2017 State of the Town

Friends, neighbours, community members, Council, staff, Burlington Mayor Rick Goldring, Minister of Labour Kevin Flynn, thank you for your interest in my 11th annual State of the Town address. Let me take a second to explain why my good friend the Mayor of Burlington has joined us. It was his idea, about a year ago, that we should attend each other’s State of the Town/State of the City addresses in the interest of better harmony and cooperation between our neighbouring communities. I learned a lot by attending his, and I’m really pleased to see you here, Rick. It really speaks to the kind of leadership that you espouse, the collaborative way that you urge everyone to work, that you are here tonight. I thank you for that. You are terrific to work with.

The changes this term on Council make me want to start with the state of Council. The state of our council is good, with three new members doing well, and with more change ahead after next year’s election. We will add a seventh pair of Council members for Oakville above Dundas, and six of our current members will have familiar boundaries changed.

In the last year we’ve seen how the newest member of Council, Ray Chisholm, has made a success of his first full year on Council. That’s thanks to his ability to hit the ground running after his election last year because of his wealth of knowledge about the town, from having been born and raised here. His has been a strong voice added to his Ward 2 Town and Regional Councillor partner Cathy Duddeck’s voice for improvements people need, such as the Speers Road pedestrian crossing and the about-to-be-completed Kerr Village community centre and other initiatives.

The other member of Council new since the 2014 election, Natalia Lishchyna, has made her own contributions to our work since her election two years ago. She serves in place of our tragically taken from us Council colleague, Max Khan. 2014’s new member of Council, Sean O’Meara, has had his voice heard, too, especially on the need to improve traffic on Bronte Road. All three have been strong new voices for our town’s Livable Oakville vision.

Our community’s embrace of the Livable Oakville growth plan is as strong today as it was when we created the plan. We saw that commitment vividly during the engaged and impassioned statements by residents we heard right here last month speaking about the Glen Abbey Golf Course. This passion should encourage us to continue our focus on the four pillars of our livability:

First, we control growth to only what fits environmentally and economically and only what protects the character of our stable existing neighbourhoods;

Second, we protect our community’s natural and cultural heritage;

Third, we invest in high-quality facilities, infrastructure and services; and

Fourth, we keep overall tax increases at or below inflation and keep debt from increasing our taxes.

Now let’s look at some of the great progress we’ve made to strengthen these four pillars. There are challenges on the horizon for each of these pillars. There are opportunities with each pillar to enhance the livability of our town.

First, let’s look at the pillar of controlling growth. The vigilance of this Council and the community keeps growth under control. We avoid straining our infrastructure, we protect the character of our neighbourhoods, and we conserve our built and natural heritage resources – our greenspace.

Our greenspace is an important part of who we are and who we want to be as a community. That’s why we established Oakville and Halton’s municipal greenbelts, the first municipal greenbelts in the province, setting aside 50 per cent of Halton from growth. That’s why we created the Livable Oakville Official Plan to protect what’s valuable: our greenspace and our stable existing neighbourhoods. Over the past 11 years, we have seen a reduction in our rate of growth to a more sustainable pace, and we’ve seen improvement in how we grow. I’ll prove that to you with one simple statistic: We grew by 21,000 in the five years before I became mayor. In the last five years, we grew by 11,000. We got growth slowed down and we picked up our work on infrastructure. We want growth that works for our community.

Here’s a small example. Most of us on Council are recovered soccer and hockey moms and dads. I’m looking at Ralph Robinson, Cathy Duddeck, Ray Chisholm, Dave Gittings, Nick Hutchins, Roger Lapworth, Marc Grant, Allan Elgar, Jeff Knoll and Natalia Lishchyna as well as myself. Sean O’Meara and Tom Adams are current soccer dads and coaches. All of us have seen our growth help our kids’ sports and other activity groups increase the opportunities they can offer our kids.  For all our success at controlling growth, the Province sets the numbers for how much our community must be able to grow. We have accepted the Province’s promise that we can decide in our Official Plan where and how we grow. We have a community-generated growth plan. We all call it Livable Oakville.

When developers follow our plan, as delegation after delegation said at the Glen Abbey council meeting, we’re good with our growth. We have rejected applications that don’t fit our plan. But it has been too easy for developers to disregard our Official Plan and ask an unelected member of the OMB, the Ontario Municipal Board, to change our community’s democratically chosen plan for our future. That isn’t planning and it’s not democracy.

Thankfully, now there’s good news. We’ve worked very hard with the other mayors of Ontario and with MPP Kevin Flynn and with the Premier to get the OMB terminated by Bill 139. Kevin Flynn has led opposition to the OMB since I met him 17 years ago. Back then he was a highly regarded member of this council. Bill 139 replaces the OMB with a tribunal with a much narrower scope. It will only be able to check that Council decisions align with the terms of the Provincial Planning Act and municipalities’ own official plans.

