed OPP billing formula.
The county had asked residents to call and email the offices of the premier and community safety minister on Thursday May 1 in protest of the billing model which would come into effect in 2015.
It attempts to redistribute OPP costs on a per household basis throughout the province and would see the county’s collective annual policing costs rise from $3.3 to more than $8.5 million.
“It’s hard to gauge any result of course but we do know people have been extremely active on this issue” Algonquin Highlands Reeve Carol Moffatt wrote in an email.
According to the county’s IT department Haliburton County’s website had 1369 visitors on May 1 with 1000 of those being new visitors to the site and with the page the county had created on the OPP billing model receiving more than 1250 unique views.
The page explained how adopting the formula would equate to tax increases of between 20 and 36 per cent at the lower tier levels and provided sample letters for residents.
“Those numbers are significantly higher than normal traffic where we usually see about 1800 users in an entire week” Moffatt wrote.
The campaign had also urged residents to take to Twitter with the hashtag #OPPMayDay and there were 299 Tweets that used the handle with an overall hashtag reach of more than 34000.
“I have been forwarded or cc’d on about 100 letters and there were many folks who told me they sent a letter or email without cc-ing me and many more who said they made phone calls” Moffatt wrote. “A number of people told me they had difficulty getting through on the phone lines of Premier Wynne’s office and Minister Naqvi Tweeted that they were receiving lots of calls that day. I don’t believe Minister Naqvi’s acknowledgement of #OPPMayDay on Twitter means anything other than that – an acknowledgement.”
On the afternoon of May 1 Community Safety and Correctional Services Minister Yasir Naqvi had Tweeted: “We are working closely with @AMOpolicy& municipalities to develop an OPP billing model that is fair equitable & transparent. #OPPMayDay”
The paper had arranged to speak to Naqvi May 2 but did not hear from him after the legislature was dissolved that day.
The budget the Liberal government tabled on May 1 was defeated in Queen’s Park May 2 setting the stage for a June 12 election.
“We have no feedback that gauges if our efforts made any dint in the issue but I’m confident we’ve done the right thing for our taxpayers and thank those who took the time to participate” Moffatt wrote. “Other negatively affected municipalities are interested in continuing the lobby and we’ll discuss any next steps soon. The election is another opportunity to bring the issue to light at the provincial level.”
After the proposed billing model had become a central issue at a February Rural Ontario Municipal Association conference in Toronto PC Leader Tim Hudak had hinted at scrapping the model if his party formed government in the next election.
“I think the day of action went reasonably well I was pleased that we got coverage on regional media including [CBC’s] Ontario Morning and CHEX TV” Minden Hills Reeve Barb Reid wrote. “It’s very hard to tell how many people actually took time to contact Queen’s Park but the key message we need to send is it’s not too late please express your concern.”
Reid who was the county’s representative on a steering committee on OPP costs organized by the Association of Municipalities of Ontario believes the message is getting across at Queen’s Park.
“Whether the election delays the anticipated June announcement of the model decision depends on who forms the next government” she wrote.
Because it is a regulatory change the OPP billing model does not have to pass through MPPs on the floor of the legislature.
“I cannot measure the response on May Day but I can say the responses I received were informed” Dysart et al Reeve Murray Fearrey wrote in an email.
Fearrey is hopeful the election will change things.
“Being premier of Ontario requires one to represent all of Ontario not just a power base in Toronto” he wrote noting that it is largely rural areas that would see drastic increases in OPP costs under the new model. “What has been identifiable in this process is that urban areas are given favour as opposed to the rural areas with large seasonal fluctuationsand the failure to recognize that people generate calls not households. Clearly this translates into call for service and population.”
MPP Laurie Scott said her office received many calls on May 1 and that she was copied on many emails.
“We got tons” said Scott who has raised the issue of OPP billing at Queen’s Park.
While she didn’t have an official total Scott said it was safe to say she was copied on hundreds of correspondences to the government.
“I say thank you to everybody who participated” she said.
Liberal candidate for Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock Rick Johnson stood behind the formula being put forth by the province but said increasing police costs in Ontario need to be looked at.
“It has to be a formula that is fair both to residents in this area and throughout the province” Johnson said. “I think it’s not fair that residents of Kenora are paying $1000 [per household] for policing. There’s disparity right within the county itself.”
Currently annual costs in the county range from $76 per household in Algonquin Highlands to $187 in Minden Hills.
The estimated average per household cost under the proposed model would be $369.
One of the main criticisms of the model by local politicians and staff is that is uses a per household metric and weights seasonal residences evenly with year-round ones.
“The number of calls goes up dramatically in the summer season” Johnson said. “It’s trying to find the balance.”
He said he understood county residents’ frustration.
“I’d be doing the same thing” he said.