2013 Chamber of Commerce Address
My deepest thanks to the team at the Oakville Chamber for today’s event. John & the Chamber team do a fantastic job, don’t they? Our sponsors this morning have earned our thanks, too, not just today, but many times over. Ford Motor Company of Canada, Sheridan College Institute of Technology & Advanced Learning, Carttera, and Cogeco. They make a difference, every day, for our town. Their on-going contributions to our town create a stronger community for us all.
MPP Kevin Flynn. Halton Region Chair Gary Carr. My Council colleagues: Ralph Robinson and Alan Johnston, the Ward 1 Bronte team. Pam Damoff and Cathy Duddeck, the Ward 2 South Central team. Dave Gittings and Keith Bird, the Ward 3 southeast team. Allan Elgar and Roger Lapworth, the Ward 4 northwest team. Jeff Knoll and Marc Grant, the Ward 5 north central team. Tom Adams and Max Khan, the Ward 6 northeast team. Old friends. Future friends. Ladies and gentlemen.
Thank you for coming out today. We need to talk. We need to talk about our town’s present opportunities. We need to talk about our town’s future challenges. There are two kinds of challenges: threats and opportunities. I’m going to tell you about two of each kind. We in Oakville know how to face both kinds – and succeed. Our residents are resourceful and successful. Our community has many strong ties that bind us together. We volunteer. We give back. We love our town.
And now that the Town of Richmond Hill wants to call itself a city, we will be Canada’s largest town. Lately, the media often ask me when will Oakville call itself a city. I always give the same answer: never! Oakville is a city that calls itself a town and acts like a village. We call ourselves a ‘town’ because ‘town’ sounds warmer and friendlier than ‘city.’ Our warm and friendly welcome speeds newcomers to successful places in our livable community.
Oakville is known for livability because in everything we do, Council and I believe in challenging the status quo to find continuous improvement in efficiencies and amenities. We want our families to enjoy life in Canada's most livable town. We challenge the status quo by controlling growth, debt and taxes to only what fits environmentally and economically. We save green space. We plant trees. We’ll reach our 40% urban forest canopy goal by 2057.
We add community facilities we lived without for too long. Council and I have added 800,000 square feet of new community facilities to the 2006 total of 1.1 million. By 2017, we'll complete the next phase of our facilities needs. We’re able to do that because we constantly strengthen our finances to make our progress affordable. For example, we cut tax-paid debt by a third, by making growth pay its costs to the limit allowed.
We're focused on continuing to move down the rate of increases of both the residents' total property tax bill and the total property tax levy by relentlessly working to increase efficiency. From 2002 to 2006, the four years before I was mayor, the total property tax levy increased an average of 7% a year. In my first term as mayor, it averaged 5% a year. This term, the total property tax levy will increase an average of 3% a year.
What’s really amazing is we haven't sacrificed our valued town and region services in achieving our 7%-5%-3% direction. We do it by managing the finances of the town and the region together so as to keep the total of any increase at or under inflation. Half of town council and I are on the region’s council as well as the town’s council. What we're creating is a greener, cleaner, more livable town with lower rates of growth in population and taxes.
Our steady focus on increasing efficiency, value and livability will keep paying off for everyone. And it will keep us strong. So strong, that we will make our 2015 donation to the cost of our new hospital without using taxes for it, thanks to new revenues we’re earning from renewable energy projects.
Oakville’s Fiscal Strength
We can never take our strength for granted. We have to continue to make Oakville strong – and competitive.
There are clear signs that we’re making significant progress on all levels. A recent provincial economic update forecast Ontario’s economy to grow at a rate of roughly 2% in 2013. RBC suggests it’ll be closer to 2.4%. RBC optimistically expects Ontario economic growth to expand to 2.8% in 2014. Even if you’re not as optimistic as the bank is, I know from my business experience that one always prefers an optimistic bank to a pessimistic bank when one needs credit to expand.
And business is expanding. Ontario creates close to half of Canada’s new jobs. The provincial unemployment rate is now the lowest it’s been since 2008. A 2012 report for the Financial Times ranked Ontario third among US states and Canadian provinces in winning foreign direct investment projects. More than 350,000 net new jobs have been created since the recessionary low point in June 2009. Ontario has weathered the storm. Some businesses retooled. Some people retrained.
