Premier Doug Ford took the stage at the Rural Ontario Municipal Association conference in Toronto during the weekend giving a 10-minute address during which he said a lot of the right things.
His talk kicked off with Ford’s trusted brand of two-bit populism – he dismissed Toronto where he is of course from as the “the bubble” while referring to rural residents as “the real people” most of whom he seems to believe are farmers or factory workers and added that small communities are the “lifeblood of Ontario.”
Rural Ontario was key to the PC party’s sweeping victory in last spring’s election something Ford is obviously keenly aware of and following his populist sing-song he touched on a number of subjects that surely would have reverberated positively in a room of more than 1000 rural municipal politicians.
One was recognizing the huge burden that infrastructure represents for rural municipalities municipalities that often must maintain fairly extensive roads networks serving a dispersed population in a large geographic area on a limited budget.
Another was a pledge to extend natural gas to more of Ontario’s smaller more far-flung communities something that would go over extremely well in a place such as Haliburton County.
A third was a promise to do something about joint and several liability something municipal governments have been requesting for a long time and about which the Wynne government did nothing.
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 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.
“We intend to launch a consultation to gather the facts and we will fix what needs fixing” he told the room adding he’d heard their concerns about liability insurance costs and the so-called “liability chill” by which some activities such as tobogganing and road hockey have been prohibited in some municipalities.
But details about how it would work were scant.
“We will have more to say about the process and the timing in the very near future” Ford said.
Hopefully it turns out to be more than just populist rhetoric.