The Rural Ontario Municipality Association does what it says on the tin: it represents the interests of Ontario’s rural municipalities, as a counterpart to the overall Association of Municipalities of Ontario — not to mention more specific groups like the Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities (FONOM, although despite the name it represents the province’s northeast) and the Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association (NOMA). ROMA is holding its annual conference this week in downtown Toronto, and I was invited to moderate one of the highlights of the conference: the ministers’ forum, during which municipal representatives get to pepper members of Ontario’s cabinet with questions of varying levels of policy detail and hostility.
Ever since I first started attending AMO and ROMA conferences as a reporter, I’ve found the ministers’ forum an eye-opening event. Try as I might to keep my eyes on events and issues outside Toronto, the reality is I live and work in the provincial capital, and these events are one of the most reliable ways for someone like me to get a sample of what’s important to municipal leaders outside the biggest cities.
This year’s ROMA forum was a bit different, however. What struck me (as I stood somewhat uncomfortably on stage) was how many of the questions were much more general than might have been expected. For all the talk about the divide between rural and urban Ontario — and the differences are real and shouldn’t be discounted — many of the concerns raised by rural elected officials could just as easily have come from their big-city counterparts.