Inside the Association of Municipalites of Ontario’s (AMO) boardroom is a large map. It depicts the province of Ontario, from Sarnia to Cornwall and from Niagara Falls to Hudson Bay. It is a powerful reminder that municipal issues are not limited to those faced by the large city-regions in Southwestern Ontario.
It was in that boardroom that we met with Monika Turner, AMO’s Director of Legislative Policy and Leslie Munoz, a policy analyst at AMO. (Fun fact: Both are OLIP alumnae!) They explained the mission of AMO: To ensure that the collective voice of their 440 member-municipalites (an approximate number) are heard at Queen’s Park. AMO’s board of directors has 43 members, representing six regional caucuses. The City of Toronto is distinctive in that it has opted to not be a member of AMO.
Since 2001, the Ontario government has had a statutory commitment to consulting with AMO before enacting policies that impact municipalities. AMO’s history of advocacy, however, stretches into the the nineteenth century. AMO’s progenitor, the Ontario Municipal Association, was founded in 1899. In 1972, the Ontario Association of Mayors and Reeves merged with the Ontario Municipal Association to form AMO. The current form of AMO came into existence in 1982, following a merge with multiple other municipal associations (namely, the Rural Ontario Municipal Association, the Association of Counties and Regions, the Organization of Small Urban Municipalities, the Association of District Municipalities, the Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities, and the Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association).
Our meeting with Monica and Leslie was wide-ranging. An important theme was how important municipalities are in the daily life of Ontarians. For example, we learned that municipalities are responsible for 60% of Ontario’s infrastructure. An ongoing concern for AMO is that infrastructure goals are often set by provincial and level governments, rather than local needs.
We also learned about AMO’s position on cannabis. Monika and Leslie pointed out that cannabis legalization will involve large costs for municipalities—because municipalites are responsible for police services. AMO’s official position calls for a cannabis dispensary model featuring private, locally regulated businesses, as this is perceived as a way to boost local economic development.
A third issue that stood out during our meeting was Bill 160, which would increase the role of firefighters in responding to low-acuity medical emergencies. Monika argued that low-acuity calls are often the most dangerous, because they involve a degree of assessment by the first responder, and would be better handled by professional paramedics. In the opinion of AMO, a better way to increase response times would be to invest in paramedic training and dispatch.
We are grateful that Monika and Leslie took the time to meet and share AMO’s perspectives with us. It’s exciting to see all the different places where OLIP alumni work!