2013 State of the Town

Chair Carr, former Mayor Barrett, fellow residents, invited guests, esteemed staff and respected Council colleagues. These annual Status of the town speeches began seven years ago. They update you on our progress toward our goal of being Canada’s most livable town.

Last year, this speech focused on the long-range plans guiding us forward.

This year, we focus on the results we are achieving. And what a year it’s been!

All share the credit for our success

Every year, thanks to the efforts of so many dedicated people, our town is getting ever closer to being Canada’s most livable town. Who are these dedicated people? You who are here tonight and there are many more where you came from. You who are leaders of our many volunteer groups of residents. You who are business leaders. You who are members of our dedicated professional civil service staff at the town, the police, and the region. You who are members of Council.

You each have a starring role in our town’s success this year.

Consider these five accomplishments:

First, our Official Plan, Livable Oakville, passed its first acid test at the Ontario Municipal Board. The OMB dismissed outright a developer’s appeal of our refusal to approve a too-dense in-fill sub-division in an established neighbourhood.

Second, we kept our overall property tax change to within inflation again this year. We achieved this level of tax control even while we increased and improved services and facilities. We did it by harvesting the dividends of our relentless pursuit of efficiency.

Third, this year again we successfully enforced our policy of acquiring waterfront for the public. We acquired new, significant pieces of Oakville’s waterfront for public access and enjoyment. This brings us to about 33 per cent of the waterfront open to the public.

Fourth, we have measurably cleaner, healthier air to breathe. Our Health Protection Air Quality By-law has reduced air pollution. We are the only government anywhere in Canada that regulates PM2.5. PM2.5 is the deadliest kind of air pollution.

Fifth, for the fifth year in a row we're the safest community in the country. Our police force is effective and efficient.

So how good was this year? We even had good weather for the Canadian Open.

A culture of engagement

Our record of success shows we can be trusted to do the best for Oakville.

When a decision is being made, we do more than just notify you – we engage you. We trust you to help us make the best possible decision.

We as a Council believe in public engagement. In Oakville public engagement is democracy in action between elections.

In other words, what we do is all about you.

A greener and cleaner town

And when it comes to asking for things to make Oakville the most livable, you are remarkably consistent.

You tell us you want a town that’s green and clean. We are united in this goal.

To make Oakville greener, we plant trees, thousands annually, far more than we lose.

Someone once said, “Trees are the best monuments that you can erect to your own memory. They speak to your praises without flattery, and they are blessings to children yet unborn.”

Children yet unborn will enjoy the 40 per cent urban forest canopy we will create by the year 2057.

And if you’ve got 44 more years left in you, you’ll be here to enjoy it, too. The rest of us will enjoy the ever greener path that will take us there.

We are also working hard to protect our existing woodlands. Here are three ways:

First, the town’s Forestry staff is waging one of Canada’s most aggressive fights against the Emerald Ash Borer.

Second, Council recently approved a plan to protect Oakville’s NHS with natural trails standards.

Third, we are piloting a project with Oakvillegreen for public education and awareness to respect and protect our trails and Natural Heritage System.

Our Natural Heritage System is a municipal greenbelt. The NHS has 900 hectares, 9 square kilometres across North Oakville. We’re working to control impacts on our preserved green space while we provide for walking and cycling for our nearby neighbourhoods.

But protecting our environment is not just about trees and trails. It’s about making Oakville a cleaner place, too. This may lack some of the poetry of trees and trails. But, we must work to minimize waste. And this year our town won three Gold Ontario Waste Minimization Awards.

Facilities for all

You also tell us you want upgraded, improved and expanded town facilities for community activities.

Across the north, we have updated our three community centres. We know other parts of town have waited decades for community centres. We know the role such facilities play in the life and spirit of our town.

We know you want a new community and health centre on the old hospital site. You want a new community and seniors centre with a restored and revitalized Oakville Arena on Kerr Street. You want a reinvigorated and updated Centennial Square. You want a community centre for North Park.

Each of these projects will be designed with you to make our town more livable. Each will cultivate our town’s soul and spirit.

This year we are finishing the planning and public engagement for our next new facilities. Our Ten Year Capital Forecast plan will lay out the path to completion of our facilities needs. Council expects to finalize that plan next year on a pay as you go basis to avoid tax-paid debt.

We are also taking special care in working on enhancing the role of our downtown as a social and cultural hub. We will create conditions for our famed downtown to become more attractive, resilient and successful. We will break new ground in community planning for this area. Downtown has been called the jewel in the crown of Oakville. We will make it shine.

And while we are on the topic of public facilities, when the new Oakville Trafalgar Memorial Hospital opens at the end of 2015, we will be able to make our donation of up to $130 million without using taxes.