My economics professor taught us the only positive way to look at a recession. “Recessions,” he said, “are nature’s way of saying, try something new.” Our resilience and our comeback as an economy are our reward. Oakville has a positive piece of this good economic trajectory, too. In 2012, we’ve seen the creation of 1,200 new jobs in Oakville. Our unemployment rate is less than 6%, which is well below the provincial average of 7.8%.There was over 1.1 million square feet of non-residential construction. The total value was greater than $221 million.
And you can be proud of how your municipal government is doing, too. With all we’ve done for the last 6 years, as of 2012, Oakville had the 6th lowest tax rate of the 84 largest Ontario municipalities. And our trend is for continued lower tax rates.
By 2014 our tax rate will be at least 12% lower than it was when I began in 2007. This, while Oakville enjoys one of the highest levels of services and facilities in the country. There are places with a lower tax levy per capita (and a lower assessment base per capita), and they all have fewer services and facilities. Council and I are trusted to provide the services and facilities that Oakville families voted for and continue to tell us they want. And we’re doing it with an unrelenting pursuit of value.
At the town and the region, we passed our 2013 Budgets in December. Our 2013 budgets are the best we've done on the tax control front. Our tax increase is less than 1.5%, and it’s 15% lower than Toronto’s, without any cuts to vital services such as police and fire, and with the added cost of our new QEPCCC. In fact, Oakville has the best financial position per capita in the GTA. And no one in Ontario of our size or larger has more. Maybe you’re wondering, how are we accomplishing this?
I learned during a long career in film and television and while creating and launching YTV, continuously working to make your operations leaner and more efficient allows you to do more. That’s why we adopted performance based program budgeting, or PB2. Of all Council and I have done and achieved together, this business-like conduct of the town's work is what I am most proud of. PB2 pays for outcomes of programs and services and replaces departmental budgeting.
It's a culture shift. PB2 creates a corporate culture of value, performance and efficiency-seeking. We always ask: what are we making happen? How can we do it more effectively and more productively? Since implementing PB2, we have achieved nearly $7 million in annualized operational efficiencies. That’s $7 million of taxes we didn’t have to raise. That’s $7 million a year that helped us provide the increased facilities and services voters wanted.
We freed up existing funds to put toward the costs of the things we said we’d do. We increased services and facilities while steadily bringing down the annual rate of increase of taxes from 7 to 5 to 3%. So although our tax levy per capita is greater than average, we get above average services and facilities for it that others don’t have.
We have faster fire response times. We have more road maintenance and road quality. We have more and faster transit. We increased the care of, and the amount of, our parks and open space. We have a more beautiful, better-kept appearance for our town. We increased resources for our public libraries. We have earlier snow clearing. We mow our parks and boulevards more often. We pick up household leaf collections in more areas. We have fully funded infrastructure renewal. These are what makes Oakville, Oakville.
These are the above average things you’d have to give up to have an average levy per capita.
To have an average levy per capita, you would have to be happy with only average services. People in Oakville think of themselves as better than average. And if anyone can name us another municipality that's better run, our philosophy is to learn from it – and be better! The biggest part of our culture of continuous improvement seeking is the mindset of creating value, performance and efficiency. That’s let us reduce our facilities deficits with new facilities while lowering the rate of tax increases.
These new facilities enable the more active lifestyle Oakville families have told us that they want. We’ve also slowed down population growth as well as the annual growth in the property tax levy. And if we’re going to continue to grow, we’ve made sure that growth pays for itself everywhere possible. We increased development charges to maximize the revenue we collect for growth. As we speak developers are taking us to the OMB to fight us. For the fourth time.
This is a threat type of challenge. Threats are challenges that could make things worse. We face two threat challenges. The first threat is, developers want to make us finance them like York Region does. York finances infrastructure for residential developers. We don’t. York has levels of debt that we can’t imagine taking on. And the debt the developers want us to take on would be at our risk, not the developers’.
Our municipal debt for Oakville is 6% of revenues. Debt on a consolidated basis for Oakville and Halton is 28% of revenues. Halton alone is 36%. York is 117%. Ontario is about 200%. The federal government is about 250%. We have a triple A credit rating. Ontario doesn’t. Those developers don’t. That’s why your Oakville and Halton councils and I don’t like fiscal advice from Queen’s Park or Ottawa – or from developers. Oakville is financially strong and stable.
We’ve been more prudent in our financial planning. If we are resolute and win, our future is ours for the making.
