Fellow residents. Town staff. Members of Council. This is my ninth State of the Town address. It's a pleasure to be able to tell you how well the town we all love is doing.
First, our financial health is the best. So says a 2015 book about municipal finances. (Yes, books about municipal finance really can be enjoyable after all. Especially if you are the star of the book!). This is gratifying to see. We’ve worked hard for the last nine years to make our financial health the best it can be.
We believe that financial strength is critical to our town’s livability. The performance-based program budgeting approach that we introduced in 2007 to get budgets under control has worked very well for us. How well? So well that total tax increases for eight years, including next year’s projected budget will have been in-line with inflation.
At the same time we've added 80 per cent to our facilities and improved services, fire protection, transit and infrastructure renewal.
We need our financial strength going forward because we face challenges and opportunities at five levels. These are international, national, provincial, regional and local.
Internationally, two opportunities stand out in 2015. First, this year, we became sister cities with Huai’an City, China. Our bridge to China will provide our local companies with new business opportunities overseas.
The second item is the Syrian Refugee crisis. In Oakville, residents have organized groups to host displaced families. Living in Oakville will give them the opportunity to experience the Canadian way of life. Their success here will make Canada and Oakville more successful. So this will be an ongoing circle of opportunity for them and us.
Everyday our residents prove former Oakville Mayor Harry Barrett was right about our Town. He said, “Oakville is a city that calls itself a town and feels like a village.” He set us on the right path in his six terms as mayor. I hope that we can all wish him a very happy 90th birthday this month.
Nationally, two challenges stand out. First, the recent federal election gave municipalities a chance to get infrastructure needs on the agenda. So our challenge now is to ensure campaign infrastructure investment promises will be kept.
The second challenge nationally is the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. The Canadian negotiators achieved different results than we were hoping for. As Chair of the Auto Mayors, let me express my strongest support for the remarks today by Ford Canada President, Diane Craig. We will work with Ford Canada and the rest of the Industry to keep the automotive sector competitive and in Oakville.
Provincially, two opportunities in 2015 stand out. Ontario’s Premier convened Summits with the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area mayors and chairs in March and October. We raised our concerns about economic growth, infrastructure, transit and transportation. We presented consensus recommendations. The Premier has committed to respond to our recommendations. The Premier has also agreed to continue the Municipal-Provincial Summits three times a year from now on. This is something that the Mayors and Chairs have been longing for and working for many years. So there is a great deal of promise in this, in our view.
The second provincial-level opportunity is the Province’s review of legislation affecting municipalities. Some proposed provincial changes look like opportunities to help us achieve our goals. The Province seems to be agreeing to better funding for transit. The Province may be about to agree to expand the Greenbelt. These are both welcome moves.
On an unwelcome and challenging note, proposed changes to parkland dedication rules will reduce the amount of parks in new areas. We will support the good and oppose the bad.
Regionally, two opportunities stand out. First, thanks to a big increase in spending on transportation, we’ll have less congestion when the construction finally clears. The pain for the gain will be worth it. The days of growing without keeping up are gone for good. The pain for the gain of catching up shows us why keeping up is always better. We are now securely on that path.
The second regional opportunity of note is our work to make Halton political representation more fair. We should see a seventh Oakville ward in the 2018 elections for town and region council. We'll also see more equal representation in our wards.
Locally, two opportunities dominated 2015. The first is the opening in 48 days of our new, state-of-the-art hospital. This hospital is already driving a boom in economic development.
The second local, Town level opportunity has been our work to get most of the Merton Lands designated as part of Ontario’s Greenbelt. That goal is now very close.
We also endured a sad event in 2015. The loss of Councillor Max Khan left an empty seat on Council.
The election of our new Member, Natalia Lishchyna, has made us whole again. Now, we congratulate Councillor Pam Damoff on her election as a Member of Parliament. When Pam is sworn in, her Council seat will become vacant. Council's loss will be Parliament's gain. And it will be an opportunity for another member of our community to run in a by-election to serve on Council with us.
As 2015 draws to a close, it’s clear that there are some big local questions ahead of us that we as your Council will have to answer. These questions have Federal and Provincial links.
Here's the first question. How will we respond to the Province's determination that Ontario’s many large and small local power distribution companies need to be combined into a handful of large and more efficient regional entities?
The Province expects this to happen over the next three years and that’s not a long time. We must evaluate our options and we will.
The second question ahead of us is the renewal of our cultural facilities downtown. The change of government in the election has increased the chance of federal infrastructure funding for municipalities. All of us need to settle on a master plan for downtown facilities to be ready for funding.
The question is really simple. Do we want our downtown facilities all in one place? Or do we want some at Centennial Square and some at the Old Post Office?
Everything else, like the funding depends on other levels of government. The vision depends on us. We need to choose.
Here's the third question. What will be the future of the world-famous Glen Abbey Golf Course? ClubLink, the owner, has announced it wants to convert Glen Abbey into a housing subdivision. There can be no quick and easy answer to this question. And here is why.
Ontario has a legal framework for land use decisions. Council sits as a kind of panel of judges. Judges who do not want to be overturned on appeal must hear all the evidence before taking positions or making decisions. If we want to judge we must not pre-judge.
Your Town Council’s decisions have focused in the last nine years, entirely on providing Oakville with the best possible services and programs and outcomes.
Our goals are your goals. Fiscal health. A clean, green and safe environment. Community facilities. Mobility. A good economy. Action to protect us from climate change. All our achievements with these contribute to our celebrated livability.
As an Oakville resident, you can continue to feel confident in the high level of commitment from your Council. Let me give you some more evidence.
First, for eight years in a row we are the safest community in Canada, while enjoying having Ontario’s most efficient Police force. One of the best in clearing crime – that is solving crime.
Second, a new national survey ranks Canada's communities by their attractiveness as places to start a business. Oakville is seventh in all of Canada. Two other parts of our Halton Region are in the top ten, too. I think this is a pretty remarkable thing to have three parts of Halton in Canada’s top ten. So I think that shows how well we’ve been working together with our partners across Halton.
To our colleagues at all levels, it’s been good working with you in 2015. We look forward to working with you in the years ahead.
To town staff, we on Council and in the public appreciate you very much. You provide us with the best possible advice. You provide the best possible services and programs for our residents. Above all, you have a true spirit of continuous improvement in your work for us. We thank you for that, and we count on it.
To you, the residents we serve, we thank you for your feedback, your support and your trust. Your engagement in our community's future is an example for everyone. 28,000 residents gave $65 million to make our new hospital possible. Thousands of residents participate in the community groups that give our town so much vitality. Many work to extend and expand opportunities for the less fortunate.
We all contribute to the livability and success we celebrate and strive for in Oakville. Oakville is succeeding because we work together with creativity and imagination. The longer we do that, the farther we will go.
Little by little we make a better day. Day by day we make a better town. Town by town we make a better world. We are creating an Oakville and a Canada we can believe in and can be proud of. Let's keep our direction onward and upward!