The AMM kicked off a President’s Tour of Manitoba yesterday in Dauphin, representing yet another spoke in the AMM’s “Putting Communities First” wheel. The initiative, launched in June as a precursor to October’s provincial election, has so far resulted in well over 100 Manitoba municipalities passing resolutions of council calling on all parties to commit a portion of the provincial sales tax collected by the provincial government to municipal infrastructure.
The purpose of the President’s Tour is to bring the campaign – along with the AMM’s President, Doug Dobrowolski – to various communities across the province to hear first-hand some of the most pressing infrastructure issues in those communities. The guests – municipal officials, community leaders, and of course, candidates in the upcoming election – all had something to say and various ideas as to what the major issues are.
Facilitated by CJOB radio’s News Director, Richard Cloutier (who took full advantage of the opportunity to head out to Dauphin early in the day to bring his live show – Richard
President Doug Dobrowolski with Richard Cloutier, News Director for CJOB
Cloutier Reports – to the area even before the meeting began), the group was asked to “focus like a laser on this issue”. And they certainly did. Some cited worry about the future: “My concerns are for the future generations and the money they will need to sustain our infrastructure,” (Lyle Stokotelny, Superintendent of Operations, City of Dauphin) while others referred to the past: “My grandfather built roads that were adequate; my Dad upgraded them; and now my council is upgrading them again.” (Reeve Dennis Forbes, RM of Dauphin)
Still others alluded to the need for bricks and mortar infrastructure before beautification projects: “You can improve the community by putting things above ground – like flowers and parks – but if what you have below the ground is crumbling, it’s no use.” (Bill Hart, Dauphin Neighbourhood Renewal)
Not surprisingly in the Parkland area of the province, cellular service and high speed internet were on top of the list of concerns. “I was talking to a large producer yesterday who said he was ready to throw his cell phone in the header of his combine. We need cell service as much – or more – as anyone else,” said Ron Hushirchuk, former councillor, RM of Dauphin. Others were more tongue in cheek – “You can turn your computer on, perform your search and go and have supper. That’s what we call ‘high speed’ in the Village of Winnipegosis” joked Larry Pascal. But there is no doubt connectivity is a huge issue right across rural Manitoba, one that MLA for the Dauphin and Minister of Agriculture, Stan Struthers, readily admitted. “We want every Manitoban to have access” he said, while acknowledging the level of service provided is spotty at best.
Stu Briese, MLA for Ste. Rose, and Stan Struthers, MLA for Dauphin and Minister of Agriculture
Other questions resulted in verbal sparring between Struthers and Stu Briese, Progressive Conservative MLA for Ste. Rose, who accompanied the candidate for Dauphin, Lloyd McKinney to the meeting. When asked if the PCs would commit to a PST rebate for municipalities, Briese cited a private members bill he put forward in 2009 and noted leader Hugh McFadyen recently expressed interest in the idea of a rebate. Struthers – openly admitting his government has not committed to a rebate – shot back with that the PCs wanted the government to cut the budget, and stressed it is impossible to cut a budget and provide a rebate at the same time.
One thing everyone agreed on is the need for all three orders of government to work together. “We’re going to have a provincial government that’s going to be faced with a huge bill when it comes to infrastructure,” said Struthers, “and we can’t do it alone. When three levels of government get together to do a job, we see good things happen. Everybody has to be at the table.”
Dauphin Mayor Eric Irwin was even more succinct: “We need to turn to the senior levels of government because they get 92% of the money.”
While many other comments about the state of local infrastructure were heard, it wasn’t all negative. Cloutier asked for examples of positive infrastructure, and Mayor Irwin was quick to point out the Parkland Recreation Complex (where the meeting was held) as a perfect example. The facility has enabled the community to host large events like the Royal Bank Cup, generating millions in revenue and promoting tourism. “We have to have facilities like this in order to attract people, especially young families, to live here.”
The meeting took place at the Parkland Rec Complex - cited by Mayor Eric Irwin as an example of good community infrastructure.