New revenues from Oakville Hydro from green energy and other business projects across Ontario will carry the cost of our donation. Please acknowledge Oakville Hydro’s board and President Rob Lister and his team for this. And let’s congratulate them for being awarded Large Company of the Year honours last month by the Ontario Energy Association.

There’s more good fiscal news.

Lower tax increases with more and better services and facilities

We have continued to cut our tax-paid debt. Since 2006, we’ve cut it 43 per cent. We are on track to eliminate tax-paid debt in ten years.

And, we’ve been keeping total tax increases to the level of inflation.

At the same time, we have responded to your demand for higher quality town services.

We have more police and fire and faster response times. We have better road quality. We have more parks and green spaces. We have more resources for public libraries. We have better snow clearing. We have more and faster transit. We have more household leaf collections. We have fully-funded infrastructure depreciation. Funding our infrastructure needs has been our single biggest increase in spending and taxing. We doubled it.

Even with what we’ve had to take care of and added, we have a good news story on the tax front. You can see how well we’ve doing on taxes by looking at how just one number has moved over the last 12 years.

From 2002 to 2006, the total property tax levy increased by an average of 7 per cent a year.

In my first term as mayor, from 2006 to 2010, we cut the annual rate of increase from 7 per cent to 5 per cent.

This term, we’ve cut the rate of increase from an average of 5 per cent a year to 3 per cent a year.

Everyone tells us 7-5-3 is a good direction.

As a direct result, out of Ontario’s 84 largest municipalities, Oakville has the sixth lowest tax rate.

We’re sticking to the path of tax control. Earlier this year, we unanimously set our 2014 budget direction of keeping the overall tax change to no more than 1.5 per cent.

Council and management pay freeze

To set an example, in December we froze our own pay on Council. We froze the pay of our non-union management staff.

We are committed to sound fiscal management. We deliver first-rate public services. We attract and retain the best and the brightest for our civic staff. We protect and enhance our town’s natural beauty. We are proud of our public facilities. We are as excited as you are for our new facilities. These are what make Oakville so livable.

Livability determines our future

Our livability attracts other people and families to want to move here. Therefore, our livability keeps our investments in our homes safe – and appreciating. We keep our town in good shape for the same reason we keep our homes in good shape.

Even better, our livability is why businesses want to invest and locate here.

So the engine of our economic growth is our livability. Why, last year 1,200 new jobs were created in Oakville.

Our unemployment rate is well below the provincial average. And in 2012 we had more than 1.1 million square feet of non-residential construction in our town. That’s a total value of more than $221 million.

Our livability is growing our economy, and we all want that.

You also tell us you want Oakville’s population growth controlled.

Growth control has reduced growth rate 33%

Well, our population growth rate since the 2006 Census is 33 per cent lower than it was before. We won’t let growth change the essence of what we are environmentally, economically and socially.

We will keep Oakville a friendly, warm community; we will keep Oakville’s unique spirit alive.

My friend, mentor and former Mayor, Harry Barrett captured the essence of that spirit when he coined the expression, “Oakville is a city that calls itself a town and feels like a village.” Since the last Status of the Town Report, we’ve named our waterfront trails system after him. He created our policy for our trails system. He created our policy for our public access to the Waterfront. These are today signature pieces of our identity as a town. It was time to identify them with him, their author. Please join me in thanking former Mayor Barrett.

Is it any wonder if others see our town as special?

This year, for the second year, MoneySense Magazine listed our town as one of the top five best places to live in the entire country.

Mind you, it’s not really the opinion of the national media that matters to Oakville.

What matters to Oakville is what the people who live here think.

And according to our surveys the people of Oakville believe their town is on the right track.

Our surveys say 85 per cent of you believe Oakville is more livable than other areas in the GTA.

Surveys say, 90 per cent of you say you are satisfied with your town and police and regional government.

We know a huge piece of your satisfaction comes from the way you know when you talk with us we listen.

Five challenges ahead

And we need to talk. As much as we’ve achieved in the last year, there are five major challenges that are commanding our concern and attention as leaders of our community. These five challenges should attract your concern and attention, too.

1. Our first challenge is the continuing one from residential developers. They want property taxpayers to finance their infrastructure; they want us to take on debt that should be theirs. Call it subsidizing newcomers or call it subsidizing developer profits, we can’t afford it. That would endanger our AAA Credit Rating. It would undermine our economic strength.

For now, we seem to have overcome this challenge. The developers have just withdrawn the legal attacks they filed last year. But this was only one battle.

The war over who will pay for infrastructure to support new homes is continuing. The developers are lobbying the provincial government to shift the costs of growth to you, the property taxpayer. We must and will stay engaged in this struggle.

2. The second challenge facing Oakville is the financing for the proposed GTA transit plan known as the “Big Move.” Unfortunately, the “Big Move” plan has a big hole in its funding. In fact, there’s a $34 billion gap. On a GTA-wide basis, that’s an average $1000 a year for every home, for almost 20 years.

