Austim Parents Head to Queens Park

Yesterday over 200 parents made their way to Queens Park with the intentions of making their voices heard.  And they did indeed.

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/ontario-autism-program-1.3532775

When the province of Ontario outlined its 2016 budget, it announced funding of $333 M per year for a new Autism program.  That announcement was met with enthusiasm from thousands of parents who have children on the spectrum, political leaders like Ontario PC leader Patrick Brown and myself included.

Little did they know how these new changes would affect their lives.

These changes to the program including limitations and restrictions on the Intensive Behavioural Intervention or IBI for children 2 to 5 years old.  Children 5 and older will receive $8,000 and an immediate boot off the waiting list.  Permanently.

Listening to some of the parents outlining what they have had to do and what they will need to do in the future to help support their children is just heartbreaking.  Here is one parent had to say yesterday.

“We sold one of our cars, some of our furniture, used all our savings, liquidated the equity in our home, and moved our family of five into a one-bedroom apartment,” Bourdon said, her voice breaking.

She questioned if Premier Kathleen Wynne and Children and Youth Services Minister Tracy MacCharles have “given up their possessions to uphold the dignity of their child.”

Just incredible.  My hat goes off to all of these parents who took the time to go to Queens Park and make their voices heard.  My suggestion would be to not give up.

Those who know me know that for years I have been an advocate for Autism awareness.  Working with several organizations in our area, we have been working hard to raise awareness at all political levels and to make this an issue for the provincial government.  We can’t stop now.

Here is Ontario PC Leader Patrick Brown asking the government hard questions about the changes to the program.

Contact your local MPP and let them know these changes have to be stopped.  Autism doesn’t end at the age of 5.  By taking away this expensive therapy for these children, it is setting them back years.  Parents I’ve talked with who have had their children in IBI therapy say that it works.  If it works? Why change it.

I am very proud to see the community come together as they’ve done recently over this and I will do what I can to help out at whatever level is needed.

Parents can not let their children down.  It’s not a matter of deciding whether to pay for food or pay for therapy for their children.  When people have to sell their belongings to fund this therapy, don’t you think the system is broken?

Congratulations to these parents and keep up the pressure to have these changes reversed and have the province focus in on Autism therapy for the young children, teenagers and those who are now adults.  Don’t let up!

Good News Bad News Day for Milton

If you’ve been following the news recently, yesterday was a bit of a roller coaster for Milton.

downloadEarlier in the day we found out that CN, despite its assertions to the contrary, must apply to the Canadian Transport Agency (CTA) for approval of their proposed intermodal in Milton.

What does this mean? It means that it isn’t going to be smooth sailing as they thought it would be.  In the grand scheme of things it means it’s another hurdle CN must climb before anything is approved.

You can read about the decision here (Inside Halton/Milton Canadian Champion – Rachael Williams)  Further to that, there is a decision pending to see if CN has to complete a full environmental assessment with the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) as part of their plans.  If this is ordered by the CEAA, CN will have yet another hurdle to overcome before anything happens with the intermodal facility.

Is it good news for Milton? Yes it is.  It goes with what Halton Region municipalities have been asking for since day one.  Follow the process any other developer would have to follow in Milton.  Is it perfect? Not at all, but it shows CN that they simply can not make assumptions and they do indeed need to follow a process.

There’s the “good news” for Milton.  Now, to the bad.

mevAfter close to 8 years of planning by the Town of Milton, Halton Region and Laurier University, the Province of Ontario made a decision for a new location of a university campus.  It wasn’t Milton.

The Province announced yesterday that the City of Markham (the municipality that tried for an NHL arena without a franchise) was the winner and approved a new York University / Seneca College campus beating out 12 others including Milton – which was considered a favourite – and Barrie.

You can read about this decision here (Inside Halton/Milton Canadian Champion – Rachael Williams)  Dr Max Blouw, who is the President and Vice-Chancellor of Laurier University, stated that they will indeed re-submit the proposal to the Province of Ontario in 2016.  The small sliver of a silver lining is that all is not done with new university campuses in Ontario.  They did say that in spring 2016 there will be another bid process opened up and the Milton Education Village has another shot.

I spoke of roadblocks earlier and this is one for Laurier University and the Town of Milton’s plans for the Education Village – located at Tremaine Road from Derry Road to Britannia Road – and potential economic development along with much needed job opportunities for Milton.  The Education Village, along with the Derry Green Corporate Business Park, is one of the keys to job growth and success in the Town of Milton.

In a press release by the Town of Milton (see here) we have committed to forge ahead with these plans and continue our advocacy with the Province to approve this campus.  Laurier University along with Dr Max Blouw willl press on and resubmit their proposal in the spring of 2016.

