Remarks by:
Ron Holman, ROMA Chair and
Mayor, Township of Rideau Lakes

2017 ROMA Conference

January 30, 9:35 a.m.
Grand Ballroom Centre and West
Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel
Toronto, Ontario

Good morning and welcome to ROMA’s first stand-alone conference in many years.

I want to thank our keynote speaker, Doug Griffiths, for a thought-provoking presentation on creating successful communities.

After all, we are all looking to build communities that will progress and prosper. It is why we are all drawn to public service.

And it is why the ROMA Board opted to revive a long-standing tradition of hosting our own annual conference. It was a bold decision by the Board. It is one way for us to put a spotlight on rural matters. Some people didn’t agree with this move or doubted we could pull it off.  But – with your support – here we are:
  • We have beaten our attendance target.
  • We have a strong program.
  • We have brought rural Ontario together with Ontario’s Premier, Cabinet and senior Ministry staff, and Ontario’s opposition leaders – so that we can move rural communities forward.
Rural Ontario is unique and diverse. We may hail from different corners – north or south; east, central or west. But we share a range of interests and pressing challenges.  And there are many of them - even with a three day, dedicated rural conference, it was hard to find time for all the matters concerning rural Ontario.

Our future, and the future of Ontario calls upon us all - here and at home, up the street at Queen’s Park and even in our nation’s capital, to deal with these challenges. We can all work together to make sure that rural priorities are heard, are understood, and are addressed.

This conference is but one way to foster partnerships, share success stories, and allow you to take new ideas back home.

In all, this conference will host more than three dozen sessions, speeches and forums, all focused on rural community needs, ranging from property tax to natural gas and from asset management to rural health care.

Then there are the delegation meetings – as many as 300 – that will be taking place with provincial officials. Rural Ontario meeting in Ontario’s capital means that we have the ear of provincial leaders. We also appreciate that we have federal representatives in attendance.

Over the course of the next few days, they will see a strong and united rural voice. We can do this. It is in everyone’s best interest to find common ground and solutions for a more prosperous Ontario.

Ontario, and indeed Canada, started as a collection of rural communities. Today, even with our big cities and small urban centres, rural communities continue to be essential to Ontario’s way of life.

Rural industries, such as aggregates, agriculture, tourism, forestry, and mining, support the quality of life in every corner of this province.

Sometimes I think that urban communities assume that rural communities are aspiring to grow into “urban” communities – that we are struggling to keep up with them.

The truth is that we aspire to become dynamic, competitive rural communities. We have long rich histories. For the sake of our children, our communities and our Province, we want to ensure that we have long, rich futures as well.

Urban and rural depend on one another to succeed. We need to ensure that the value of our rural communities is recognized across the province.

That is ROMA’s focus. ROMA is the most representative - and with your help - an effective voice for rural Ontario municipalities.  

Rural communities have a tradition of being resourceful and innovative. We are proud of that.

ROMA presses for the tools and support we all need to succeed and for the province to thrive.

We work to help set and influence the policies and regulations that impact our communities. And we make sure that while MPPs sit in Queen’s Park setting policy, at the very least, they understand the ramifications for rural municipalities.

For example, if the Provinces make a regulation changing the basis on which asset management plans have been prepared, then it should pay for that work it is creating for municipalities. Our capacity, from tax base to staffing – and the number of hours in a day – is a constant challenge.

I have been in elected office for more than 30 years now. There is no doubt the world has changed. The challenges that rural communities face now are different than they were a generation ago. The nature of our economy, culture and employment are changing.

Technology continues to transform our world. I recently learned that the founder of Word Press, which powers about a quarter of the world’s websites, runs his billion dollar company with no head office. They have 400 employees across the globe and none of them have to be tied to big cities to work. (But let’s not share this with the big cities!)

Closer to home, the ROMA Board had the pleasure of meeting one of Canada’s own leading online entrepreneurs  this summer. Tobi Lütke founded and runs Shopify, a major e-commerce company. He and his wife have purchased and restored a lovely resort at Chaffey’s Lock in my home of Rideau Lakes. They have revived a local business with a long tradition in our community. All the while, maintaining Tobi’s ability to run Shopify. In fact, as the ROMA Board arrived for our meeting, he wrapped up an international business meeting from his iPad, while sitting by the lake.