That’s not to say the future will be without challenges. The developers are challenging us now. The second challenge that we need to talk about is Ontario’s Big Move GTA transit plan. The Big Move plan has a $34B hole in its funding. Let’s call that the Big Money. The Province will reveal on June 1 how it thinks we’re all going to pay the Big Money for the Big Move.
For the last two years, the Toronto Board of Trade and John Tory have been working on the Mayors of the GTA to get us to support new taxes to come up with that Big Money for the Big Move. Now, the budget chair and the mayor of the City of Toronto have come out and said they’ll fight any taxes or tolls to pay for the Big Move. “Adamantly,” the Mayor said. This means that the Toronto Board of Trade and Mr. Tory have not been able to bring their own city and their own Mayor to the table.
Tomorrow, the Mayors of the GTA are meeting with Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion, to decide what to do. I can tell you that if Toronto doesn’t want to pay its own way, I have trouble imagining any of you wanting to subsidize them. Maybe I’m wrong about that. Do you want to give Toronto a free ride again? I say “again” because we only just got out of subsidizing Toronto taxpayers ever since 1998. Oakville sent Toronto $17 million a year.
We and the rest of the 905 were subsidizing Toronto property tax payers with hundreds of millions of our property tax dollars, while Toronto had and still has the lower tax rate! Worse, they didn’t even have any awareness of it. And when they were told, they never so much as said, thank you. And look, this really is Big Money that’s wanted for the Big Move. It’s $2 billion a year for 20 or 25 years. How much is $2 billion a year in the GTA context?
We have 2.1 million households in the GTA. Let’s do the math. Spread $2 billion a year over 2.1 million households. You’re talking almost $1,000 a year per household. Take Toronto’s households out of the equation and you’re talking over $1,600 per household per year.
I heard former Toronto mayor David Crombie speak the other night. He made me think of Toronto as a very hungry neighbour. Toronto’s record, he said, going back in all its history, is a history of constantly trying to absorb the resources of its hinterlands. Toronto has extra tax powers that were supposed to help it keep down their property tax rate. We don’t have those tax powers. And Toronto has a lower tax rate than any of us in the 905. Doesn’t take too much imagination to see Toronto positioning itself for another tax grab from its hinterlands – us – for the Big Move. Do you see anything wrong with this picture?
Toronto’s hunger for our money and the developers’ desire to turn us into their bank are our 2 big threat challenges. Now, let’s look at our 2 challenges of opportunity. We need to focus on asset performance. We have almost $2 billion of assets. Our ability to drive better asset performance will make a huge difference in everything we do in future. We have blocks of parking in Downtown Oakville. Land goes for $14 million an acre. Our asset earns us very little as parking.
We could add parking and office space above it. We would create more customers for downtown shops. We would all be better off. This might be something the Chamber could help get behind. Let’s turn to our 2nd challenge of opportunities. Opportunities are challenges that could make things better. This 2nd challenge is – what kind of economy do we want?
Economic Development Update
We are at a major point of inflection in our economic life. We have a wonderful opportunity to grow our Oakville economy in the best possible direction. 120 years ago we claimed we were the basket-making capital of this province. Seriously. Now we are on the threshold of being a head office park for the GTA and beyond. We have a made-in-Oakville economic development strategy that is award-winning – and working.
International industry leaders are noticing our livability. Livable Oakville is our civic brand. When business leaders move here, they tend to look for ways to bring their businesses here, too. When the business leaders who come here are with corporations with household names, so much the better. They’re bigger attractors. In my conversations with these leaders who are residents, they appreciate that we have a plan for Oakville and that it’s about our livability.
Oakville is an attractive place to live, to work and to do business – above all, to raise a family. We are a priority destination for new investment. We have a talented labour force. We have opportunities to partner with international industry leaders. Our economic development strategy focuses on companies in the businesses of Professional and Financial Services, Advanced Manufacturing, Life Sciences, and Digital Media and Animation.
Our strategy was adopted by Council and is executed under the town’s Director of Economic Development, Dorothy St. George. All indications are that Oakville’s business community is thriving.
Sheridan Institute of Technology & Advanced Learning is continuing to forge ahead, bolstered by $1.1m in federal funding and the creation of a research chair to leverage Sheridan’s leadership role in mobile computing. Sheridan students are even creating a world class mobile app for me.
This year, Pricewaterhouse Coopers will open its new offices in Oakville. Siemens celebrated its 100th anniversary in Canada here last year. Both companies are incredibly well respected internationally. I know they’ll add their knowledge and outstanding corporate citizenship to Oakville’s growing business community.