How will this gap be paid for? Right now, we still don’t know. Our Council believes the property tax is over-worked already. That’s what motivated me to work so hard – and successfully – this year to get the Province to pledge that they would leave property taxes out of any funding of the Big Move.

We still have to see where the money will come from, that is, if Phase 2 of the Big Move will be built at all.

3. The third major challenge we face is the on-going appeal to the OMB by developers against our Enhanced Natural Heritage System.

Our 9 square kilometres Natural Heritage System is our town greenbelt across north Oakville. It’s not under appeal. We see our NHS as being protected and extended by the 492 square kilometres Enhanced Natural Heritage System we have created across the rest of Halton. That's 51 per cent of Halton.

4. The fourth and fifth challenges we face are opportunities. We will lose out financially as tax payers if we do not succeed with these challenges.

Let’s look at the fourth challenge. Oakville has assets worth $1.6 billion.

We need to ask ourselves, are our assets performing as well as they can for us?

Consider the town’s land in Downtown Oakville. Can we make better use of these lands? Could we add office and retail spaces to create both more parking and more customers for downtown shops? Our answer to this will determine if we can create a new level of vitality and success in our historic downtown. Can we create a new streetscape and new partnerships to make downtown the social and cultural community hub of our town?
This will be among the most important work our town staff has embarked upon.

5. The fifth challenge is to stick to our plan for developing our employment lands. This land will create the 30,000 jobs Oakville needs for the future.

This is an on-going challenge because Councils in the past, before 2006, had to let 500 hectares of employment lands be converted to residential. They let space for 25,000 jobs go and added population instead. One way we are controlling population growth now is by not permitting conversions of employment land to residential development. We have strict laws in place now to block conversions.

Because any Council in future can change any law, the challenge that remains is yours, as voters. Sometimes it seems as if the question should be, do you want to be crowded or do you want to be green and employed? Any way you look at it, this has been your green Council, focused on environmental lands as well as jobs lands.

Our jobs plan includes for our businesses to get out in the world more. More of our businesses need global dimensions to increase our town’s prosperity.

Economic development in a global frame

We are working with our business leaders who are pathfinders globally to encourage other Oakville businesses to “get out more.”

That’s why we conducted our well-attended business leaders’ forum this summer on doing business successfully with China.

At home, our Life Sciences Business Park is getting off the ground faster than expected. We thought our new hospital would have to open first before the Life Sciences Business Park would start to take off in 2016. Delightfully, it’s already starting taking off.

And advanced manufacturing, one of the pillars of our strategy, is almost a billion dollars stronger now.

Last month Ford, Ontario and Canada announced that the Oakville Assembly Plant will become one of Ford’s global platform centres.

Later this month, we will host the first major gathering in five years of Ontario’s Auto Mayors Group with provincial and federal officials at Ford. We’ll consider ways to ensure Ontario continues to be home to North America’s most significant auto-making industry.

So far, we have met or are overcoming each of the challenges we face. We’ve had no defeat, no surrender.

With our seven years of success, everyone is entitled to a sense of optimism about our way of keeping our town on the path to success. You can trust us to keep working to do more and more with less and less of a tax increase because we’ve shown for so long now that our way is to set goals for efficiencies and effectiveness.

Our way is to protect the environment and to promote economic growth and social development for the benefit of all.

Our way is to control growth in the community.

Our way is to keep alive the Oakville spirit of a small town whose warm and friendly welcome speeds newcomers to successful roles in our town’s life.

Our way is to provide first-rate, trusted government services from a professional civil service at the town, police, and region that is the best and brightest anywhere.

Our way is to create and maintain top-notch public facilities, without overburdening taxpayers.

Partnering for success

Our way is to work cooperatively with higher levels of government. We are a two-level municipality. Halton Chair Gary Carr has been a great partner to coordinate municipal goals and fiscal impacts with us.

All municipalities are creatures of the Province. MPP Kevin Flynn has been a great partner at Queen’s Park to represent us through thick and thin times.

And when the federal government has been able to partner with us, we have benefitted as a community, too. Think of how they and the Province split the cost of half of our $60 million transit facility. The way we work, they’re welcome back at the table anytime.

Our way is to engage you in the decisions that directly impact you and to work together with you to get those decisions right.

And when necessary, our way is to defend our decisions at the OMB or in court.

A previous mayor once said in this place that we had to give developers what they wanted because Oakville always lost at the OMB.

Oakville wins

Now, developers and the OMB respect Oakville’s vision of our future because we do the hard work to make sure our decisions stand when tested at the OMB.