Both parties represented – the PC’s and the NDP – acknowledged the infrastructure deficit exists as does the need to find ways to address it. Neither was open to raising taxes, however, and Dauphin CAO Brad Collett agreed. “Let’s say you raise the taxes. Well now you have money to fix your infrastructure, but no one who wants to pay high taxes. People start leaving your community…it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
While the result of October’s election is anything but a self-fulfilling prophecy, Richard Cloutier opened the meeting by promising “what you say here will be asked of those who want to be premier of this province. Trust me on that.” After describing his experience travelling to Dauphin – “My impression is this part of the country is indeed God’s country, but you are taking your life in your hand driving on some of these roads” – there is no doubt he will be true to his word.
Next stop – Gimli.
For Manitoba municipal elected officials, mid-June can only mean one thing –District Meetings. This series of meetings, held in each of the AMM’s seven districts, are second in importance only to our Annual Convention in November in terms of policy discussions.
Central Urban Director Mel Klassen (l) stands by as Ron Lemieux, Minister of Local Government, answers an audience question
There is a long history behind the June District Meetings. They were introduced way back in 1934 by the AMM’s predecessor, the Union of Manitoba Municipalities (UMM), and their purpose has not changed: …to foster closer communication between the AMM and its members, and raise awareness of local concerns.
This years’ JDMs were held from June 9-17 and during that time we experienced all kinds of weather, saw many new faces (thanks to last October’s municipal election), and of course, enjoyed terrific meals – another thing June District Meetings are known for.
Local Government Minister Ron Lemieux addressed members at six out of the seven meetings, and six out of the seven meetings saw a presentation on the same “local” issue – housing. The AMM executive updated members on their activities, and staff presented the newly launched “Putting Communities First” campaign. Good news came from Western Financial Insurance too, in the form of an announced $2 million refund.
Most importantly, though, members took part in lots of policy discussion. In fact, the 84 resolutions submitted represented the highest number in a decade. Here is a recap:
Councillor Cornie Goertzen and Mayor Chris Goertzen
Held at beautiful Providence College in Otterburne, the Eastern meeting had the distinction of breaking tradition by beginning at 3:00 pm and concluding at 9:00 pm. AMM members in the district had expressed a desire to hold more meetings outside of regular working hours to ensure they could participate, and overall the meeting went very smoothly, thanks to top-notch hosting by the RM of De Salaberry. Highlights included both our directors – Mayor Chris Goertzen from Steinbach and Mayor Bob Stefaniuk from Ritchot – being acclaimed, with Chris even having the pleasure of presenting a special 25-year service pin to RM of La Broquerie Councillor Cornie Goertzen – his Dad.
Leaf Rapids airport
Travelling to beautiful northern Manitoba is always a wonderful experience. Travelling from the flood-ravaged south to the forest-fire threatened north served to illustrate the vast geographical differences in our province, something we at the AMM are always aware of but can still appreciate when experiencing first-hand. Our Northern members do have distinct concerns, with the resolutions debated often telling stories that vary widely from our issues in the south. At the same time, we are all municipal officials elected to serve our communities to the best of our ability, and that connection is always evident. We DID enjoy truly northern fare in Leaf Rapids – our meal of freshly baked bannock, moose stew, caribou stirfry, and fried pickerel will not soon be forgotten by any who were fortunate enough to enjoy it. Northern delegates elected a new director in Councillor Angela Enright, Town of Snow Lake, and acclaimed Mayor Jim Goymer, Town of Gillam.
Newly elected Parkland District Directors Reeve Gary Momotiuk (RM of Gilbert Plains) and Mayor Lyle Smith (Town of Gilbert Plains)
Just an hour beyond the City of Dauphin is the small community of Pine River, located in the RM of Mountain, our Parkland District hosts. The resolutions debated here really painted a picture of the major issues facing many municipalities today – things like doctor shortages, rural library funding, and high speed internet. Even the more typical Parkland issues – such as beaver control – are now transcending into other areas as this problem continues to grow and threaten municipal infrastructure well beyond traditional boundaries. At the end of the day, the Parkland District also has two new directors, both from the Grandview area – Rural director Gary Momotiuk and Urban Director Lyle Smith.
The AMM’s Midwestern members are a tight-knit group. Hosting duties were ably shared by three members – Minnedosa, Minto and Odanah – and members submitted only six resolutions, the fewest number of all the districts. Doesn’t mean there are no issues to debate, though – the need for a federal/provincial flood protection program was high on the list, since some municipalities in this district have experience serious flooding problems for nine out of ten years. Funding for small rural airports was discussed, and a resolution calling for the Province to not implement a cosmetic pesticide ban Our district directors – Shirley Kalyniuk (Town of Rossburn) and Randy Lints (RM of Hamiota) – were both acclaimed.
