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Councillor Kelly's Full Report to ARAC on January's Rural Ontario Municipal Association Meeting

July 4, 2024
Councillor Kelly's Report to the City's Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee
ROMA 2024 (January 21-23, 2024) Conference Delegate Report

ROMA Background:


The Rural Ontario Municipal Association (ROMA) – the rural voice of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario – hosted the 2024 Annual General Meeting and Conference from January 21 to January 23, 2024, in Toronto, Ontario. In addition to Councillor Clarke Kelly, the city’s representative to ROMA, Councillor Riley Brockington, Councillor Catherine Kitts, and Councillor George Darouze attended this event.


Councillor Kelly's Report:


With this being my second year as Councillor and City of Ottawa ROMA delegate, I arrived at the conference with goals to accomplish that went beyond connecting and learning. This year I had meetings set up with stakeholders and 4 delegations with provincial cabinet ministers and their staff.


Whenever I was not in a delegation or a meeting I could be found in plenary and concurrent sessions, or on the trade show floor talking with the many vendors, service providers, and organizations that play a role in making rural life better.


As was my experience last year, City of Ottawa delegates often get funny looks as we are not perceived as a rural municipality to most other delegates, but many are surprised to learn just how massive the City of Ottawa is and that a vast majority of that land mass is rural.


Generally, my experience is that Rural Ottawa has so much in common with the smaller rural municipalities throughout the province and that I learn a lot and make many good connections while at ROMA. The Theme of this year’s ROMA Conference was “Closer to Home” meant to highlights the challenges of attracting services and businesses.


Day 1


The conference started off with Zone Meetings. I joined Christa Lowry, Mayor of

Mississippi Mills and Zone 8 representative, along with all the other Zone 8 delegates

for an update which was largely focused on access to health, drainage issues, and

housing which was focused on new legislation from the province and changes to

zoning.


The number of residents of Rural Ontario without access to a family physician or a

family health team is increasing four times as fast as in urban areas. It was also

troubling to learn that hospitals in Rural Ontario were disproportionately affected by the

temporary Emergency Department closures in 2022 and 2023. Rural residents without

primary care are more vulnerable to other health risks. When the nearest Emergency

Department is closed, they have nowhere close to home to get help. This happens to

many rural residents in the City of Ottawa whose first or even second option for

emergency care would be at hospitals outside of Ottawa such as Arnprior, Carleton

Place, and Almonte which have been affected by closures over the last several years.

I heard in this update that rural municipalities fund a significant share of Ontario’s health

system and often spearhead local efforts to find innovative ways to close systemic

gaps. Rural communities must be part of its governing structures.


It made me think of the great work being done by the Carp Family Medical Team who

have forged a relationship with local paramedics and have increased the amount of care

they can provide as a result.


ROMA has identified more than a dozen ways to improve access to health services by

capitalizing on the considerable skills and expertise of healthcare professionals in new

ways.


ROMA has presented 8 themes and 22 recommendations to the province. The themes

are as follows:


• Ensure that rural municipalities have a seat at their Ontario Health Teams’ table

• Fix Primary Care

• Reconfigure the Deployment of Health Human Resources

• Shift Demand from Emergency Departments to More Appropriate Forms of Care

• Complete the Full Range of Community Care

• Implement Inter-professional Team Approaches

• Support Community-Focused Innovation in Rural Ontario, and

• Preserve Public Health Emergency Response and Prevention Programs.


I was pleased to hear about the advocacy being done by our ROMA reps at the board

level on this issue.


Housing was also on the agenda given the importance. According to Mayor Lowry’s

update good quality, reasonably priced rental accommodation has long been in short

supply in rural communities and remains so today. Economies of scale are harder to

achieve for multi-unit projects and it is difficult to encourage developers to consider

projects in Rural Ontario. Gaps in the spectrum of housing options mean that rural

residents who might otherwise free up existing housing stock by downsizing or moving

from owner-occupied to rental homes can’t afford to do so or may not be able to find a

new place to live nearby. This is particularly the case with many seniors, who find that

they must continue to live in a home that is much too large for their needs.