In another good news story, Ford turned an increased demand for its cars into a third shift at its Oakville assembly plant, creating 300 jobs.
First Canadian Title celebrated its 10th anniversary in Oakville. They’ve made many solid contributions to our community.
Our strong, caring community is home to strong, caring companies. Ford Motor Company of Canada. Tim Hortons. UTC Aerospace Systems. Pelmorex Media. Shred-it. Procor. Alphora Research. Bot Construction. Automodular. Cooper Construction. The Naylor Group. Dufferin Construction. Canadian Tire Financial.
These are just a few of the companies that have set down roots here and have set the tone for our business community. These companies have provided a foundation for our economic prosperity. We value their innovative thinking and their commitment to building the broader community of Oakville. The industry leaders that choose Oakville next will be inheriting a foundation built by the companies that chose Oakville before and showed the way.
We really have, and you really are, a business community that competes successfully and gives back generously. As your town and region councils, we want to ensure that our local businesses are poised to compete both domestically and globally. We’ve made it a priority to preserve and protect our town’s E-lands. We protect our environmental lands and our employment lands from inappropriate development.
Preserving our environmental lands keeps us green and more livable. And livability is what attracts jobs to our employment lands to benefit our future economic health. Our job zones are our employment generators and key future property tax revenue contributors. Non-residential tax revenue helps reduce pressure on residential property taxes. We have 1900 acres of employment land left to develop. This is about a 40 to 50 year supply at present rates of job creation. This land is our economic future. Our economic development legacy. That’s room for up to 180,000 jobs in up to 36,000,000 square feet of business places, and tax revenues of up to $163M at today’s rates. If we stick to our Economic Development Strategy, Oakville in 2057 at our 200th anniversary will be quite a prosperous town. Protecting our E-lands, our employment and environmental lands, is vital to ensure our community can prosper locally, and compete globally.
So asset performance and high-end economic development are our two biggest opportunity challenges. This year, we’re working in six innovative ways to help create winning conditions for Oakville business. First, we implemented a Business Leaders Forum to bring together leaders from Oakville’s largest companies to discuss the important issues facing Oakville companies and advise us. Second, with that base, we’re marketing Oakville globally – and getting good investment leads.
Third, we’re putting together community improvement plans for the Kerr and Bronte village business areas in consultation with their local businesses. We will continue to see real economic progress in both these parts of our town. On a more national level, we’re launching industry specific moves to promote two industrial sectors very important to our town’s economy, and Canada’s.
Auto Mayors Roundtable
The Prime Minister was recently in town to announce the $250M renewal of a fund to stimulate research and innovation in Canada's automotive industry. We can build momentum on this positive move. In our fourth initiative, and in cooperation with Ford and the CAW, I’m calling together an Auto-Mayors Roundtable. This will be a solution-seeking discussion about sustaining and growing the Canadian automotive industry in our global environment.
We will involve mayors whose local economies have a stake in the auto industry, as well as economic development departments, automakers, suppliers, the CAW, federal and provincial representatives, economists and academics. The desired outcome is an action plan for a path forward for a national automaking policy.
CANDU High Technology Mayors Group
Our fifth initiative focuses on another high value part of Oakville’s economy. We have many high tech engineering companies who work in the field of nuclear energy. There are at least 800 such companies across the GTA. At least 80 of them are in Oakville. The mayors of the cities and towns where these companies work and employ thousands are coming to Oakville in April to consider ways we can strengthen winning conditions for these companies.
China Business Opportunities Forum
Our sixth initiative to keep making our local industry stronger is to promote more of a strategy of “Going Out”. It has been three years since I told the Chamber we need to expand Oakville’s business horizons to include the huge opportunities now burgeoning in China. When I heard the Chamber is organizing a tour of China later this year, I was very pleased. As a result of my trade mission to China last year, I now want to help move us to the next level.
To help you be open to opportunities when you are there later this year, I’m inviting everyone to the first Oakville-China Business Opportunities Forum later this year. It will be a forum for our local business community to learn about two-way business opportunities with China. It will include presentations, panels and networking with people already successfully doing business with China. You’ll hear how they did it. You’ll see the opportunities and challenges they faced.
