My fellow residents, invited guests, staff, Members of Council, thank you for your interest in this, the 6th Annual Town Status Report Address to Council. Our town is on a path to become Canada’s most livable town. This requires outstanding short term and long term strategies and plans.
It makes sense to speak not just of our status now but also of the plans we have made for our future. It has been popular to criticize business and government for short-term thinking. The next quarter. The next election. In Oakville, we like to keep a long-term perspective, as well as the short term. 2057 is the year that will be the 200th anniversary of Oakville’s Provincial charter. Our Vision 2057 document unites all our plans. Vision 2057 is the map of the path forward to becoming Canada’s most livable town.
Vision 2057 and all that it contains will be our legacy, a set of guideposts to a more livable and sustainable future for future generations. If some of us may not be here to join in the bicentennial celebrations, more than half of us it looks to me, have a very good chance.
The actions and decisions we all make today will help ensure the Oakville of 2057 will be the most livable town in Canada. Now this is an aspirational goal and it’s meant to be. Daniel Burnham, the great urban planner of 100 years ago or more, said, “Make no little plans….make big plans; aim high in hope and in work.” And in Oakville, it is my experience that high is exactly where we aim.
It is important to know how all our plans fit together. Vision 2057 maps out and organizes the four strategic areas of our focus to create, preserve, live and afford our shared future.
The Creating it section of Vision 2057 includes our official plan, our new zoning by-law, our Midtown strategy, the new communities of Oakville implementation, urban design guidelines and community improvement plans.
The Preserving it section of Vision 2057 refers to our Heritage Conservation Districts, Environmental Strategic Plan, North Oakville East Trails Plan, North Oakville Urban Forest Strategic Management Plan and our Energy Management Plan.
The Live it section of Vision 2057 includes our Strategic Directions for Culture, Downtown Studies, Economic Development Strategy, Fire Master Plan, Harbours Financial Strategic Business Plan, our Parks, Recreation and Library Facilities Master Plan, and the Switching Gears – Transportation Master Plan.
The Affording it section of Vision 2057 incorporates our Operating and Capital Budgets and Long Term Financial Forecast, our Development Charges Study and By-law, the North Oakville Financial Impact Study, our Rates and Fees Strategy, and PB2 (or Performance Based Program Budgeting, which we also call Budgeting for Outcomes).
As we follow the “Create It” section of Vision 2057, we will keep controlling growth. Our new zoning by-law will fully implement our acclaimed new official plan, Livable Oakville. The new Plan and the new zoning by-law will represent, together, over six years of hard work by our staff and this Council. Along the way, we have established a reputation for vigorous public consultation that has strengthened the quality of all our decisions. Public consultation has guided and will guide us throughout our work to create the best ideas for the future uses for the sites of the old hospital, the old post office downtown, Oakville Arena, the Kerr Street Seniors Centre, and Brantwood, Chisholm and Linbrook schools, as well as renewal of Centennial Square for Canada’s sesquicentennial year in 2017.
As we follow the “Preserve It,” section of Vision 2057 we will ensure future generations can enjoy the benefits of our built and our natural heritage. In recognition of our work, this year the Federation of Canadian Municipalities gave us their Sustainable Communities Award. We received 11 other awards for sustainability and social responsibility from community groups, and professional associations. In Oakville, we know that much of our future will come from preserving our heritage.
As we follow the “Live It” section of Vision 2057, we will enjoy community facilities that support our dreams and aspirations of an active, creative and healthy population. Queen Elizabeth Park Community Cultural Centre is a building that breaks new ground on two fronts. It’s the first community centre featuring cultural and artistic work and display space. And it’s the first community centre south of the QEW. It will not be the last as we re-purpose our other public lands.
And as we create, preserve and live it, we will follow the “Afford It” section of Vision 2057. We have the best net financial position of all the municipalities in Ontario and we will continue to improve our positive balance sheet. We have reduced the average rate of increase of the property tax levy from 7% a year in 2002-2006 to 5% last term and 3% this term. Residents tell us everywhere across town that 7-5-3 is the right direction and we achieved it with PB2, lower tax-paid debt, higher development charges and uploading of the pooled service contribution to the City of Toronto. Yes the City of Toronto for all its bragging about its low tax rate only has it on the backs of a gigantic hundreds of millions of dollars subsidy that they enjoy first from the regions around them and now much of that taken over by the province but still subsidized. We will keep our tax increases under control.