The younger generations are also finding it difficult to afford homes in the rural

communities in which they grew up and have to leave. Personally, I know many people

who have had to leave Ward 5 to find a place to live that is even remotely affordable.


It was mentioned that the current legislative, regulatory, and policy regime for housing in

Ontario contains many barriers that hamstring efforts by municipal governments and

others in Rural Ontario to implement well-designed solutions.


We briefly explored the ROMA housing report’s highlights. Over a five-month period,

ROMA’s Attainable Housing Task Force identified the issues and solutions that will

enable municipalities in Rural Ontario to respond effectively to the dramatic shifts in

provincial, regional, and local housing markets. Some of the key concerns were learned

from more than 255 responses by rural municipalities to a survey ROMA distributed in

March 2022. ROMA recognizes that action on the proposed solutions will not, by itself,

solve the housing challenges in Rural Ontario; other stakeholders – beyond

municipalities – must be engaged. But this report is a good start.


The report highlights are as follows:


• Amending provincial legislation and/or regulations to bring clarity to planning

processes for provincial and municipal governments, as well as housing project

proponents and citizens.

• Delegating authority and flexibility for municipal governments to encourage,

review and approve housing solutions that “fit” their communities while remaining

consistent with good planning principles and key planning documents (such as

their Official Plans).

• Accelerating planning processes based on prioritization of specific types of

municipally approved housing projects.

• Implementing targeted incentives to enable proponents to reduce long-term risk

and model financially viable projects at scales and configurations that work in

Rural Ontario.

• Undertaking tasks that can get municipally approved housing projects “out of the

gate” faster, thereby reducing prospects for costly delays.


At the Zone Meetup I was joined by Councillor George Darouze, Councillor Catherine

Kitts, and Councillor Riley Brockington.


Following the Zone Meet up I attended the opening plenary session.


This began with a keynote address from Shane Feldman. His message essentially is

about the power of community and talks about how to cultivate community-centred

workplaces that enable individuals and teams to perform at their highest levels. That is

done by building better relationships, and increased engagement. He also focused a lot

on being genuine and authentic which as an elected representative is very important.


Overall, the keynote speech contained some inspiring stories and ideas on how to

increase community engagement.


The conference then heard some highlights from the ROMA Strategic Plan 2024-2027.

The plan is focused on advocating for supporting municipal capacity building, which

means making different resources available to rural governments, advocating for

change that contributes to the wellbeing of rural communities by providing input to the

work of AMO to inform, advance, and amplify policy development and advocacy.


Following this, we heard from the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and

listened to a panel discussion on the many changes and opportunities in our agrifood

sector and the important role farms of various sizes play in the Ontario economy.

I was not feeling well and wanted to rest up for the next day, so I decided not to attend

the opening reception.


Day 2


I listened to opening Keynote by Chair Robin Jones as she explained the challenges

that rural communities in Ontario currently face, from infrastructure deficits, housing

pressures, keeping seniors in rural communities, closed emergency rooms and limited

access to primary care among many other things. The theme of the conference was

fitting, Closer to Home. Rural communities need access to services in their

communities, but the tax base does not support this usually. She set the stage for the

conversations to come.


Following the opening keynote, the AGM was held and then we heard from Premier

Ford, who focused on the importance of the Ontario Economy and the role rural

communities play in that. He spoke about their great relations with the federal

government and the partnerships they are making when it comes to housing and

infrastructure for our growing communities. As a former City Councillor, Premier Ford

also touched on his experience at that level and how important the municipality is to

peoples’ lives.


Minster Surma then took the stage to discuss the new Housing-Enabling Water

Systems Fund to support municipal water projects that will help unlock housing

opportunities and further protect communities. Through this program, the government is

providing $200 million over three years to help municipalities repair, rehabilitate and

expand critical drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater infrastructure.