The question remains is this.  Why not Milton? Milton being the fastest growing municipality in Canada, is a prime location in the GTA for a university campus.  It has the full support of all parties involved including the Town, Halton Region and Laurier University along with their future partners.  The land is ready, available and serviceable.  There is also a facility in place that will be part of the campus up and running – a little thing called the Mattamy National Centre for Cycling which is now being prepared for the Pan AM Games in roughly 50 days.

All the pieces are in place, yet brushed aside by the Province.  These questions will hopefully be answered over the course of time and between now and the next proposal date, I will continue to advocate to the Province of Ontario, our MPP and anyone else who will listen, that the Milton Education Village / Laurier University campus should be approved as quickly as possible.

Jobs, economic growth and not to mention the Province of Ontario’s long time promise of post secondary spaces are keys to success.  Maybe the Province thought that a few token announcement of a couple of additional GO Trains and a quick payment of ice storm funds would suffice for Milton.  Not in my opinion.

Its time the Province of Ontario sees this.  With Milton growing as fast as it is, at the behest of the Province itself, with close to 400,000 residents expected by 2041, the provincial government must recognize that this is a priority area and the right decisions need to be made at the first opportunity, not as an afterthought.

AMO Coverage in Milton Champion

Milton politicians stress need for more schools at AMO – Key concerns discussed at provincial conference

Julia Le – Milton Canadian Champion:  A need for more schools was among the key concerns Mayor Gord Krantz and eight councillors raised last week during the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) conference.

Krantz, councillors Sharon Barkley, Arnold Huffman, Mike Cluett, Rick Di Lorenzo, Cindy Lunau and Zeeshan Hamid, Tony Lambert and Local and Regional Councillor Colin Best were joined by Halton Regional Chair Gary Carr and Halton District School Board Trustee Donna Danielli as they met with Deputy Education Minister George Zegarac at the conference held in Ottawa to explain the challenging situation they are finding the Town in and the dire need from the Province to commit to building more schools to support the fast growing communities and the families and young children moving into them.

The meeting was originally schedule with Education Minister Laurel Broten, however likely due to the issues surrounding the current negotiations with teachers’ unions and school boards, Broten was unable to attend the conference, held each year to bring together municipal and provincial leaders and offer panels, discussions, and keynotes on a selection of municipal interest topics led by industry experts.

The group served as a united front in presenting Zegarac the reality Milton faces.

Danielli, the school trustee for the Milton 2, 3, 4 and 5 areas, said if it wasn’t for the repurposing of the old E.C. Drury High School, P.L. Robertson Public School was projected to have 40 portables by 2014. The old high school will now host a satellite location for P.L. Robertson as a temporary measure until a new school is built.

“It’s the best solution we have, but it certainly isn’t an ideal situation,” she said, adding that there’s no real place for full-day kindergarten and that families will have to be split up at different locations.

The group also lobbied for more funding to keep older schools up-to-date technologically and physically.

Danielli added the funding formula the province uses to dole out money to school boards needs to be revised.

“When you look at the 11 boards that are closest in area (to us), we’re at the bottom of the list in terms of per pupil funding,” she said.

The 56,000 students in Milton are receiving $1,000 to $1,500 when compared to surrounding school boards.

Krantz said he believes the group put its best case forward to the Ministry of Education and Zegarac, who seemed to be well versed in the town’s concerns.

“Was there anything ultimately resolved, well that’s hard to tell at this point, but I refer to it as keeping issues on the radar screen,” he said. “I think being in their face with your issues is just as important. (It shows) we’re not going away until we get some of this stuff sorted out.”

Danielli was more optimistic about the outcome of the meeting.

She said Zegarac seemed empathetic, even going as far as to say Milton was the “poster child of why we need capital funding.”

She doesn’t believe anything will be resolved until teacher negotiations have been settled, but hopes the Town will get the green light sooner rather than later to start construction before the end of the year.

Other issues Krantz and councillors discussed with the appropriate provincial ministers at the conference included making sure the hospital expansion was kept on the radar and the effect the Slots at the Racetracks program closure will have, not only on the horse racing industry but on the town.

The Province announced earlier this year that all payments made to the horse racing industry, including Mohawk Slots, through the Slots at the Racetracks program will end as of March 31, 2013.

Krantz and Lunau met with Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Minister Ted McMeekin to discuss the importance of keeping the horse industry alive. 