When we make our contribution in 2015 to the cost of the new Oakville Trafalgar Memorial Hospital, we are on track to be able to carry the entire cost of that donation with new, non-tax revenues from green energy projects and other new business income generated by Oakville Hydro Corporation. When the donation is paid off, these revenues will be there for other needs in our future. Our goal of a more sustainable future must include continued creation of new town revenues as alternatives to the property tax, we need diversity of revenue for town services, programs and infrastructure.
Oakville Hydro Corporation is the holding company created in approximately 2000 to own the old Oakville hydro public utility. OHC’s success with this mission so far shows we are on the right track. All of Oakville will join me and Council in appreciating your success at Oakville Hydro as the results will be continued moderation of property tax increases. I hope at the appropriate time you will be carried on their shoulders through the streets as it is nothing short of a financial miracle.
And on a related note, our actual tax rate has been falling for several years. Now that’s partly because of increased efficiency and productivity at the town, but it’s also because the total value of all taxable property in Oakville goes up, and when the value of taxable property goes up, we are required to reset our tax rate so that it is revenue neutral and there is no windfall to the tax collector. I mention this because with MPAC’s new assessment notices going out just now, I’ve seen some confused stories in the media suggesting that municipalities were going to enjoy a windfall harvest of new tax revenues from this increased assessment, but in fact we have to reset to achieve revenue neutrality and we will.
Now, Oakville-quality plans guide us in what we do. But we on Council work through others. We are fortunate to have Oakville-quality staff, and we’ve worked to make that so. Six years ago, we agreed on a mission statement with these words: “We ensure our staff receives the same level of respect, commitment and caring that they are expected to deliver to the community.”
And our hard work and our commitment to this has paid off ---- our staff really do deliver. We always hear from residents and others about outstanding work by our staff: Dave Elliott is the transit driver who spotted someone lying on a pathway in need of medical help. He provided a warm shelter aboard his bus and called for help.
Our Communications team received awards for their work to engage the public in the fight against the Emerald Ash Borer.
Our Environmental Policy team won thanks from MNR for their creation of an online coyote reporting tool in this, what seemed at times to be the year of the coyote rather than the year of the dragon from the Chinese calendar.
This year, in Portland, Oregon, home of green and smart growth, our directors of planning and environmental policy were honoured to present a paper on Sustainability Planning.
And a parent recently wrote to us, saying, “My 8 year old son has had PA day programs, library programs, sizzler camps and more. He looks forward to these and has specifically requested some of the Town’s programs over others that are offered. Many thanks to your staff for making these experiences wonderful for our children.”
And with the Town’s newfound corporate presence on social media, we got this Tweet: “Kudos to Alexandra and Meghan from @townofoakville Parks & Rec Turf Division for coming to the aid of a lady who fell on Navy Street.”
If all the flowers of all our tomorrows are in the seeds of today, as the Indian proverb puts it, we can be sure of many future bouquets for our town staff.
We know for employers to attract and keep the best and brightest nowadays you have to make the work better than the money and these examples that I have recounted show you that we are in fact on the right track. We also know that it is our livability that attracts and keeps the best and brightest of employers for our local economy. Ford, Siemens, PricewaterhouseCoopers have all made significant new investments in our local economy and added hundreds of jobs to our local economy. Our Prime Minister and our Premier have both led, what I consider to be, a vital and game-changing new focus on developing new trade and other business. That’s why many mayors, including yours, will participate in a special trade delegation next month to China. Oakville’s internationally acclaimed Sheridan College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning has years of experience in developing economic and educational links with China. My visit will help their president in his vision of creating a campus in China.
