2007 State of the Town

The following remarks were delivered to Council, staff and residents at the October 1, 2007, Council meeting, where Mayor Rob Burton also presented his inaugural Oakville Status Report.

It is a pleasure to give you the first annual Town status report for this term of Council.

In only 10 months, together we already have a lot to be proud of, because:

  • Oakville was named 2007 Urban Forest Capital of Canada.
  • We are going to be the first municipality in Ontario to introduce mission-driven strategic planning with measurable goals.
  • Oakville was recognized by the Energy Conservation Bureau of Ontario for its leadership in energy conservation.
  • Our community has come together to celebrate our 150th anniversary and take stock of our progress with a new appreciation of the importance of our heritage and our future.

Your Council has used the past 10 months to lay the groundwork for a successful term. Let's define successful as delivering on our promises in the election 11 months ago and making significant and measurable progress toward our goal of creating in Oakville the most livable town in Canada.

We live in a community that already is one of the most blessed in Canada. Our Town's civic life has so many volunteers who enrich the quality of life in our community. We have active business leaders who create jobs and opportunities for our residents. We have fully engaged citizens who understand the issues facing our Town and share their valuable ideas and passionate feelings with us and with staff.

We have employees that demonstrate a level of respect, commitment, caring and concern for our community that impresses me every day. Vince Lombardi once said, "The achievements of an organization are the results of the combined efforts of each individual." This is especially true when it comes to such a diverse organization as the Corporation of the Town of Oakville.

The Town of Oakville runs more than 70 different services and programs - businesses, if you like. The Town's dedicated employees and valued services touch our lives every day. As Members of Council, we have chances every day to witness the dedication and quality of Town staff. There are too many to spotlight all who make us proud.

Let these 12 give you an idea about all the rest:

  • First, Brian Bell from the Oakville Public Library was named as Canada's Librarian of the Year for his leadership and commitment to innovation to advance library services for all.
  • Second (and third!), two of our Roads and Works staff, John Suave and Mike Manning, took quick action to save a life and prevent a tragedy when, early one morning, they encountered a distraught individual on the Fourth Line overpass.
  • Fourth, Hillary Balchand in our Engineering Department provides outstanding customer service to our residents. She and other frontline staff go the extra mile every day to show their commitment to the people of Oakville. Hillary does it so well, we hear about it, but customer service will be a focus area in the term ahead to extend the example she and her colleagues provide.
  • Fifth (but really many more), when a local arena went bankrupt Nina de Vaal and her team sprang into action. Their success in that contest brought a 28 per cent increase in the size of the Town's fleet of public ice arenas available to our residents at about half the price of the ice arenas available in the private, commercial fleet. This year, 6 a.m. practices are optional in Oakville. Hockey moms and dads and kids are pleased.
  • Sixth (and seventh!), once we won the bidding competition, John Da Silva and Michael Brennan worked miracles in a tight period so there were "soft landings" for users and their programs caught in the turmoil of the unexpected arena bankruptcy. PS, the restaurant will reopen and the arena experience at all our arenas will brighten and improve as we continue to catch up with our needs.
  • Eighth, ninth, tenth and eleventh, congratulations to the North East Oakville planning team of Charles McConnell, Robert Thun, Sean Galloway, and David de Groot! Our secondary plan for North East Oakville has been selected as a pilot project for the LEED-ND rating system. LEED-ND stands for "Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design - Neighbourhood Development." This planning team now will translate our vision for North Oakville into an implementation plan that will produce a reality of which we can all be proud, integrating the principles of smart growth, urbanism, and green building standards across North Oakville.
  • Twelfth, Ray Green, our Town Manager, exemplifies professionalism and leadership for our more than 1,000 employees. With his 32 years of experience here, he is a professional engineer whose problem-solving and people skills are among the highest calibre you can find. And he lives in Oakville, so he doesn't just talk the talk and walk the walk, he lives it, too!

When this Council officially took office 305 days ago, we knew we would need a strategic work plan if we were to achieve our many goals. This plan was our first and highest priority. We created a unanimous vision for our work together as your Council during this term from 2006 to 2010. We want each day to count.

Our plan aims high because Oakville is a town of people who aim high. Our guiding vision for Oakville is to create the most livable town in Canada. Someone has already suggested that our vision should be higher, to be "most livable in the world." And why not? A vision should be something to inspire us, something worth working for.

As we go, we will keep applying the power of positive listening for everyone's benefit and the best results. We will be measuring our progress towards our goals. Every year we will be reporting our results to you, as tonight. This is our new way of doing public business at the Town of Oakville. We will be goal driven, performance based and results-oriented to meet the diverse needs of our community.