It just shows you that rural communities have a lot to offer and a lot to gain in the new economy. Our appealing quality of life can attract jobs, young people and entrepreneurs who no longer need to be in a major city to establish thriving businesses. We can support and expand our traditional industries, while exploring digital opportunities. But we need the right tools, stable finances, and supportive policies if we are to reach our full potential.

We are pleased that the CRTC has just recognized the importance of broadband connectivity, declaring it a basic service for all Canadians. For rural communities, expanding broadband infrastructure is critical.

Our traditional infrastructure is also, of course, a priority. Our deteriorating bridges and crumbling roads can NOT be forgotten in the billions that the federal government is putting towards its Phase 2 funding programs. Rural transit is our roads and bridges. It is the core of our communities.

Energy and policing also top the list of pressing priorities. Our governments and our residents have all felt the impact of the rising costs of electricity – and cap and trade is yet another unknown. Policing costs too, are a common concern across rural Ontario.

This year, on your behalf, ROMA advocated on these issues, and many more. We pressed for the viability of rural retirement homes, for sustainable funding for rural economic development, natural gas expansion and on the closing of rural schools.

We responded to the Aggregate Resources Act review, the Conservation Act review, and the Patients First Act.

As a result of our efforts, we saw the province commit additional funding through OCIF towards rural roads and bridges; support for rural broadband, and an attempt to manage electricity costs – mostly Hydro One in rural Ontario. If Hydro One was run as well as LDCs, we’d be better off.

We were also glad to see support for rural retirement homes named in ministerial mandate letters.

And we are hopeful that our efforts on rural economic development funding will be successful. Many of these matters are part of our pre-budget commentary.

ROMA has a voice in provincial policy discussions through AMO’s rural caucus, which connects us to the Memorandum of Understanding process. This process requires the province to consult with AMO on matters that will impact municipal governments. The rural caucus is heavily involved in AMO’s work - bringing that rural perspective to the table. Myself and four other rural officials sit on AMO. As chair, I am pleased to have a seat at the MOU table. I can tell you – rural and urban representatives work collectively for each other.

ROMA has also supported AMO’s What’s Next Ontario initiative, which takes aim at the long-term financial future of municipal governments. This is critical work for rural municipalities. You must pay attention to it. We need better tools and more flexibility to allow each of us to create stronger communities. You will be hearing more about this important project in just a few minutes.

Working closely with our municipal partners is critical to our shared success. ROMA is pleased to work with our peers, not only in AMO and organizations like OSUM, which represents Ontario’s small urban municipalities, but also with our northern colleagues like NOMA and FONOM. On matters such as forestry and northern agriculture, we support them and integrate their work into our narrative at ROMA.

As well, we also work closely with the Rural Ontario Institute. Last fall, ROMA and the Institute conducted an email survey of rural Councillors asking for their top rural concerns and top legislative issues.  

Those of you who attended the ROMA Hears session yesterday will be familiar with this work. For the rest of you, it will be posted on the ROMA website after the conference.     
The top three concerns were the cost of electricity, support for local economic development and improving access to broadband. Other priority concerns included protecting water quality, the aging population, health care and tourism.

On the legislative front, you won’t be surprised that the top priorities were all about funding, from the fiscal gap to the future of provincial programs like OMPF and impacts on costs like policing and insurance.

The survey results are not surprising and it reinforces our resolve to continue to focus on those priorities, as well as policing and school closures.

I want to thank Rural Ontario Institute. I know the survey results will help guide and fill its research gaps.

Even with all of our diversity, we work best when we work together. I am thrilled to see all of us come together under one roof, with a singular focus on rural needs. When we come together forcefully with a shared voice, we can be very hard to be ignore.

I am so pleased to see so many delegates here. Thank you for coming and for showing faith in us. It is my hope that this conference is one that is both insightful and inspiring.

I would also like to thank all the sponsors, speakers and presenters in attendance. You are all helping to make this conference a success.

Finally, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to serve as your ROMA Chair. Please enjoy the Conference.