One example is our decision in 2009 to impose an interim control bylaw to set aside power plant applications for a year. We took the time to conduct good planning on where power plants can go. We followed due process and the law. We were upheld by the OMB. We did our duty.

This is important. Tomorrow the Provincial Auditor General reports on the Oakville power plant cancellation costs. The old argument in the media about whose cost estimates to believe will be replaced with tomorrow’s Auditor General’s estimates.

Surely, what matters now is how to prevent so dangerous a site selection decision again.

What matters now is how everyone can be protected from such dangerous and ultimately costly decisions in the future.

That decision four years ago to put a power plant in a place so dangerous was caused by a bad process at an arm’s-length agency which produced an indefensible decision. We responded to that decision by following due process and the law. Then TransCanada told the government they could not defeat Oakville’s by-laws. You can read their email if you don’t believe me, but I think everyone's seen it.

I still hope the legislature will fix the process, once they can’t argue anymore about how much it cost.

Earlier this year, we and Citizens 4 Clean Air made submissions to the Minister of Energy for improvements to the process. We hope to prevent such dangerous power plant location decisions from ever happening again, anywhere.

The Oakville way works

Our approach to the defence of our town and the cause of good government could be called the Oakville Way. In the Oakville Way, we realize we aren’t powerful or perfect – and we resolve to work with each other harder than our opponents and it gives us the edge.

Whatever you call it, you can trust us to keep doing things the right, responsive way. We'll keep doing things the smart, sustainable way. We'll keep doing things the Oakville Way.

Friends and neighbours and fellow residents, you see before you a Council and a professional staff who are unequalled at turning your hopes and dreams for our community into reality.

To each and every member and leader of our town’s vibrant residents groups, we say, simply, thank you for your engagement and guidance. You help us stay on track to meet your needs.

To each and every one who volunteers your time for Oakville, we give our heartfelt thanks for your spirit. This is the spirit of Oakville.

Everyone contributes

In a similar spirit, this speech, just like the rest of our work together, has benefited from group effort. Each member of Council contributed to the assessment tonight of our strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities.

  • Ward 1 (Bronte) Councillor Alan Johnston knows how important the health of Lake Ontario is to us and future generations and as our voice on the Bi-National Great Lakes St. Lawrence Cities Initiative he sees our concerns are heard and acted on. 
  • Ward 1 Councillor Ralph Robinson identifies as our biggest threat the on-going campaign by Ontario developers to get the provincial government to shift costs of growth from them back to you the tax payer.
  • Ward 2 (South Central Old Oakville) Councillor Cathy Duddeck says what stands out is the success we've had at the OMB defending the Harvest Bible site on Lakeshore and the strength of her ward’s six residents groups.
  • Ward 2 Councillor Pam Damoff points to the distance we have come in becoming a bicycle friendly community – and the distance we have to go to fully implement our Active Transportation Master Plan.
  • Ward 3 (South East Old Oakville) Councillor Keith Bird spotlights our creation this year of Oakville’s newest heritage district for preservation of our jewel of a downtown.
  • Ward 3 Councillor Dave Gittings points to several of our newly established strengths: our future of lower tax increases, our increasing attraction of clean additions to our non-residential tax base, and, unique in Ontario, our full coverage of depreciation in our finances.
  • Ward 4 (North West Oakville) Councillor Allan Elgar has kept our attention this year on our work to identify the limits of development for the Merton lands between Third Line and Fourteen Mile Creek. The Province is preparing to sell some of its land holdings in Oakville.
  • Ward 4 Councillor Roger Lapworth identifies the role of council members such as himself in community groups such as the humane society, TOWARF and our business improvement areas for their importance to our success.
  • Ward 5 (North Central Oakville) Councillor Jeff Knoll is proud of the way Oakville councillors take leadership roles at the Region of Halton, where he is chair of Administration & Finance, one of the two standing committees with an Oakville chair.
  • Ward 5 Councillor Marc Grant notes the resilience of our many community groups and their involvement in our town’s active participatory life.
  • Ward 6 (North East Oakville) Councillor Tom Adams from north-east Oakville as our Budget chair tells us we are on track to achieve our 1.5 per cent over-all tax increase, debt-reduction, and other fiscal targets.
  • Ward 6 Councillor Max Khan takes pride in his resolution that established free transit Mondays for seniors.

Our future calls us

As proud as we may be of our record, all of us are more excited about Oakville’s future.

We are the people and this is the time in our history when we make the big, long-lasting choices about our future livability as a community. Working together the Oakville way with creativity and imagination and hard work we can and will keep Oakville on the path to long-lasting success as Canada’s most livable town. Thank you for your commitment to the Oakville way and to Oakville’s future.

To our regional, provincial and federal colleagues and to each member of Council, let me say, it’s good working with you.

To each and every resident of Oakville, let us who serve you say, it’s good working for you.