Public transit is critical to the ability of all to be able to get to work, to go shopping or even to visit family and friends and is a key measure of "a livable town." Recreation, cultural, seniors and youth facilities are essential parts of daily routines. A vibrant downtown keeps our Town attractive and our values up, as does a healthy natural environment. These are key factors when we measure how livable Oakville is.

As Council, we balance these priorities and keep our eye on the bottom line. We're proud Oakville has very competitive property tax rates. We are working hard to keep it that way and we also work hard to keep up with our responsibilities. In Oakville, our municipal tax rate of .72 per cent is well below the provincial average of 1.1 per cent. And we had the lowest property tax increase in the GTA this year.

Everyone on Council understands the need to keep property taxes affordable. We will seek to diversify revenue sources and manage costs by seeking productivity gains and efficiencies. But we will not impoverish our future, or our children's future, if to cut or avoid something would damage our livability and cost more later to fix the damage. We had that ugly lesson in the 1990s.

To achieve our goal of financial planning strength and stewardship of our revenues, Council and staff have been implementing a new fiscal planning framework for the Town. We will be the leader in Canada for comprehensive, results-driven, multi-year financial planning and management, for both operations and capital, with performance-based, program-based budgeting and reporting.

This approach goes beyond focusing on what is spent to also plan and measure what results are achieved. Our move to multi-year strategic and financial planning will put the Town's management systems and processes on a par with the world's leading businesses. It will provide our citizens for the first time with a complete picture of where we stand financially as we work together to achieve our goals as a Town.

Council and staff at the Town are already enjoying the benefits of a new era and new style of working together at Town Hall. Over the past 10 months, we have established new cooperative and productive working arrangements both inside and outside Town Hall. We have created new working relationships with our three Business Improvement Areas and our Chamber of Commerce.

We have a new, more energetic and focused approach to Oakville's economic development. Council and Town staff will be taking a stronger leadership role in attracting and retaining businesses and ensuring we create the right conditions for success in our community. Business roundtable forums and executive secondments will assure we get the most out of our business community.

We are getting solutions and progress through the new public advisory method of ad hoc Mayors advisory groups and roundtables. We are and will be working more closely with all community and charity organizations and volunteer groups to help achieve our goal of creating in Oakville the most livable town in Canada.

Last week, we announced a proposal for Council to set an ambitious goal to achieve a 40 per cent tree canopy for the Town's bicentennial celebration in 2057. At 29 per cent now, we know we will need everyone's help to achieve this goal, and we are very fortunate in this community to have partners who, we know, will rise to the challenge.

Our Town's relationships with the members of the development community are changing, too. A new vision for development is emerging in the Town of Oakville and this is reflected in the people-centered, sustainable development proposed for North Oakville. Speed and certainty await those who work with us to achieve our goals.

We are moving to build new relationships based on mutual respect and principled negotiation. Where possible, we are settling OMB cases that we have inherited from previous terms of Council. Costly and contentious hearings at the Ontario Municipal Board are going to become a distant memory.

To assure this much-to-be-desired brighter future, we are creating a new Oakville Official Plan. Along with our strategic plan and financial management tools, the official plan is the third leg of the stable foundation that our town needs to guide us for years to come. We welcome all our residents to participate in shaping the new planning framework for Oakville.

We will no longer have an official plan often described as the worst in Ontario. We will have an official plan ("Livable Oakville") that will be the first in Ontario to be celebrated for its dedication to sustainability and livability as well as neighbourhood values and economic strength. It will dovetail with the Region's new official plan, "Sustainable Halton."

As we near the end of our first year in action as a Council and the 150th year of our Town, Oakville is enjoying economic health that is robust and strong. We have plans that aim to create an even brighter and more livable future. And we will continue to share a belief that the Town we have is important to everyone, but the Town we will have is just as important.

If we dream a little, and focus and work together a lot, we can and will create a golden era for Oakville. This Council with our staff has accomplished no less than the creation of a strong foundation for that shared vision since the election 11 short months ago. In a few days, the North Oakville OMB case will be behind us and finished, a finish that will be far less costly than was once feared.

Our Council is fun to work with. No other mayor in the country has created and run a successful and popular television network. Probably no other mayor is a member of the Directors Guild. So far, directing and mayoring appear to be remarkably similar. In both you work with the most talented and energetic people. In film and TV, everyone has a very good idea of their importance and their value. That's true here, too.

Whether you are a director or a mayor, you need to know and value the unique talents of each member of the team if you're hoping to inspire them to deliver the best possible performance.

We have gotten to this point where we are thanks to the many skills, perspectives and backgrounds that each Member of Council brings to the Council table. Our diverse talents have enhanced our problem-solving and our vision-making and made us stronger as a team.