I look forward to seeing what Council and staff can achieve with stronger tools to control growth, after these reforms come into play.

This year Council has taken bold steps to protect our natural and cultural heritage, the second pillar of Livable Oakville. In August, we voted to issue a Notice of Intent to Designate the Glen Abbey Golf Course as a significant cultural heritage landscape under Section 29 of the Ontario Heritage Act.

The designation of Glen Abbey was based on evidence presented by staff and independent third-party experts and recommended by Heritage Oakville. The Heritage Oakville Committee has been a steady champion of our work to conserve our heritage. The entire community, I dare say, now sees the value of the strong approach to heritage conservation established under former mayor Harry Barrett and revived and continued under our leadership. For this Council, the preservation of our community’s natural and cultural heritage will continue to be of the utmost importance.

As for the Glen Abbey Golf Course decision, as you’ve just heard, Council will vigorously defend our decision to refuse ClubLink’s application to turn Oakville’s most famous landmark into a vast subdivision.

The third pillar of Livable Oakville is to keep our community’s amenities in line with our needs.  In the past ten years, we’ve nearly doubled our community facilities, from seniors centres, to ice rinks, to cultural facilities and playing fields. This year, we have launched additions to that legacy.

We took the first steps to creating a new community centre on the former hospital lands in southeast Oakville and adding more than two acres of new greenspace there. We also began rebuilding Oakville Arena into a state-of-the-art recreational centre that will open next year. We improved our existing facilities like the Iroquois Ridge Public Library in North Oakville. This year we saw it updated into a technological and creative hub for residents to learn and practice digital media, 3D design and even computer coding and programming.

Driving that vision forward was Library Chair and Ward 5 Town and Regional Councillor Jeff Knoll.  Council is also asking our Budget Committee, chaired by Ward 6 Town and Regional Councillor Tom Adams, to approve a significant increase to our cultural grants in the 2018 budget. These grants are made available by the Town and administered by the Oakville Arts Council to qualified not-for-profit Oakville arts and culture groups to serve the public and their kids.

And Council continues to make critical investments in infrastructure. I’d like to highlight seven:

First, drivers benefit from our various road widening projects, such as on Fourth Line, or the Road Resurfacing Program which each year makes pavement smoother and more drivable. This year we resurfaced 10 km.

Second, everyone will benefit when we finish the grade separations for Burloak and Kerr.

Third, everyone will benefit when we create two planned Bronte Creek bridges at the QEW.

Fourth, pedestrians and cyclists will be able to get where they need to go more quickly, safely and easily as we create our planned addition of 700 more kilometres of pedestrian and cycle facilities to add to the 1,500 kilometres we have already created all over town.

Fifth, Oakville Transit is improving service by expanding its premium on-request transit service for areas without enough riders to sustain a regular bus route. Home to Hub picks you up at the driveway of your home and takes you to the nearest transit hub where you can catch a bus, at no additional cost.

Sixth, another amenity we have worked hard to develop is our system of harbours. This year, we achieved a long-held goal of former mayor Harry Barrett when we got the Bronte Outer Harbour transferred to the town.

And seventh, the infrastructure our downtown needs will make it flourish.

There are three steps underway for downtown.

Step one is this year’s successful rebuild of the Lakeshore Road bridge downtown. The bridge will be completed under budget and ahead of time. In fact, the bridge will be open for Santa’s parade November 18!

Step two in downtown is our streetscape renewal. 2018 is the year we need to get everyone ready for the reconstruction of the Lakeshore Road streetscape downtown in 2019 and 2020.

Step three will address our old downtown cultural facilities which served the last century. We need downtown cultural facilities to serve this century. We will have our renewed cultural hub facilities open and energizing our main street by 2026. With new parking spaces. The community’s thanks for that will have to go to Oakville Enterprises Corporation for the revenue streams that will enable this investment – just as their work enabled our contribution that made Oakville’s new hospital possible.

We want thriving small businesses, great social and cultural facilities, and Canada’s best downtown community gathering place.

These seven investments, and others, that Council is making in our livability are only possible thanks to our strong financial position.

The fourth pillar of Livable Oakville is our town’s strong financial position. Our financial management avoids erratic spikes in property tax increases that make it harder for our residents to manage a household.

Right now, Council is preparing the 10th straight budget that will keep overall tax increases at or below the rate of inflation. And we will keep being Ontario’s most fiscally healthy municipality. These four pillars of Livable Oakville (growth control, heritage preservation, infrastructure, and fiscal health) are supporting great progress. This year, we were named again the best place to raise kids.  Oakville was also ranked as the fourth-best place to live overall. We also enjoy being the safest, healthiest and longest-lived community.  And the safety comes from the outstanding job done by the Halton Regional Police Service which also enjoys the reputation and the record of having the highest clearance rate for crime of any of the big 12 police forces. Next time you see a cop, you have more to thank them for than you might have known.