There will also be officials from Ontario, Canada and China who can help pave the way for you to succeed with China. My goal is for Oakville businesses to participate and share in the coming economic boom that China's new five year plan will produce. China’s drive to modernize is taking place on a scale that is so vast, it may be impossible to picture. To paraphrase Scotia Bank’s trademark phrase, they’re richer than you think.
These are just a few of the measures we’re taking to help Oakville businesses succeed. Your municipal government gets it when it comes to business and the entire community will benefit from your success. At the town, we will keep working on continuous improvement and challenging the status quo by controlling growth, debt and taxes to only what fits environmentally and economically, by saving green space and by adding community facilities we lived without for too long.
Our work on our financial strength will allow us to complete the next stage of our community facilities catch up program. In the next term of Council, I look forward to cutting the ribbons on three new community centres. One will be a new community and health centre where the old OTHS is. First, we have to acquire in 2016 the site of the old hospital and the old OTHS. Then we have to complete public consultations and designs.
The second community centre will have a revitalized and expanded Oakville Arena at Trafalgar Park with a seniors centre. The third will be Phase 2 of North Park, next to 16 Mile Sports Complex on Neyagawa. I see a library, a 50 metre pool, exercise and meeting rooms.
Let's get our town budget chief up here to give you the first advance look at what he sees happening with the 2014 capital and operating budgets of the town and region.
He's also the long serving chair of the regions planning and public works standing committee. When you're lucky enough to have an MBA Finance like Councillor Tom Adams on the council team, who are you going to call for positions like those? Tom, what can we expect from you?
(Tom Adams) Thanks, Mayor. People can trust us to do as we said. People can trust us to keep leading the way on value and quality.
This Council has a firm position of keeping total property tax increases in-line with inflation. The 2013 Budget tax increase of 1.47% that we passed back in December was in-line with the CPI forecasts for 2013 (which according to the February RBC Economics forecasts are heading towards 1.6% for headline inflation and 1.7% for core inflation. Now we are planning for the 2014 Budget to also come in at or below inflation for 2014. Forecasts are currently in the 2% ballpark.
We are doing all of this while reducing debt, maintaining services, and renewing important community assets and infrastructure. Oakville’s financial flexibility is strong and growing. We are managing down our tax supported debt each year in order to maximize Oakville’s flexibility into the future. As of the end of 2012, our tax supported debt level was $14 million down from $17 million at the end of the previous year.
Unlike the province and federal governments, we expect to knock more off our total debt over the course of 2013. And by the way, because our asset management plan is fully funded in a pay as you go kind of way, Oakville will not need to borrow money to do basic repair work like many other municipalities are being forced to. I draw your attention to Mississauga where there is a plan to raise substantial amounts of debt, hundreds of millions, over the next decade to fund regular maintenance.
Oakville has a fully funded asset management program. We are funding our infrastructure renewal at the same rate as our assets are depreciating about $41 million each. We are not letting our infrastructure crumble as some places have and are continuing to. In fact, you may notice that our local roads are getting better each year, instead of worse as they are in other municipalities. That’s part of our asset management plan.
This year we are spending $5.5 million on road resurfacing, which you may be interested in knowing is our largest capital project in 2013. Next year, it should be more than $6 million.
Now, as budget chair, I meet with every group, organization and individual I can throughout the year to consult about the budget. One of the most thoughtful discussions usually comes from the group at the Chamber. This past year I heard 3 key things from you.
First, you wanted us to keep working at keeping our tax increases down in a sustainable way, which we have with our inflation based policy through our drive for internal efficiencies. Second, I heard a desire for us to help expand economic development in Oakville. I want you to know that we listened to you when you asked for better transportation to employment areas. We added the new North Service Road transit route. And this year you will see work on the widening of Ninth Line. This new road that will bring the Winston Park West employment lands on stream. Third, you also asked us to keep fully funding our economic development department. And we did. You've just heard from the mayor how much the Economic Development department is doing. I look forward to continuing to work with you in the active collaborative way I and the entire council team believe in, over the next year as we develop our 2014 Budget. That about covers what you asked me. Thanks.
(Mayor Burton) Thanks, Councillor Adams. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your time and attention. Council leads, but we work through others, our great staff, and with our residents. We depend on you. This is a town that listens to each other. We do careful, responsive public consultation. We get better choices and decisions. We value the feedback we receive from our vibrant business community, our active residents associations and our engaged community groups.
Your feedback will make us successful in our vision of Oakville being the most livable town in Canada. When we work together with creativity and imagination, the only direction for a town like Oakville is onward and upward.