As the province plans for recovery, the town is beginning to slowly bring back services and reopen some public spaces. Provincial emergency orders and the town’s physical distancing by-law remain in effect. We must all continue to follow guidelines from Public Health officials.
We are gathered here together as residents, staff and members of the Councils of our Town and our Region for the tenth annual State of the Town address in this Chamber, on the traditional lands of the Mississaugas of the New Credit.
We are honoured by the attendance of so many community leaders, as well as our regional chair, Gary Carr. Chair Carr, thank you for your leadership of the four municipal partners of the Region of Halton. Together, we are working to make our communities across Halton more livable and sustainable.
This is my tenth report to you on the state of our town. In it, you will see a portrait of a town achieving its goals. You’ll also see a town on the threshold of a great opportunity to do more, to help everyone participate in its successes.
Over the last ten years, our community has embraced a vision to be the most livable town in Canada. This year, Oakville moved from sixth to third best place to live in the country in MoneySense Magazine’s ratings.
This is the best ranking we’ve ever had, and the third year in a row we’ve been in the top ten.
We were named the best place in Ontario to raise children. We are Canada’s safest community and Canada’s healthiest community.
And our economy is strong! As chair of the Auto Mayors, I am optimistic about the future of major employers like Ford, who today employ 5200 people in Oakville. Everywhere we look we can see significant signs of our vision’s success.
That success requires a strong foundation of fiscal health and stability.
You, the Councils of our municipality, have created that strong and stable fiscal foundation.
Ten years ago, Oakville residents were weary of unpredictable – and often unsustainably high - property tax increases. Total property tax increases could fluctuate from two to six per cent a year with no warning.
Now, we have shifted to predictable - and predictably low - total annual increases. For eight years running, we have set and met the goal of keeping total property tax increases at or below inflation. Residents will be pleased to hear we will be able to meet that goal once again in the 2017 budget.
I know many residents were happy this year to receive the news from the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation, MPAC, of how much their properties have risen in value over the last four years.
Happy about the value, you may have worried about the impact on your property tax.
You will be relieved to know that your home’s taxes aren’t going up the way your home’s value is. We reset our tax rate to avoid any windfall surge in tax revenue.
All the same, we will maintain our strong municipal financial position. Chair Carr places the highest importance on keeping our triple-A credit rating. We’ve done that again this year even while we have made important investments to improve livability. A triple-A credit rating means you pay the lowest rate of interest when you borrow.
We want to see our property taxes go toward ways to improve our livability and sustainability. Three of the ways I want to highlight are one, providing better roads and infrastructure; two, keeping up with demand for community facilities; and three, protecting greenspace and growing our tree canopy.
Let’s look first at our road improvement and infrastructure work. The money allocated to road resurfacing ten years ago was not enough to keep Oakville’s roads in good condition.
Our roads and works staff, in response to Council’s desire to improve our roads, developed a plan to expand the amount of road work we can do in a year.
This year we allocated nearly double the funding of ten years ago. That funding will resurface 22 kilometres of Oakville roads this year alone.
By the time our roads plan is finished, virtually all of our roads will be in good condition. Residents’ compliments are a welcome alternative to complaints about pot holes.
Renewing and reinvigorating our downtown’s infrastructure is another key priority. By 2019 when we do the work to replace the Lakeshore Road foundations in the downtown, we’ll have a complete vision and a construction mitigation plan the community can have faith in.
When the work’s done in 2020, we’ll have a downtown that is even more attractive than it was when we began.
The second way we are improving livability is our progress creating community centres in each of Oakville’s seven wards.
This year, we’ve begun work on transforming the Oakville Arena in Trafalgar Park into a south central community centre targeted at seniors and youth.
We’re also about to begin the functional planning of the next community centre on the old OTMH grounds on Reynolds Street.
Every two years for the next four years, we’ll open a new community centre. In ten years or sooner, we’ll add the Neyagawa Boulevard community centre expansion to the 16 Mile Sports Complex.
Our Town values our community facilities -- and our public assets. We were recently relieved to know the Province has decided to relax its pressure for consolidation of municipal hydro utilities. Our hydro is the ninth largest in Ontario already and a tremendous asset for the Town as it is.
The third key to our livability and sustainability that I want to highlight is making our town a cleaner, greener place to live.
High priorities for our Councils are our parks, trails, ravines, waterfront, and tree canopy. Our green and natural assets make for happier, healthier residents so we must protect them.
First, we created the Oakville Natural Heritage System of 2,300 acres of protected (and natural) greenspace across north Oakville. Then, working with Chair Carr, we protected our NHS by making it part of a larger natural heritage system protecting 50 per cent of Halton and connecting it the Greenbelt.
We also committed to expanding Oakville’s urban forest canopy. It might be the best in the GTA today, but we set a goal to reach 40 per cent coverage by Oakville’s 200th anniversary.
To do that we have a four-part plan. We’re now beefing up our policy of saving trees on private land, we’re extending tree protection controls to developers land, we’re fighting the emerald ash tree borer and - of course - we’re planting more trees.
Our policies reflect the ideas of stewardship espoused by the Indigenous peoples who first inhabited this land. Among those ideas is the belief that we should make decisions for seven generations, not just for today or tomorrow.