The AMM Executive and District Directors stand for O'Canada during the Midwestern District meeting. AMM VPs Eileen Clarke and Roger Wilson are Midwesterners themselves.
Executive Director Joe Masi and former UMM President Manson Moir
Always the largest meeting, this year the Western District gathered in the southwest corner of the Province in the hamlet of Tilston, located in the RM of Albert. There, Reeve Tom Campbell’s council and staff put on a terrific meeting complete with roast beef cooked by none other than former UMM President Manson Moir (1989-1991). So there is life after municipal politics! The 14 resolutions ranged from those common amongst several districts (traffic control compensation, library funding, national water supply expansion program) to those specific to the Western District issues (oil industry tax revenue). In the end, three resolutions were defeated and two new directors were elected – Mayor Rick Pauls of Killarney Turtle-Mountain (Rural) and Councillor Terry Johnson, Town of Virden (Urban).
The humidity was high in Lowe Farm, RM of Morris. So high, in fact, the floor was slick with moisture, making treading carefully a must. Treading carefully is a good analogy for this always polite district, yet Minister Lemieux’s final presentation of his JDM tour was probably his most difficult – the Province’s position on the Canadian Wheat Board was not well received by Central delegates! With 14 resolutions to debate ranging from disaster financial assistance to bridge replacement to airport runways it was clear municipal infrastructure is a top priority here. The ubiquitous traffic control compensation resolution was also carried, as was a late resolution on the cosmetic pesticide ban – obviously a big issue for members this year. District Directors Mel Klassen (Urban) and Ralph Groening were both acclaimed to serve another term.
Despite flooding challenges, Interlake delegates still appreciate a good joke
Areas of the Interlake suffer flooding every year. This year, being extremely wet, just means the Interlake is suffering all the more. Several attendees of the Interlake JDM were, in fact, evacuees from the St. Laurent area. Minister Peter Bjornson took to the stage in his riding today, and did his best, but was unable to satisfy those who asked “I’ve been in a hotel for 3 weeks now – what am I supposed to DO?” Hopefully the details of compensation programs have become clearer in the days since. A high of 20 resolutions were debated at this meeting, some common (bridge funding), some regional (Highway 6 improvements), and some new (rural veterinary board funding). All told, only 1 resolution was defeated, meaning Interlake issues and concerns will be well-represented come the annual convention in November. Unlike other districts, the local issue was not housing, but Treaty Land Entitlement, something being negotiated among large parts of the Interlake District. Thank goodness for some consistency – our District Directors, Randy Sigurdson (urban) and Trevor King (Rural) were easily acclaimed, and the meatballs – a staple at Interlake meetings – were hot and tasty.
There, wasn’t it appropriate to end with a comment about the food?
A crew tops up the main 18th Street dike protecting Brandon from the rising Assiniboine River. Photo credit: John Woods, Canadian Press
How things have changed. A few weeks ago, the Red River was predicted to crest in Winnipeg sometime during the first week in May and then, hopefully, Manitobans would see thefloodwaters we have battled all spring begin to recede. However, an unexpected winter storm at the end of April combined with significant rainfall have made the situation much more dire than any of the predictions to date.
Compounding the problems in flood-affected communities is an entirely preventable complication – curious onlookers. At best, they are a nuisance, getting in the way of flood-fighting efforts and slowing progress down for workers and volunteers. At worst, they pose a threat to themselves and to those who have to rescue them from the rushing waters should they get into trouble.
Local news stories illustrate how bad the situation has become. Back at the end of March, in “Note to flood gawkers: please stay at home”, the Winnipeg Free Press interviewed a Lockport resident who pleaded with Sunday drivers and ice-jam gawkers to stay home unless they were there to help in the flood fighting efforts. “It’s very frustrating trying to get from point A to point B,” the resident said, adding all the sightseers out for a drive and a look at the ice jams on the Red were jamming up flood-relief efforts.