Just a brief highlight about each one will give you the picture:

  • Ward 5 Local and Regional Councillor Jeff Knoll has brought both local and provincial perspectives to the table. A project-oriented person, he persuaded us to ask staff to develop a by-law to restrict cosmetic use of pesticides. Our resulting bylaw is now a model in the country and has inspired our neighbours to follow our example.
  • Ward 5 Local Councillor Marc Grant goes out of his way to bring the community together to help its most vulnerable citizens. His compassion and concern are valued by Council, but his results are directly appreciated by the recipients of his attention, too, and his skills as a communicator are respected by all of us.
  • Ward 4 Local and regional Councillor Allan Elgar brings a wealth of knowledge on financial, environmental and planning best-practices to the Council table. A businessman with a strong financial background, he found the way to achieve the 2100-acre Natural Heritage System in North Oakville while saving the Town hundreds of millions of dollars in doing it.
  • Ward 2 Local Councillor Cathy Duddeck understands the important role played by volunteers and residents' associations in our community. She is a hardworking Councillor who also is a tireless volunteer. She is an eloquent advocate for many of the community organizations that enhance our quality of life. But her passion for people is matched by her love and knowledge of our Heritage, too.
  • First-term Ward 3 Town Councillor Mary Chapin brings long public service experience as a school board trustee in Eastern Ontario and Halton and as School Board chair to our Council table. She shares a focus on culture and museums and her tireless curiosity and illuminating questioning play a key role in our efforts as a group to create in Oakville the most livable town in Canada.
  • Our longest serving Councillor, Ward 3 Town and Regional Councillor Keith Bird, brings seasoned advice and the longest experience to Council. If you enjoy the way Oakville has less sign pollution than other places, as well as a safe and vital downtown business area, it's to him you owe the best part of your thanks. If you want to know why or how things happened in the last 30 years, it's to him you bring your questions.
  • First term Ward 6 Town Councillor Max Khan brings a sharp legal mind and expertise to the table. His probing questions and knowledge of the law alone are valuable to our debate. But he brings a charm and consideration to everything he engages in, and no one has ever more courteously and effectively made others more aware and appreciative of cultural diversity as he is doing.
  • Ward 6 Town and Regional Councillor Tom Adams is both an engineer and a finance MBA. He adds power to our financial ability as a group. But he takes on unique and valuable projects, too. He agreed to design the new Mayor's Index of Oakville's Economic Health. Now every quarter we know where we stand economically.
  • First-term Ward 4 Town Councillor Roger Lapworth has both expertise and commitment to fiscal accountability and he enhances Council's consideration of finances. If all he brings to the team were his sharp eye and quick-thinking for matters financial, we would be well-enough served for high praise. But he also has a keen instinct for assumption-testing, as we all saw in a recent Planning Public Hearing.
  • Long-time Ward 1 Town Councillor Ralph Robinson is a tireless advocate for his constituents. Now in his 9th term, he generously shares his awareness of the nuts and bolts of Town operations with all. His vast knowledge of municipal affairs helps many of us. After more than 24 years of service on Council, he knows more than most about our history, our heritage and our environment.
  • First-term Ward 1 Regional and Town Councillor Alan Johnston brings political expertise at the provincial and federal levels that keeps him closely in touch with the public. His transport industry expertise will be valuable for the economic growth we want in the years ahead. He also has a tremendous ability to listen to all sides of issues and find the points of congruence where compromises that satisfy all and work can be created.
  • Long-time Ward 2 Town and Regional Councillor Fred Oliver has given over 50 years of service to this community, more than 22 of it on this Council. Whether we look at his career in the police services or his time as a member of Town council, he has always aimed point-blank at the heart of issues. Considering how long and well he has served since retiring, it's clear that if he has ever failed at anything, it's only at retiring.

We have a strong and inspired team on Oakville's Council.

We have a strong and organized professional team on our Town staff.

We have a large set of strong and well-informed, fully engaged and highly skilled citizens' groups.

We have a strong and visionary 4-year work plan.

We have economic and financial stability and strength.

We have strong new powers in planning and development.

We have a strong determination to use our new powers for the good of our community.

We have strong and positive relationships with the other municipalities in our regional government.

We have a strong and productive working relationship with the MPP who represents most of Oakville.

As many know, he was a Member of this Council for 18 years. No matter who wins the Provincial Election next week, we can be sure that the outstanding results MPP Kevin Flynn has delivered for Oakville have set an example to live up to.

Thank you all for your shared commitment to our community. There is no more enjoyable way to be a mayor than to lead a community that knows where it wants to go and knows how to get what it wants, and if ever a community were so blessed, it is Our Town, Oakville.