Every year for five years now, the Chamber of Commerce has given me a chance to offer what we may call a report card on our town’s economic status. Today you’re going to get something new, too.
You’re still going to get my report on how we’re working to make Oakville a great place to live and make a living and grow our economy. Today, you’re also going to hear how we all can work together as partners to grow the economy even more and improve this Town’s livability for years down the road -- for everyone.
First, let’s talk about what Council has achieved for you and what that makes possible. Our municipal government is different than the rest. We have a system of budgeting that seeks and achieves efficiency. We focus on end results. That means we act the same way your businesses do. We, like you, always look to find the most efficient way to get the best possible outcome for each dollar.
In fact, our fiscal health has been catching some attention.
Dr. Enid Slack is the Director of the Institute on Municipal Finance and Governance at the University of Toronto. In her recent book, the professor ranked Oakville number one in fiscal health, 32 per cent stronger than our nearest competitor. What’s that mean for you?
For eight years in a row we’ve kept property tax increases at or below inflation. We’ve kept our triple-A credit rating secure. We’ve done all that without cutting the services residents and businesses value.
In short, we do more and increase taxes less than those before us and less than those around us.
Now, Oakville’s economic outlook has never been better. We are attractive to global industrial leaders. Ford’s employment level is at amazing levels. And we’re creating an environment where more small- and medium-sized businesses can survive and thrive.
Council makes it a goal to attract and support four key sectors as part of our economic development strategy. Those are advanced manufacturing, life sciences, knowledge-based industries, and digital media.
Now, there are more than four types of industries in Oakville. We know that. We target these four to create a strategic foundation. That’s because these four sectors in particular spark so much of the innovation and productivity advances that help grow the whole economy.
Council’s plan for Oakville’s economic growth works. Every year we attract new businesses and investment. Council has done its part to be part of a climate where your business can increase success. You don’t have to take my word for it. Let me show you how some leaders in Oakville’s tech industry feel.
Now you can see why I have such confidence in our town's future. Oakville is a place where a business can grow. This is recognized in our Town, around the GTA, and as far as our sister city in Huai‘an, China.
I believe the key to Oakville’s success in attracting and retaining investment is our livability. In today’s economy, businesses have to compete for talent. Oakville has the education facilities it needs to train new talent, and the livability we need to attract and retain talent.
Over the last ten years we’ve always looked for new ways to improve our town’s livability. And we’ll keep at it.
But over the next ten years and beyond I think we can do more to make our economy work for everyone.
According to 2011 data from Statistics Canada, the percentage of Oakville’s population living below the Low Income Measure sits at 8.6 per cent. That’s well below the provincial average of 14 per cent, but I don’t see this as a reason to be satisfied.
You know, around the world, national and provincial governments seem to treat poverty a lot like they treat their debt.
Just as the world’s national governments only pay the interest on their debt without reducing the principal, they have been only providing the bare minimum of support for those who need help. And only when you hit bottom.
That approach reminds me of only paying off the interest on the national debt. It’s just scratching the surface!
Now, keep in mind that in the Town of Oakville, we do better than that. Our tax-supported debt was more than $24 million ten years ago. This year we will have it down to $6 million.
The only debt we like on the town’s books is debt that’s paid for by other sources than taxes. So we have steadily paid down the principal on tax-supported debt to reduce the interest we pay and free up revenue for your services. Our success everywhere else makes me believe Oakville has what it takes to be able to deal with the principle causes of poverty, too.
Our poverty rate is two-thirds the provincial average. Our finances are the healthiest in the Province. So if our problem is smaller, and our ability to deal with it is greater, doesn’t it make sense that if Oakville can’t fix poverty, nobody can?
I bring this up today with you because I believe tackling poverty will stimulate our economy.
And the business community can participate and benefit from reducing poverty. This is another opportunity for the public-private partnerships that the Chamber is such a big fan of. This week the Chamber said its members want to participate in public/private partnerships to deliver health services. Well, it’s not so very big a step to partner for social services, too.
It is difficult to discuss our next ten years in just ten minutes. But what I can assure you is that Council and I have a plan for Oakville for the next ten years and beyond. It’s called Vision 2057. Like any good business, we believe in long range planning.
What’s new today is I’m asking you, the public, and Council to help improve our vision and help explore new ways to make Oakville move livable for everyone, including those whose life has hit storms they could not weather and left them with little hope and little participation in the success of the Town.
Over the next ten years, local government can do even more for the economy than build bridges to new markets outside Oakville, or among the BIAs and their customers, as we have been doing with great success.
Local government can and must help create new partnerships between business and community groups -- to benefit us all.
My optimism flows from seeing how business engages with our community. Look at the $3 million dollars worth of solar panels HATCH donated to the new hospital, to earn on-going annual revenue for the hospital. Talk about a gift that keeps on giving! Look how local businesses help fund the Oakville Arts Council.
We all see and appreciate what businesses do to make Oakville a more livable place.
So just as I set a goal ten years ago, today I’m asking if we can set another goal to show we can do more to make Oakville work for everyone.
Ten years ago, I saw no reason to believe Oakville shouldn’t aspire to be Canada’s most livable town.
I saw no reason to believe we couldn’t control growth.
I saw no reason we couldn’t grow a strong, successful economy.
I saw no reason we couldn’t have the healthiest municipal government finances in the Province.
With the help of you, Oakville businesses, and Council, and our fantastic town staff and our vibrant volunteer sector, we are doing all that.
Today, I see no reason why Oakville couldn’t be the first town in Canada with a comprehensive plan to fundamentally change for the better our approach to poverty and community well-being -- for everyone, including those who dreamed their lives would be so different than the despair they’re living with.
This surely will require partnership and consultation and time. But it surely will make us able to do more for all. Ultimately, the most fulfilling work we can do together is to make the place we live and love so much a better place. I like to say the meaning of life is to find the meaning of life.
And for those whom the unlucky breaks of life have killed the dreams they dreamed, let’s aim to make it possible to restore their chances at finding dignity, hope, and meaning for their lives. Thank you.