The Rural Ontario Municipal Association [ROMA] held its annual conference last weekend in Toronto. It is an opportunity for mayors and councillors in rural areas to get together to discuss issues of common interest, and to be hear presentations on the latest thinking on rural municipal governance. There is, naturally, time for high-profile guests to make speeches to the assembled councillors, and this conference heard from Premier Doug Ford, Ernie Hardeman, Minister of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs, and Steve Clark, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing and our local M.P.P.
But it was in the range of presentations provided to the conference delegates that the real work of the weekend took place. These included topics such as Transit for Rural Regions: Connecting People and Places Over Large Distances; Addressing Poverty and Employment in Rural and Northern Communities; and Understanding MPAC and Our Role in the Property Assessment and Taxation System. These are all issues relevant to this area, and the presentations will, hopefully, ensure that they remain at the forefront of municipal thinking and planning here.
The organisers of the conference emphasised the fact that “there are lots of changes afoot, including new municipal councils in every part of Ontario and a new government in Queens Park that is moving swiftly to implement its commitments”. And that means that some new topics were on the agenda at ROMA 2019. A presentation on Food Tourism – Beyond the Bits and Bites and into the Economics of Why and How?, echoed ideas and concerns that have been raised in this newspaper over the last couple of years.
As the Conference heard: “From beer festivals to butter tart trails – food experiences are spreading across the province. Yet, for all of the efforts, food tourism seems to not be able to make strong headway into the traditional “tourism” marketplace”. The presentation, by Jamie Reaume, CEO of Country Heritage Park in Milton, sought to educate the audience on how “municipalities can partner to garner more dollars from their visitors’ pockets”. Like Heritage Tourism, Food Tourism represents a potential economic development opportunity for North Grenville, particularly with the acquisition of the Kemptville Campus.
More newsworthy, perhaps, was the presentation providing an “Update on Cannabis Legalization and the Licensing Framework”, by representatives from the Ministry of the Attorney General and the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario. Opting in or out of the retail area is only the first in a series of decisions municipalities will have to make in the coming years on the entire cannabis issue.
Speaking of newsworthy, a topic the Times was very interested in was “The Loss of Local News”, a presentation which discussed the decline of local news coverage in rural areas of Ontario. The idea behind the presentation was that “All news is local, unless you live in rural Ontario”, indicating the importance of newspapers like the Times in an era when corporate papers are being closed or amalgamated, with the loss of truly local coverage of news and Conferences like ROMA or AMO are an important opportunity for members of councils in rural areas to meet and share problems, solutions and ideas. Which of these presentations did our local Council attend? Knowing that would be an interesting insight into their thinking and priorities.