This idea reinforces our determination to protect our environment and control growth to what fits.
Ten years ago we had local, regional and provincial rules that unfairly favoured developers. The local land use policies in our Official Plan were full of loopholes and contradictions that allowed developers to run roughshod over residents and communities.
So we created the Livable Oakville and the Sustainable Halton Official Plans. These two plans introduced protection of our green spaces and our stable established neighbourhoods from unwanted intensification. Our plans now channel growth to six carefully selected growth nodes. We have gone from losing 75 per cent of the time at the Ontario Municipal Board, the “OMB”, to winning 67 per cent of the time.
We’re being challenged at the OMB now over how we will conduct the planning process required to consider the future of Glen Abbey Golf Course. I’m confident of our success in that contest.
Our plans also work to protect heritage, inspired by the work of six-term former Mayor Harry Barrett. His foundational work to protect and preserve our heritage is the work we built upon in our Livable Oakville Plan.
As proud as we are of our town and regional official plans, we are now working to review, renew, and revise these plans to make them even more effective. We’ve also turned our attention to the need to improve the Province’s rules for development and we’ve won several improvements there.
Now, the Province is considering changes to their Growth Plan for the Golden Horseshoe and changes to the powers of the OMB. Our engagement with the Province to get these changes will not let up in the coming months. Thanks to our MPPs and cabinet ministers Kevin Flynn and Indira Naidoo-Harris, we’re in the best position ever for success in getting the changes we need to create the future as we want it for our town.
We have planning staff who “get” Oakville. They have worked with us as local and regional Councils to maximize the quality of our advice to the Province as it evaluates changes to its Growth Plan and to the OMB.
There are good reasons to be optimistic that provincial policies will change to help us achieve a more livable Oakville.
As we do, we’ll continue to attract more newcomers to Town.
And the question newcomers ask me most is why we call ourselves a town. We’re surrounded by some of the country’s largest urban centres. We have 25 times the population of the City of Dryden.
We call ourselves a town because it reflects the warmth, the friendliness and the welcoming nature that has always helped newcomers to fit in and find their footing.
Though we’ve faced great challenges and had our share of shortcomings, Oakville’s history is one where welcoming and diversity wins out.
Over the years, Oakville has been a place of refuge and hope for those seeking security, prosperity and new horizons. That was the case nearly 200 years ago, when Oakville was a destination for those fleeing on the Underground Railroad to escape slavery and oppression.
The hope and opportunity Oakville offers has been shared with immigrant communities ever since. Today, Oakville’s diversity serves as a tremendous source of strength. We all benefit from our thriving South Asian, Chinese, Hispanic and European communities. This year, residents of all backgrounds have come together to welcome over 50 families from Syria.
Our diverse population and our welcoming, neighbourly communities are a key part of what sets Oakville apart. In many places, the term neighbour is little more than a geographic distinction. In Oakville being a neighbour still means more.
In Oakville, we feel good about the fact that kids know which door to knock on if they need help. We have a neighbourly urge to volunteer more. Being neighbourly pays us back in our community’s safety and well-being.
All of us contribute what we can to the strength of our community, and Oakville’s strengths are abundant. We have a unified vision of what we want our town to look like. We have committed community leaders working side-by-side with us to control growth and protect their neighbourhoods. We also have what I believe to be the best municipal staff in the country.
As Councils we have many times leveraged the strengths of our community and staff to everyone’s benefit. All of this is what makes me so confident in our ability to do more. So - with that in mind - let’s look at the opportunity we have to be an even more inclusive and caring community, and to make sure everyone can participate in and enjoy Oakville’s livability.
Oakville’s poverty rate is two-thirds the provincial average. Oakville’s assets as a community are well above the provincial average. Our finances are the healthiest in Ontario. We can do more. With a smaller poverty rate and greater capacity to deal with it, it makes sense that if Oakville can’t deal with its poverty, nobody can.
We’ve expanded and extended our low income transit pass to support people whose means of getting around is challenged. We’ve strengthened property tax deferment opportunities to help low-income seniors. But we can do more.
Oakville and Halton can be the first municipality with a comprehensive set of community safety and well-being plans to fundamentally change our approach to poverty and community well-being for everyone.
In the year ahead it is going to be my focus to engage and expand everyone’s participation in the safety and well-being of our communities.
Our municipality is blessed with volunteer organizations who all have much to contribute to this work. Think of the Vital Signs and Solutions work by the Oakville Community Foundation. Think of the ambitious targets the Oakville United Way meets every year. Think of the Halton Community Investment Fund that has grown to be a significant force for good under Halton Chair Gary Carr. Think of the leadership of people like June Cockwell, co-chair of the Halton Poverty Round Table. Think of the many members of the Chamber of Commerce and other service clubs who care about our community’s safety and well-being.
If we reach out to each other to create these community safety and well-being plans the way we created the Livable Oakville and Sustainable Halton plans, we will enjoy great success.
For the past ten years, I have said the secret to Oakville’s success is that we are a city that calls itself a town, and acts like a village. That will remain the secret to our success for years to come. It is a pleasure to work alongside residents, staff and you my fellow Council members to move forward with our Livable Oakville and Sustainable Halton visions.
The last ten years have been a time of tremendous success. I look forward to ten more years of our success working together to protect our future for many generations to come.