If you will permit me to say so, we are also blessed with an Oakville-quality Council. Our greatest skill is our ability to listen to each other. Our greatest strength is the diversity of our backgrounds and beliefs. Our greatest instinct is to engage and expand each other’s appreciation of all the facts. Our greatest decisions have been unanimous as a result of our diversity, our engagement, and our respect for each other’s positions. A community and its Council who care as much as ours do about planning ahead and achieving our goals can really keep a mayor on his toes. It often makes me think of something said by the late Barbara Ann Scott, who inspired generations of skaters. She said, “The most important thing about skating is that it teaches you to do the things you should, before you do the things you want to.” It seems apt to quote Barbara Ann Scott, Canada’s first Olympic medallist for skating, in our town of Maria and Otto Jelinek, Canada’s first Olympic ice-dancing medallists. Oakville has an Olympic medal heritage that grew to include Larry Cain and Donovan Bailey. This summer, thousands of kids and moms and dads came to our parade for our latest Olympic medallists, who won four of Canada’s 18 Summer Games medals. If the rest of the country had our Olympic medal links, Canada would have had to have had 750 medals! We’re proud of all our Olympians and our new medallists, Diana Matheson, Doug Csima, Adam van Koeverden and Mark Oldershaw, by adoption.
Getting the fundamentals right first, as Barbara Ann Scott advised, works and you, my Council colleagues, have shown your understanding of her wise remark in our work together to make Oakville Canada’s most livable town.
We, too, have worked hard to make our basics and our fundamentals strong so we can create a sustainable future for our town.
Now, at the halfway mark of this four-year term of Council, we can be proud that we are more than halfway toward our goals for this term. We can be even more proud of our careful plans for our town’s successful future. Our town is on a path to become the most livable town in Canada. We control growth, taxes and debt. We save and protect our green space. We keep up with our town’s needs. All of this flows from strong plans, from land use rules to operating and capital budgets. Just as we promised to control growth, we’ve been clear in our promises of all that we would do for our town. Together, we have kept and we will keep our promises and achieve our goals. We have had to adjust a few of our goals to respond to developments and there’s nothing wrong with that.
The new hospital for example will not be the spark that creates a lower-pollution, more economical and sustainable district energy system for its area. But the Life Sciences Business Park that will surround the new hospital can still have such a system to attract businesses and jobs to Oakville.
We got nowhere with our goal of working with the Province to create a new, greener and more sustainable Ontario Building Code. My position - we’ll try again next time.
And we decided to wait to adjust representation at the town level to reflect population changes until the region is ready to do it, too, to minimize disruption.
Most of the rest of our goals for this term are already achieved or are about to be. A few of our goals for this term remain ahead but within our Town’s reach. We set a goal of 40% urban forest canopy by 2057, even as we now fight the unexpected attack by the Emerald Ash Borer which threatens 10 per cent of our trees. Others across Ontario are beginning to follow our lead on PB2 fiscal management, on energy conservation, the Emerald Ash Borer and on using development charges, not taxes, for growth costs wherever possible. And we have been assisted by others in our work together to establish new rules for trail making and tree planting. We live on a 2-way street, others are helped by us and we have been helped by others, sometimes through very careful recruiting by Councillor Elgar. Although the Province refused this year our 2-year old request to regulate airborne fine particulate matter, it only took 5 days for them to implement all our suggestions to make drilling for geo-thermal safer.
In all that we do, it is the amazing people of Oakville who inspire us. Think of how Oakville rose to the increased challenge set by Sheridan President Jeff Zabudsky last year for United Way: $4 million! And Oakville met this challenge. Now, this year, former Councillor Chris Stoat has set a target 5 per cent higher: $4.2 million! I believe Oakville will rise to the challenge yet again.
Think of how Jean Grieve inspired generations of orchestra musicians and then still had a gift left over when she gave the Oakville Symphony and the Oakville Centre for the Performing Arts that beautiful acoustic shell to enhance the acoustics of that hall.
Above all, we in our town have shown that when we work together with creativity and imagination, the only direction for our town, for our Oakville, is onward and upward to being Canada’s most livable town. The people of Oakville, today and tomorrow, expect and deserve nothing less.