Ontario Liberal Premier, Dalton McGuinty, delivers remarks at the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) annual conference at the Convention Centre Monday, August 20, 2012.
Credits: Darren Brown/QMI AGENCY
OTTAWA -- Arbitrators are keeping cash-strapped municipalities waiting by the phone for too long, according to the head of a municipal advocacy group.
Gary McNamara, the outgoing president of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO), said Tuesday municipalities are baffled by the length of time arbitrators are taking to award contracts. The angst is exacerbated by what the awards are costing taxpayers.
"They need to be timely decisions," McNamara said, suggesting the length of time for a decision should be three to 12 months.
McNamara wants all three political parties to tackle the arbitration system together.
"Let's not (have) partisan politics at play because we are the people who are going to take the brunt of this."
The City of Ottawa is in the thick of it.
The legal department revealed in a report this week the city is going to arbitration with the Ottawa Professional Firefighters Association starting in October. The Ottawa Police Services Board is also going to arbitration with its rank-and-file officers in October.
The arbitration system, particularly when it applies to police contracts, is top of mind for many delegates attending the AMO conference at the Ottawa Convention Centre.
PC Leader Tim Hudak -- in a campaign-style speech Tuesday at the conference -- said his party wants arbitrators to finish decisions in three months and write awards with the local budget conditions in mind.
Hudak has long been pushing for arbitration changes.
"This deep-pockets theory doesn't work. A lot of the pockets out there are empty," Hudak said.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, who also spoke at the AMO conference Tuesday, said she has heard from municipal officials who are frustrated with the arbitration system. The answer isn't in changing the historic arbitration process, she said, but consideration should be given to the ability of municipalities to pay.
The Liberals have indicated they will take another run at the arbitration issue in the fall.
The 2008 uploading agreement between the province and municipalities is also a core concern for local politicians. The province is assuming responsibility for social programs and court security.
McNamara said the uploading deal -- which will free up $1.5 billion annually across 444 municipalities by 2018 -- is "critically important."
All three provincial parties have committed to the agreement, but Hudak questions if the province can get it done in the timeframe while tackling a $15-billion deficit.
The Don Drummond report on Ontario finances released earlier this year suggests extending the upload by two years.