Every year, we find ourselves closer to our vision of being Canada’s most livable town. This is a collective achievement, and it is one that spurs pride in our town.

We have a great foundation on which to face six big challenges we can clearly see ahead of us.

The first and biggest challenge we face is ensuring Livable Oakville is livable for all. Next month, we will launch our first Community Safety and Wellbeing Plan. Oakville has 48 per cent of Halton residents below the low income cut off as defined by Statistics Canada.

Oakville and Halton organizations like the Oakville Community Foundation, the United Way, the Y, and our Halton Community Investment Fund all work together, with others, to help those who need help to keep up. And last week our community received $12 million for public housing and fighting homelessness from the Province of Ontario. Thank you, Minister Flynn, for delivering yet again for our community!

The second big challenge we must keep working hard on, in this age of NAFTA talks and other threats, is the economic challenge to assure Oakville’s local economy grows and thrives. To lift all boats, we need to grow our economy. We are proud to be in the competition for Amazon’s HQ2 with an Oakville site that in the pitch to Amazon by Toronto Global. The bid is an amazingly good document. I wish everyone would read it.

But the most promising economic development we have is the forward-thinking, innovative Health Sciences and Technology District. This health science high tech hub, which is located beside the new Oakville hospital, would create nearly two-thirds of the number of jobs expected from the second Amazon headquarters that everybody wants so much. And unlike Amazon, we don’t have to compete for it. The Life Sciences and Technology district is innovative, it’s sustainable, and it’s already chosen Oakville as its home. Best of all, it’s a homegrown project, put forward by Oakville’s own Dr. Joseph Dableh. Councillors Roger Lapworth and Allan Elgar and I ran in support of it in the last election. The stronger our economy and the greener our community, the happier and healthier we will be.

The third big challenge we must accept is a green challenge for every resident. One thing that defines Oakville is our desire to protect and preserve our tree canopy and to add to it. We can be proud of our goal of a 40 per cent tree canopy by Oakville’s 200th anniversary in 2057.

We’ve come a long way from the clear-cutting days of our founders.

I’m pleased to share that Staff are finalizing the details of a new Town initiative called PLANT — Please Let’s Add New Trees. We will encourage individuals, community groups and corporations to plant trees on their properties and on town property every year. In 40 years, when we reach 40 per cent canopy cover, each tree we plant today will have stored a ton of carbon. Oakville’s future is green if we keep working together, one tree at a time.

A million trees by 2057 would take a million tons of carbon (or more than 3.6 million tons of carbon dioxide) out of the air. That’s on top of what our existing trees do. PLANT will support our existing tree-planting work and Oakvillegreen’s new backyard tree planting program in cooperation with the group called LEAF. It all adds up to what we could call a million tree challenge, as the Oakville Horticultural Society has suggested our Town needs.

Our fourth big challenge is to green our transit fleet by converting to electric buses. In a few moments, at this meeting, Council can approve our application to the Province’s new Municipal Green House Gas Challenge Fund for eight electric buses. Kevin – we are going to be counting on you to help us get this! An electric transit fleet was what we built our new Transit facility for, also with support from the Province. Now our far-sightedness is about to be rewarded.

There is a fifth challenge for us to ensure Oakville’s future is green. The Province is declaring surplus the lands we lease from them between 9th Line and Bayshire. I will be challenging Council to take steps to acquire and rehabilitate these lands. When our lease on those lands expires everyone in our community should be able to keep enjoying the greenspace there. When fully rehabilitated, we should see approximately 36 hectares or almost 90 acres of greenspace.

Our sixth big challenge is another opportunity to protect greenspace for our Town. We are working closely with Kevin Flynn, our Oakville MPP and Minister of Labour, to secure in public ownership the balance of the Merton Lands. This is important, because the Province once sold much of the Merton lands for development before the present provincial government took office. We need to prevent the risk that a future provincial government might sell the rest of the Merton Lands for development. Council and I were pleased to hear Minister Flynn’s announcement September 25, that I read in this chamber, that he is working with us to get the Merton Lands and Deerfield Golf Course kept in public ownership.

These six challenges (wellbeing, jobs, trees, electric buses, the Parkway and Merton) are opportunities to strengthen the livability of our Town and assure that Oakville’s future is green. What you’ve heard here are all goals I’m confident you the public support. I am confident these goals are achievable.

Together we have proven we can have as good a community as we’re willing to work together to create. Oakville’s great strength is how many of us are willing to show up and do that work, whether we are showing up as volunteers or as voters.

One resident’s association leader said when we adopted our Livable Oakville plan, and this remark has been an inspiration coming forward for everything that Council does, “It feels so good to live in a town where the Council listens to the people.” I can tell you that it feels good to Council to know you, the people of Oakville, feel you can bring your concerns and needs to Council and get heard.

Thank you very much for your attention to my remarks.