Municipal leaders from across Ontario are descending on Ottawa today, hoping to kick-start important conversations with the new Progressive Conservative government on everything from retail cannabis stores to Highway 401 safety.
Over the past two months, communities have watched closely as Premier Doug Ford cut seats on Toronto city council and cancelled the cap-and-trade regime that funded a number of municipal projects.
When the premier gives a speech to the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) on Monday morning, Ottawa Coun. Mark Taylor will be watching for clues to how he’ll approach the city-province relationship.
“Is he going to have a very collaborative tone? Or is he going to be, ‘I’m going to make decisions and inform you of the outcome’ kind of thing?”
Questions about cannabis
Taylor said Ontario municipalities are also anxious to learn more about the government’s plans related to legislation that has changed course since the PCs took power.
Chief among those is the move to allow private retail stores to sell cannabis instead of government-run shops.
In the coming months, municipal councils will have to decide whether to opt out and not allow the retail stores within their boundaries.
But municipal and provincial officials will also have to consider other complicated elements related to the legalization of recreational marijuana, such as police and bylaw enforcement and the effect of cannabis on teens.
Eastern mayors to discuss 401 safety
Taylor says a big city like Ottawa regularly has the ear of provincial ministers and high-level staff, but the AMO conference is a “bit of an equalizer” where smaller rural and northern communities can also get the attention of a minister’s office.
Gananoque, Ont., Mayor Erika Demchuk said it has been difficult to line up meetings with the new government because everyone is after their attention.
That said, the Eastern Ontario Mayors’ Caucus will soon be sitting down with new Transportation Minister John Yakabuski to discuss fatal collisions on Highway 401.
“We feel that the minister of transportation has to start looking at either widening the road, or maybe making a special lane just for the transport trucks,” said Demchuk.
“There have been a lot of lives lost and accidents in the past few years.”
Officials from all over Ontario will be hoping to get their issue on the table in the coming days, whether it’s social housing in Prince Edward County or Peel Region, or a rail link between Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie.
The City of Toronto is the only one of Ontario’s 445 municipalities that does not belong to AMO. It withdrew from the lobby group in 2005.
The conference runs in Ottawa until Wednesday.