AMO is the Association of Municipalities of Ontario. AMO represents Ontario’s 444 municipalities as a non-partisan, non-profit association advocating to the Provincial government on all matters that impact Ontario’s municipalities. I had the great pleasure of attending this year’s AMO conference, which is an opportunity to connect with other municipal leaders and staff as well as Provincial leaders and industry experts. There was a large quantity of speakers, educational sessions and delegations during this event and I did my best to ensure that I optimized my time at the conference. I’d like to take the time to share with you some of the highlights.
One of the opportunities at these conferences is to listen to Provincial leaders speak on important topics pertaining to the special relationship between Municipalities and the Province. I was able to listen to Premier Ford, Interim Liberal Leader John Fraser, Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark and more. Although these are typical political speeches, it is valuable to see where each of these leaders’ priorities are. I also was able to hear Mayor Burton (Oakville) speak on issues pertaining to protecting the Greenbelt and to observe the Minister’s Forum, colloquially referred to as ‘The Bear Pit’. This forum gives any attendee the opportunity to ask a question of any Provincial cabinet minister over a one-hour session. It is pretty intense and I’m sure intimidating for each of the Minister’s.
Delegations are an opportunity for Municipalities to directly advocate to Provincial leaders on important topics to their constituents. The majority of the delegations took place at the Regional level and I know a lot of hard work from Regional staff and elected officials went into these presentations. At the City of Waterloo our main delegation was to discuss large public gatherings. This was my first opportunity to attend one of these meetings and hopefully Mayor Jaworsky along with myself, Councillor Vieth, Councillor Hanmer and staff were able to make some progress on this topic as pertains to the Province.
I also attended a delegation as part of the Climate Caucus along with Councillor’s Pfenning, Hallman and Gordijk from Wilmot Township as well as Councillor Peloza from London. The topic for this delegation was on declaring climate emergencies and our meeting was with Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner. It was valuable to receive some feedback and insight from a respected elected official like Mr. Schreiner. These were valuable opportunities for me to connect with Municipal and Provincial colleagues as we collectively navigate difficult issues.
The primary focus for my conference was on educating myself on a variety of topics impacting the City of Waterloo. The five main sessions I attended touched on Asset Management, Affordable Housing, Fast Tracking the Planning Process, Building Inclusive Communities and the Housing Supply Action Plan (which included a panel moderated by Regional Chair Karen Redman). I’ve included a few takeaways from each session below for interest:
The asset management session was a real great high level overview of the legislative journey pertaining to Asset Management, as well as understanding Council’s role in this process. As we have been undertaking this plan at the City of Waterloo, it is important to note that the challenges we face are similar across the country. In fact, 1/3rd of all municipal assets in Canada are in poor or very poor condition. Asset Management Planning aims to provide informed decision making by looking at full life cycle costing of projects and comparing that to community priorities. There were some interesting takeaways regarding Council’s role, in particular the idea that my role as an elected official is to think about what we need/want now and in the future and comparing that against what we are willing and able to pay for. I was also interested in the discussions around appropriate community engagement on this topic as pertains not only to priorities, but also with respect to service level for programs.
An important topic across the province is affordable housing. This session looked a little bit at the Housing Supply Action Plan (which I’ll touch on further below) as well as the Community Housing Renewal strategy. The goal of these two plans is to unlock development of all kind of housing and to stabilize and grow community housing respectively. It was very valuable to hear from the Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association (ONPHA). The speaker was powerful and eloquent and highlighted a few key takeaways for me; the housing shortage is an economic liability for municipalities, we need to shift the language away from what tackling this crisis will cost to how we will invest in our marginalized communities, the typical definition of affordable housing is 30% below market, but we need to be aware that this is not necessarily truly affordable for members of our community and lastly ANY reduction we can make in our wait lists has a profound impact on the INDIVIDUAL and is a noble endeavour.
Fast Tracking the Planning Process
As a tie in to affordable housing (not necessarily community housing), increasing housing supply and therefore improving the planning process is also important. The session included speakers from the City of Ottawa, Lake Simcoe Conservation Authority and an expert with respect to the digital approvals process. The necessity to improve this process is tied to encouraging intensification in our cities, increasing the housing supply and improving efficiencies with respect to staff resources. We heard how the City of Ottawa approaches these challenges, including some efforts with respect to lean mapping, triaging of applications, standardized timelines, delegated authority and more. We also heard how pre-consultation between developers and the appropriate high level staff can significantly improve the quality of the initial submission, leading to less delays. We also heard about the advantages of digital approvals, not just from an efficiency and service perspective, but also with respect to data collection across all of our builds throughout the City. I hope to take some of these tools back to our planning staff to see what can be implemented at the City of Waterloo.
Building Inclusive Communities
This session included a speaker from the Rural Ontario Institute, discussing municipal internships to improve youth engagement within rural communities. It also had a speaker from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) Community Economic Development Initiative (CEDI) discussing success stories of local municipal partnerships with Indigenous communities across the country. Their goal is sustainable, long term partnerships to ensure joint community economic development and land use planning. Lastly we heard from the City for All Women Initiative (CAWI) who is working very closely with the City of Ottawa on implementing their Equity and Inclusion lens into all city practices. As your City of Waterloo council has just adopted Equity, Inclusion and a Sense of Belonging as a key strategic pillar for Waterloo, it was invaluable to hear about success stories and challenges within Ottawa’s adoption. Again, I hope to engage in conversations going forward in the business planning process for Waterloo as to how we can ensure that this important topic is addressed.
Housing Supply Action Plan Panel
The last session of the conference was related to the Housing Supply Action Plan. There were speakers and a panel encompassing a broad range of views, including CMHC, the Ontario Home Builders Association and Municipal leaders and staff. There were some really interesting takeaways, particularly from the CMHC representative. There is no doubt we are dealing with supply issues, in that housing stock is not keeping pace with demand. This issue will continue to be exasperated by land supply constraints and in turn will drive prices higher. We have seen a huge shift in the market, away from single detached homes, which represented as high as 90% of market share and are now down to 50%. The major shift has been towards condominium increases; however, we cannot lose sight of the rental market. In Toronto, there is a 1.2% vacancy rate for rentals, which is historically low. This tight rental market puts more pressure on the condo market as it causes issues with outside investors buying properties and renting them out. These are all significant challenges and important information to keep in mind in our growing City. The conversation then shifted to Bill 108, which is intended to bring more homes to market faster, provide more housing choice, offer affordability in major transit areas, encourage secondary units and ultimately provide more certainty for developers. It is certainly a controversial piece of legislation as although the legislation has passed, there is a lack of clarity for municipalities with respect to funding challenges, efficiency/workload on staff as well as authority vis-à-vis the appeals process. A lively debate ensued amongst the panel and it is clear that much is unknown at this point and it will be incumbent upon staff and Council to continue to monitor this legislation and the various and sundry impacts that it will have on our City.
Overall I enjoyed my first AMO conference and look forward to attending more of these events in the future as your representative for the City of Waterloo. If you have any questions about this event or anything else going on within the City of Waterloo, please don’t hesitate to reach out for a chat.