AMO Update – Post Ottawa

Over the next couple of days, I will get a more detailed accounting of what Milton councillors did on our 3 day conference in Ottawa.  I promise 🙂

For those that don’t know, myself along with a number of Milton Councillors attended the annual Association of Municipalities of Ontario Conference in Ottawa.  This gives local elected officials an opportunity to meet, discuss ideas that are important to their constituents, attend workshops and seminars as well as network with provincial government officials as well.

Last year a number of councillors went to the conference in London Ontario to meet with the infrastructure minister as well as the provincial health minister to stress the importance of the expansion of Milton District Hospital.  At that point we were armed with over 6,000 plus fresh signatures from the Grow Milton Hospital campaign as well as the previous Friends of Milton Hospital’s 35,000 plus signed cards from residents to let them know the number one issue in our town was the hospital.

You’ll remember that shortly after that (and a looming provincial election in the coming weeks MIGHT have had a LITTLE something to do with the announcement /end sarcasm) we received word that the expansion was going to move forward.

This year there were a number of issues that face Milton as we continue to grow in leaps and bounds.  Unofficially our population ticker is over the 100,000 mark and headed even higher.  There is a lack of schools being committed in Milton, which is one of the main reasons that our Halton District School Board Trustee Donna Danielli attended the conference for this meeting.

We were originallytrying to meet with the Education Minister Laurel Broten, but given the high pressure of the teachers negotiations, she was nowhere to be found in Ottawa (same as the finance minister oddly enough 🙂 ) but we ended up with Deputy Education Minister instead.

The deputy minister knew of Milton’s needs well before we got there as we are one of many municipalities that are facing these school shortages.  Donna was our “point person” during this meeting as she faces these issues on a daily basis, hearing from residents about when new schools will be ready, why there are 30 portables in each location and when will it stop.  Milton council members don’t have jurisdiction in this at all.  I got emails from folks telling me that we shouldn’t be bothering since we have no control.

Its true.  We dont have an official say in this and our presence there was mainly symbolic.  But it did make a point to every minister we met that Milton meant business.  If you follow the news at all, you know there is a lot going on right now with the education ministry and the “negotiations” with school boards and teachers, which was probably the reason she didnt make it to the AMO conference.  I am confident that we will be hearing some good news soon regarding some of our much needed schools in Milton, after everything else is being dealt with.  So stay tuned for that news.

That wasn’t the only meeting myself and the other councillors attended in the 3 days.  There were a number of meetings with government ministers to discuss items like slot revenues, the horse racing industry and MPAC issues we are having. 

As outlined by Kim Arnott in the Milton Canadian Champion recently, we could be possibly facing an issue of property tax increases here in Milton and other areas due to MPAC being delayed in their reassessment of homes.  Here’s the article.

Assessment issues could impact Milton property taxes

A “hair-raising” property tax increase could be in the works for Milton as a result of assessment issues that are beyond the Town’s control.  A combination of delayed assessment updates and resolved assessment appeals could result in a property tax impact of as much as $2 million, or a six to seven per cent increase on local property taxes.When combined with education and regional taxes, the result could be an increase of two to three per cent on the combined tax bill that’s mailed to local residents.  

“It’s making the hair on the back of my neck stand up,” said Councillor Mike Cluett. “This is very important.”A report delivered to council last night by Milton treasurer Linda Leeds outlined the challenges for the coming year.  The Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC), the provincial body responsible for assessing properties and assigning values for taxation purposes, will be conducting a province-wide reassessment next year.

Prior to the completion of that reassessment, an attempt is currently underway to resolve outstanding assessment appeals from prior years, with a focus on commercial and industrial properties.  However, that means that assessors are involved in hearings and not available to undertake assessments of new properties so they can be added to municipal tax rolls.

This is particularly problematic for rapidly-developing municipalities like Milton. The assessment and addition of new properties throughout the year — known as supplementary assessments — allows the Town to begin collecting taxes from those properties.  A delay in adding new properties to the municipal tax rolls means the Town needs to finance the expansion of services to accommodate new residents and business while it waits for the cash to come in.

In the 2012 budget, taxes from supplementary assessments were anticipated to be $2 million. However, so far this year MPAC has assessed only 116 of more than 800 new residential properties, for a total of only $77,413 in property taxes.

Staff is particularly concerned with the possibility that new commercial and industrial properties – which typically carry large tax bills – may not be assessed in a timely fashion.  The attempt to rapidly resolve outstanding assessment appeals could also impact on the town’s finances.

When property owners appeal their assessments, they are required to pay the full assessment until a decision is made on the appeal. If an appeal is successful, the Town issues a refund for taxes paid.   