Fast-forward to May 9, and the problem has reached much greater proportions. In the National Post article “Q&A: Record flooding in Brandon, Manitoba”, the City Clerk and director of emergency public information, Con Arvisais, said residents were treating the flood like a Saturday night at the movies. “People were walking on the dikes themselves just to see the high water levels. We’re talking grown-ups, we’re talking kids. Very, very scary. We also have problems with people in cars going up and down our main thoroughfares close to the river. It’s just pandemonium as far as traffic,” explained Arvisais.
The problem is so big the contractor whose heavy equipment is working to build up dikes asked the City to do something about it because it wasn’t safe for them to even operate their equipment. So, the City invoked a local state of emergency to deal with the “flood tourists”. “People are just stopping, getting out of their vehicle, walking to the side, taking pictures. It’s just insane,” said Arvisais. “So with the emergency powers our police are able to get these folks to move along. We’re telling people just simply: stay away.”
While the City can actually fine people up to $50,000, Arvisais stressed the ability to deliver the message quickly and forcefully is key. “It’s the ability now to approach the people and say, “Hey we’ve got to ask you to leave here. We’re not arresting people.”
Although it is human nature for people want to see that which is drastic and unprecedented, the time for gawking is over. Most internet news sites have webcams to view the flooding without hampering the efforts of the many, many people who are working to keep property – and people – safe. And while there is no shortage of pictures and videos to view safely online, if one is curious, perhaps the best way to see the flood fight firsthand is to join it. Call your municipal office and ask where your help is needed.
It has been quite a winter here in Manitoba, and if today’s forecast is any indication it is not over yet. Especially for those in the southwest part of the province, where up to 40 cm of snow may be expected today and tomorrow.
Snow and blowing snow not only make travel treacherous, but the resulting highway closures often result in stranded travelers. This was the case on March 11 when a blizzard ground travel to a halt across most of the province, closed highways, and left dozens of people stranded in Portage la Prairie.
In a situation like this hotels and motels fill up very quickly, but most communities have a plan in place to host those stranded in a public facility. The City of Portage la Prairie does, and implemented its plan by opening up a local senior’s centre to accommodate those stranded overnight.
Manitoba communities are great at welcoming people in these situations but the fact is it costs money. Food and supplies such as air mattresses and blankets must be provided, and the resulting expense, while not huge, is still an unexpected hit in a community’s pocketbook.
The AMM recognized this back in 2005 when a resolution was put forward at our annual convention asking us to lobby the Province of Manitoba for financial assistance in these situations.
It didn’t happen overnight, but in 2007, the Manitoba Emergency Measures Organization (EMO) and Manitoba Local Government agreed to provide this assistance.
In another example of what can be considered a small “win” for municipalities – but a win nonetheless – the AMM now receives $3,000 per year to help compensate Manitoba communities hosting travelers stranded by inclement weather.
The program could not be simpler – the community hosting guidelines, application process, and allocation of funding clearly spell out the responsibilities for both the communities and the AMM, and current disaster financial assistance criteria are used to decide eligible costs.
The ironic part is the fund, since its creation in 2007, has never been used. This is of course a result of mild winters, few blizzards, and some luck.
This year, however, March arrived with a roar and continues to make itself heard. It would not be a surprise if the Community Hosting Fund is tapped into for the first time in 2011, perhaps more than once.
It is a small thing to be sure. But to those communities who generously host travelers who become stranded when poor weather forces highways to close, it will make a big difference.
For an advocacy group such as the AMM, and even more so for the members it represents, it sometimes seems as though the “wins” – when they come at all – are very small. So small as to be hardly noticeable, in fact.
However, by taking one issue – and bearing in mind the AMM has several HUNDRED active resolutions in its database – and measuring the results of the work done on that one issue over time, the size of the “win” becomes much more evident. Small changes most definitely can add up to big successes for municipalities.
One such success is the compensation municipal fire departments receive from the Manitoba Public Insurance Corporation (MPIC) for responding to emergencies on Manitoba’s roadways.
Municipal fire departments respond to 911 and other emergency calls within their jurisdictions, including federal and provincial roadways, and are frequently the first to arrive on the scene. Fire departments provide extremely valuable services and work in dangerous situations on a daily basis, however the rate at which they are compensated has long been an issue for the AMM.