Following the morning plenary, I toured the trade show floor and connected with several

of the representatives including the Snowmobile Association of Ontario where we

discussed the increased challenges to maintaining the trail network, the effects of

climate change, changes in private property owners, as well as expanding relationships

with ATV clubs who are also seeking use of trails and old railways lines for recreational

purposes.


I visited the Food Cycler representatives to discuss this idea, pilot projects that are

happening in other municipalities who don’t have organics programs like City of Ottawa,

as well as the concept itself on a large scale. This could be a great tool for managing

organics in multi unit developments in the City of Ottawa.


I visited the Good Roads booth as road conditions and maintenance are a topic of great

concern in rural areas. We discussed what membership in Good Roads means; I

inquired about research and information that they have and how to access this

information and upcoming events and conferences that they plan to hold in 2024. I am

considering attending their workshop on Navigating Low Volume Roads located in

Barrie in August.


Along with Councillor Darouze, I took the time for a fairly lengthy visit to the

Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) booth to talk about our recent

experience with their latest round of procurement for Battery Energy Storage projects.

We advocated for a much more clear and transparent procurement process and asked

that they have experts help with the public consultation aspect of these projects which is

sorely lacking. The process and the many players involved is very confusing for people

and the public will never accept the outcome of a process that is not clear and where

applicants do the bare minimum to engage the local community. We talked about

standards and expectations around who pays for fire suppression and the resources it

takes when one of these systems catches fire. Location of these systems was also a

topic of conversation, with our argument essentially being that we need to find a way for

them to be put in areas that are already industrial. We also raised concerns about

property values, well water contamination, and light and noise pollution from these

systems.


I also had two delegations lined up for Monday; the first being with the Minister of

Energy, where Councillor Darouze and I talked about the IESO and the various

procurements that they have in plans for energy storage. Given that many of these

projects will be out in rural areas, we wanted to explain our experience as rural

councillors so far and the challenges we had seen. We offered some potential solutions

along the same lines as those we had during our visit to the IESO booth.


The second delegation was with the Minister of Tourism Culture and Sport. I advocated

for funding for a new electronic scoreboard for the Fitzroy Community Centre. Fastball

is huge in West Carleton-March, and we have hosted a number of national tournaments

over the last several years. The Fitzroy Community Association has some very

dedicated volunteers who have done some amazing work on their diamonds and have

put together some very competitive teams over the years. We did not receive an offer

for funding, but I did receive a call from the Minister’s team a few weeks later explaining

that they were going to open a new funding stream for this type of request based on the

delegations they had received at ROMA like mine asking for this type of funding.


On day 2, I had the chance attend the concurrent session on Municipal Lessons

Learned with Energy Projects. I was particularly interested in this as it has been a topic

in rural Ottawa for several years now. This was presented by Michael Di Lullo, CAO,

Municipality of Middlesex Centre and Tonja Leach, Executive Director, QUEST Canada.

This included a breakdown of roles and responsibilities in Ontario’s grid system which is

actually part of a very large North American grid. The province’s rapidly growing

population, electrifying industry, and aging nuclear reactors will shift the province’s

electricity grid from decades of comfortable surplus to critical shortages in just a few

years. By 2026, the province’s grid could strain to meet demand during peak hours; by

2030 soaring demand could outpace generation capacity.


According to the IESO’s Pathways to Decarbonization (P2D) report high-growth

scenario, in less than 30 years Ontario could need more than double its electricity

generating capacity, from 42,000 megawatts (MW) today to 88,000 MW in 2050.


The presentation outlined the ley steps that can be taken to achieve this:


• Energy Efficiency Focus: To transition towards cleaner energy, prioritize reducing

energy demand through enhanced efficiency across all sectors.

• Utilizing Current Infrastructure: Leverage existing assets like nuclear and natural

gas, add renewable natural gas and hydrogen blends, and promote noncompetitive transit systems alongside personal vehicles. Integrate renewables

and small modular reactors.