As the 2012 budget was established prior to the announcement of the plan to try and resolve outstanding appeals, only $230,000 was budgeted for refunds arising from successful appeals.  However, with 94 individual non-residential properties in Milton combining for 591 appeals (some dating back to 2001), the town could easily be on the hook for refunds that far surpass the budgeted amount.While the town has no direct control over MPAC, councillors did pass a resolution to ask MPAC to undertake the necessary supplementary assessments, and resolved to bring the issue to the attention of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario.

One of the seminar/workshops that AMO had this week was an update from MPAC by Chair of the Board Dan Mathieson and Antoni Wisniowski, the new CAO and the status of a number of things, and whats to come.  Needless to say it didn’t have a lot of answers to questions during the presentations, but they did do a Q&A with attendees afterwards.  As you would expect, Regional Councillor Colin Best was right up there for the questions and highlighted many of our concerns raised in that motion Milton council passed.

From what we were told at the conference, the slides and possibly video of some of these sessions might be available so if and when it does, I will post here on my site.

I will get into more detail soon regarding the different sessions myself and members of council did attend.  We were there en masse and we tried to spread ourselves out to maximize our numbers but there was still some overlap in some of the sessions.

If you have any questions or want some specific information on sessions I attended on behalf of the Town of Milton, either post a  comment or send me an email Mike@MikeCluett.ca

The List Is Out AND?

Nothing. Zilch. Nada.

The Provincial Government has released its 10 year capital forecast for infrastructure projects (for things like HOSPITALS, GO Transit etc.) and despite the efforts of thousands of Miltonians, Halton Healthcare Services and countless numbers of pleas, there is nothing in this report regarding a green light for the expansion of Milton District Hospital.

The link is here if you’d like to skim through it.

It provides few details of hospitals that “COULD” receive funding over the next few years based on the ability of the government to pay for it.  Can you say “election promises”?  Here’s how its worded…”Completing the 27 major hospital projects under construction, and continuing to invest in hospital expansions and redevelopment projects, subject to fiscal capacity.” AND “Investing in three to five major hospital expansions and redevelopment projects each year, subject to fiscal capacity.” (page v of the report)

Through all the discussions in the last year or so regarding hospital levy’s and how they were supposed to help us get where we need to go, rally’s and reasons to go and not to go and those of us (me mostly) to “play nice” when it comes to putting pressure on the provincial government to open their eyes and “get off their duff” and do something about it….all of that didnt work.

Council was sold on the hospital levy that it will help. It didnt. That idea failed. Period. Full stop.

“Be nice” Mike…I was told. “Dont rock the boat.” I complied.

All of that proved to be unsuccessful in the grand scheme of things as Ive gone through that report and found NOTHING regarding Milton’s hospital.

Its provincial election time. And my gloves are off. Im hoping that those who said theyll be in line to drive the bus to Queens Park and protest hold true to their promises because now is the time to rattle some cages.

Its gone beyond silly side remarks to the premier when he drops into town for at Tweetup. I got him to say “Milton Hospital Expansion” which was cute and all, but does nothing when it comes to the big picture.

The level of frustration that I and thousands of Miltonians are feeling right now is beyond words. Im tired of tip-toeing around things and I hope the other community leaders feel the same way. It seems the way things “should be done” dont work.

I want everyone, regardless of party youll be supporting in the next election, PC, Liberal, NDP, GREEN, RHINO, Pancake…whatever it is. If you have a sign on your lawn, make sure you have a GROW MILTON HOSPITAL to go along with it

The GROW MILTON HOSPITAL campaign, despite others saying it was “political” simply wasnt. It wasnt meant to promote any particular party and it again wont be. It simply has to be said to any candidate, Ted, Indira, (cant remember the name of the NDP if theres one) or anyone else that walks through this riding that the hospital needs to be greenlighted and NOW. If any of the party leaders fly through town for photo ops they will be met with ME and hopefully a few others with GROW MILTON HOSPTIAL signs and demands of a FIRM date for green lighting the expansion. Nothing else will be accepted.

With this delay, it puts us even MORE behind the 8 ball when it comes to the delivery of health care services in this town. We need a made in Milton solution for our hospital as others that are being built in the surrounding areas ARENT designed for growth in other regions.

Evidence has been presented forever and a day with the need for growth at MDH and its been ignored. Thanks but no thanks.

We’ve had senior members of the provincial govt through town from the infrastructure minister, to the health minister to the premier and MUMS the word. They knew nothing was going to be done. Any mention of the hospital expansion and either theyre whisked away to question period or they blurt out lines like “er….uh….we’re looking at it” Whatever.

Sorry that Im venting but reading through this report and thinking back to all the comments I got from others saying “be nice…it’ll happen…this will help …dont you worry.” Well, we now see where that got us.

ZILCH.