Back in 2004, MPIC provided compensation on a per-incident basis – $376 for basic calls and $587 for complex calls. The AMM surveyed our membership and from the results received, recommended that the rate of compensation be increased to an hourly rate of $750 for all calls to respond to the actual costs of responding to the accidents.
Did we get the $750 we asked for? No. But things did improve. In late 2005, MPIC offered to increase the compensation rates for basic and complex calls to $600 and $800 respectively, with consideration given to special circumstances. While this was not the level of compensation requested by the AMM, it was a significant increase.
The work on this file did not end there, and the AMM continued to lobby for a review of the rate structure. Ah, but the wheels of justice move slowly! However, in September 2009 the AMM finally achieved the review along with another increase in rates, to $658 for basic calls and $877 for complex calls.
Even more importantly, the AMM was successful in securing annual increases to these rates effective March 1st of each year, based on the prior year’s Consumer Price Index (CPI) plus 1%.
Now, each spring AMM members see a further increase. In 2010 the basic call rate increased from $658 to $669, and the complex call rate increased from $877 to $891. And this year’s increase (which we notified members about earlier this week) went up to $681 for basic calls and $907 for complex calls.
So the moral of this lobbying story is this: The wins may come infrequently, and they may take a long time and a great deal of resolve. Sometimes, however, those hard fought battles result in an even sweeter victory in the end.
L to R: Rural Vice-President Roger Wilson; President Doug Dobrowolski; Urban Vice-President Eileen Clarke
The first few months of the AMM fiscal year tends to unfold a bit like a crazy patchwork quilt – at least that is what the Executive Team’s calendar looks like. January was tame compared to what February and March are shaping up to be, with municipal visits, Mayors, Reeves and CAOs meetings, board meetings, and meetings with Ministers all on the schedule.
The AMM has already met with two ministers – Flor Marcelino and Jim Rondeau – but that was just a warmup. February will see President Dobrowolski and VP’s Clarke and Wilson heading to the Manitoba Legislature for six Minister meetings, and March has eight scheduled. (The position papers for all these meetings get posted here.)
These meetings are time-consuming and require a great deal of preparation by both AMM staff and the Board of Directors – and they are worth every minute. Meeting face-to-face with a provincial cabinet minister to discuss municipal issues is an opportunity many lobbyists can only dream about, and one the AMM does not take lightly.
While society becomes increasingly dependent on electronic communication via email, text messaging, PDAs, cell phones, video conferencing, and the like, nothing replaces a good, old fashioned, in-person meeting to get one’s point across.
Technology is a wonderful and necessary reality of our lives today, but it cannot replace the nuances of eye contact, body language, and active listening. And there simply is no better way to get instant feedback than by talking with someone who is sitting across the table from you. This is especially true in meetings with people whose decisions have the power to affect your goals. You want to be able to clarify information and even resolve issues on the spot, not participate in an exchange of correspondence that could drag on indefinitely.
Most importantly, with personal contact you create, build and maintain relationships – the key component of all successful communication.
So while the AMM is happily riding the bandwagon of social and electronic media, with our website, blog, Facebook page, and Twitter account, we will continue to visit municipal offices, host events for our members, and ascend the steps of the Manitoba Legislature for face-to-face meetings with members of the Provincial Cabinet.
Photo courtesy of Jordan Morningstar, 2009
We all know a spring flood will hit areas of Manitoba – that much is clear. It is top of mind for most Manitobans right now. Homeowners are doing whatever they can to ensure their property is protected. Governments are doing what they can to protect communities. Realistically, however, there will be after-effects and repairs needed to municipal infrastructure. That is why Manitoba Emergency Measures is proposing revisions to the EMO regulation, which was last updated in 1999. Changes to the federal Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements (DFAA) in 2008 are another reason these revisions are timely.
Most of the changes affect the private sector. Of interest to municipalities, however is the federal government’s move to 40% cost coverage for municipalities using their own equipment. Manitoba is already at 65% so the Province will now get cost-sharing on the first 40%.
Another hot topic is the need to link weather events. Some flooding claims for 2010 have yet to be resolved and this is in part due to the fact that the federal DFAA requires each storm to be recorded as a separate event. Linking of storms is not allowed and this has created a severe administrative burden on municipalities. The Province is allowing municipalities to do work under one claim if damage happened in the same place during multiple storms, which helps but doesn’t fix all problems.
