AMO conference sessions touched on Climate Change, Homelessness, Strong Mayor & more
This week I attended the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) conference being held here in Ottawa. This was an opportunity to hear from experts in the field of many important issues related municipalities. Two of the workshop sessions I attended focused on topics that touch municipalities across Canada, climate change and affordable housing. The climate change presentation looked at the importance of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and putting a climate change lens on all our decisions including our city infrastructure such as transit and our facilities both old and new. The session talked about the importance of tackling climate change now. This is not something that can be postponed. It’s about being open to changing our own lifestyles as well as our current practices as a city. We have all witnessed the extreme weather effects of climate change. If we continue to ignore these changes, there will be significant consequences.
The second workshop, Addressing the Housing and Homelessness Crisis, explored respective roles and actions that governments can take to ease the crisis. This thought-provoking panel which included Jamie McGarvey, AMO President, Ottawa City Councillor Catherine McKenney, Carleton University Professor Steven Pomeroy and Queens University Professor Daniel Brant, challenged common assumptions and premises. The session extended beyond market homes to affordable housing and homelessness. It was made clear that the insufficient funding from all three levels of government is the primary barrier to substantially reducing the number of Ottawans living in homelessness or unaffordable or inadequate housing. There is a specific need for Indigenous housing. As pointed out by panelist Queens University Professor Brant over 1/3 of homeless people in Ottawa are indigenous. As a city, we cannot tackle this issue alone. We must work with our counterparts to come up with a unified strategy. There needs to be financial support not only from the province but from the federal level of government. I appreciated hearing from experts on these topics.
Premier Doug Ford was the first of several provincial and federal government officials to address delegates during the opening session of the AMO conference. The Premier spoke to his “strong mayor” legislation and that it would be expanded to include other municipalities in Ontario. The legislation would give the mayors the responsibility for preparing and tabling a municipal budget each year for council’s consideration, and a new veto power allowing the mayor to override council on matters of “provincial priority.” I oppose this proposed legislation and question its legitimacy. There needs to be a collaborative balance around the council table. No one said that is easy, but it is democratic. The mayor should work with councillors on the issues and concerns of their residents. In speaking with former Mayor Jaquelin Holzman, she mentioned that in her years as mayor, she valued the importance of having collaboration around the council table as much as possible. Having a mayor directly responsible for ensuring provincial priorities are achieved bypasses the concerns raised by councillors on behalf of residents and is not good governance.
I also had the opportunity to attend the AMO Women’s Networking session that pointed out only 29.4% of Ontario’s elected municipal officials are women. It was an honest conversation about why it matters to have more women and gender diverse persons at the decision-making table. The panelists discussed the barriers that keep women and racialized community members from seeking elected office. As the City of Ottawa Council Liaison on Women and Gender Equity I was proud to speak out on the importance as a city, on working towards equity in all we do such as using a gender lens on services to residents, especially seniors, incorporating it into our official plan and having more women in city management leadership positions. Overall, I appreciated hearing from elected women across the province on their experiences and was impressed by their achievements.