• Optimized Land Use: Promote sustainable land management aligned with

cleaner energy goals, revise land use practices to accommodate renewable

energy installations, and optimize energy production from available spaces.

• Waste-to-Energy Opportunities: Harness waste as an energy source: thermal

waste from sewers and local industries, renewable natural gas from landfills, and

energy derived from forestry and agriculture waste. This approach minimizes the

need for extensive electricity system expansion.

• New Infrastructure and Economic Opportunities: Accommodate new

infrastructure for generation, transmission, and distribution, fostering business

models that create local economic growth opportunities.


I also attended the Enbridge learning lunch with my colleagues George Darouze and

Catherine Kitts to hear about the important role that natural gas will continue to play as

we diversify our energy sources tor educe carbon emissions and strengthen our grid.

I ended the day by briefly attending the Provincial Government Reception.


Day 3


I started the day with a meeting with Mike Nolan, Chief Paramedic for Renfrew County.

Chief Nolan has served as a Paramedic, Flight Paramedic, Professor, Deputy Chief of

the Ottawa Paramedic Service, President of the Paramedic Chiefs of Canada, Director

of Emergency Management for the City of Ottawa and is currently the Director and

Chief of the Paramedic Service for the County of Renfrew.


He is literally winning awards for the great work that has been done in Renfrew County

with their paramedics and I wanted to meet with him to discuss what is working for him,

and whether the City of Ottawa could potentially implement some of the same strategies

that he has. He mentioned several areas where he thinks there could be a different

approach that worked in Renfrew County. Given his past experience with the City of

Ottawa, it was great to hear his take. Given the many level zeros we have had and

continue to have, and the effect it has on rural area response times, we agreed that

additional follow up conversations would be appropriate.


Following my meeting with Mr. Nolan, I led a delegation to the Minister of Natural

Resources and Forestry.


The point of this delegation was to solicit funds for West Carleton Disaster Relief, a local

and volunteer-based organization in West Carleton to assist people and communities in

the event of an emergency or natural disaster. Because of the large geographic area

that West Carleton-March covers, they require storage space and funds to fill that space

with items that are often used in a disaster – such as bottled water, hip waders, rubber

boots, shovels, pumps, hoses, generators, and many more items that will help people

get through a flood, tornado, or a long-term power outage.


Councillor Catherine Kitts and I then led a joint delegation to the Minster of Health, with

both the Town of Arnprior as well as McNab Braeside. We asked questions about and

advocated for a change in the funding formula for doctors in the province. Currently,

doctors are paid based on their rostered patients and not billable hours. This has

resulted in a climate where clinics penalize patients for going to walk-in clinics or seeing

other doctors, sometimes even threatening to de-roster them as patients. This results in

people going to emergency rooms when they really just need to see a primary care

physician and adds to the stress on our smaller rural based hospitals that often serve

the rural residents of Ottawa in towns such as Arnprior, Carleton, Place, Almonte etc.


While the rural delegates from the City of Ottawa try their best to and do make it worth

our while to be there, I would say that the City does not take ROMA nearly as seriously

as it takes other municipal conferences.


I reached out to City staff in the planning department for guidance on delegations and to

ensure I was properly prepared to further our goals as the biggest rural municipality in

Ontario. The lack of response was extremely discouraging; not only did staff not help

me prepare as the City’s official delegate, they failed to even acknowledge my

correspondence seeking guidance.


If our goals for the rural areas of our City are to be met, it will not come solely as a result of efforts from rural Councillors, but with support from staff who are committed to supporting the rural areas of the City of Ottawa. In 2025, I fully expect staff to prepare ROMA delegates in the same way they would AMO, FCM, or any other municipal conference.


CONCLUSION


It is through the commitment of Members of Council, to attend conferences like the

ROMA 2024 Conference, that the City of Ottawa’s interests are advanced, but we

require City of Ottawa staff to take it more seriously and be committed to supporting

ROMA delegates in a comprehensive manner moving forward.


Clarke Kelly

Councillor | City of Ottawa

Ward 5 | West Carleton-March


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