The AMM will be sending a letter to EMO supporting the proposed changes to the regulation. It will also raise this with Federal Minister of Public Safety Vic Toews, urging action on the linking issue. Minister of Infrastructure and Transportation Steve Ashton has already raised it with Toews. As well, both Premier Wall of Saskatchewan and our own Premier Selinger are pushing for the linking of weather events.
We hope there is willingness on the part of the federal government to consider this. Spring is quickly approaching.
- Massimo Bergamini of Interchange Public Affairs helps the AMM Board develop an advocacy plan for 2011.
The AMM Board of Directors met last week for its annual Strategic Planning Session. With a provincial election scheduled for October 4, 2011, it is safe to say this year’s session was met with a little more anticipation than most. The election presents an opportunity for the AMM to put its issues front and centre this year, and it is an opportunity we do not want to waste.
Massimo Bergamini of Interchange Public Affairs (and former director of communications for FCM) facilitated the session, during which the board hammered out some of the key messages it might take to all three major parties as the election approaches. As the lobby group dedicated to the needs of the order of government currently receiving only eight cents of every tax dollar, and with municipalities facing a massive and compounding infrastructure deficit, it’s not surprising the Board chose infrastructure as the number one priority facing our members.
While there are plenty of other needs – housing, health care, flooding and water management, and education taxes, to name a few – the end of the federal stimulus program and the lack of new funding for infrastructure makes the need especially dire.
It will take some time to come up with a formal plan to address this in the days leading up to the provincial election, but one thing is for sure – AMM members must be an essential part of this plan. In the next few months we will be fine-tuning our strategy and our messaging and developing tools to help us, in Massimo’s words, “tell our story”.
We’ve seen success by driving home a consistent message and speaking with one voice in the past. And there is no greater time than during an election year to stand together and push for positive change for municipalities.
If 2010 was largely focused on municipal politics in Manitoba, 2011 will surely shift to the provincial political scene. From AMM’s perspective, the provincial election of October 4, 2011 will likely be our major priority going forward this year. Our annual strategic planning session takes place later this week and our election strategy will most certainly begin to take shape during that process. We will be sure to keep our members well informed – after all, they will be an essential component to any strategy we develop.
Our strategic planning session will also be a first for our four new directors: Mayor Chris Goertzen, Eastern Urban; Mayor Robert Stefaniuk, Eastern Rural; Councillor Trevor King, Interlake Rural; and Mayor Jim Goymer, Northern. They are sure to find the strategic planning session interesting and their input will be extremely valuable, as new directors often provide a fresh perspective. You can view their bios (and those of the rest of the AMM Board of Directors) here.
Pictured L to R: Midwestern Rural Director Randy Lints, President Doug, Paula Lints, and future politician Noah James Lints at his first official function.
On a final note, this photo is just too cute not to share. Reeve Randy Lints, Midwestern Rural Director and his wife Paula are pictured with the newest addition to their family – and no, I don’t mean President Dobrowolski! Baby Noah was born in November and accompanied his Mom and Dad to Portage for an AMM Board function just before the holidays, dressed in a Santa suit.
Wishing you a Happy New Year!
The AMM office is a sad place today as we say farewell to Rachel Philippe, our Senior Policy Analyst. Rachel returned from maternity leave only recently and was dearly missed while she was away. Now we will have to make do without her permanently!
For the past six years, Rachel has done excellent work researching and analyzing key municipal issues across provincial and federal departments. She has drafted dozens (if not hundreds) of AMM position papers and written numerous articles for the Municipal Leader magazine. It is always difficult to replace highly skilled writers and Rachel is one of the best!
Rachel will be working full-time with her husband Roger in the family business – All Natural Meats in Carman, Manitoba. Since October 2008, Roger and Rachel and family have transformed the abattoir in Carman into an outlet for high quality, fresh, all natural meat products. It is an exciting venture and as sorry as we are to see Rachel leave the AMM, we are excited for her to begin the next chapter!
Best of luck Rachel, will will miss you!
The Association of Manitoba Municipalities identifies and addresses the needs and concerns of its members in order to achieve strong and effective municipal government.