2018 State of the Town

The following remarks were delivered to Council, staff and residents at the September 24, 2018, Council meeting, where Mayor Rob Burton also presented his Oakville Status Report. 

Welcome to my 12th annual State of the Town address. At the request of Her Excellency, the Right Honourable Governor General of Canada, I am proud to say, I just presented the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers to six worthy recipients at a reception here at Town Hall. Our community benefits from all of our residents’ passion for volunteering. It is an honour as part of my ceremonial duties as your mayor to help recognize them.

Twelve years ago, I set out to make this report every year at this time, and I have, every year. I wanted to create a collection of short stories of what we are doing together to make Oakville Canada’s most livable town. This event has also been the best way I have as mayor to alert residents of the town to challenges that from time to time have engulfed us. Think of my announcement three years ago at this event about ClubLink’s interest in removing the world-famous Glen Abbey Golf Course and replacing it with a massive sub-division where our official plan does not fit such a thing.

Again, in this report, I will alert you to two entirely new and unexpected challenges ahead, and it’s a possibility that we can turn them into opportunities, but nevertheless they confront us even as we continue to work to defend our decision to refuse to allow the development of Glen Abbey.

Councillors Cathy Duddeck, Jeff Knoll, Tom Adams, Dave Gittings, Sean O’Meara, Allan Elgar and I are also part of Halton Regional Council, which is led by Regional Chair Gary Carr.

Chair Carr learned his teamwork style of leadership as a hockey player who went all the way to the NHL – as a goalie. He also went on to earn an MBA.

As a goalie dad myself, I think goalies have the toughest position. We have a lot to thank Chair Carr for – for his leadership in helping us work together to shape Halton’s future as Canada’s most sustainable Regional Municipality.

So, at least once each year, being mayor feels like being the narrator of our town’s on-going story.

And our story together for the last 12 months and the last 12 years has had dramatic moments. We’ve had challenges and obstacles. A much-loved member passed tragically young. And we’ve had renewals. Oakville lives on.

We’ve had triumphs against the odds and against great threats to our health and our safety. I’m very proud to say, our wins outweighed our losses.

In this, my 12th annual State of the Town Address, there are a mix of successes and challenges to report. I believe in our Town and I believe we will continue to prevail.

There are nine chapters in this year’s State of the Town story:

  1. Setting records in economic development.
  2. Controlling growth to only what fits.
  3. Keeping our finances strong and healthy.
  4. Setting records in creating affordable housing.
  5. Protecting our built, cultural, and natural heritage.
  6. Providing high-quality infrastructure, facilities and services.
  7. Leveraging our community’s inclusivity to care for all.
  8. Keeping us Canada’s safest region.
  9. Facing two challenges: a review ordered by the Province of municipal governance and a review ordered by the Province of the speed of municipal planning

Chapter 1 - Setting Economic Development Records

We can all feel proud of our town’s recognition earlier this summer when MoneySense Magazine named us the Best Place to Live in Canada and Canada’s Best Place for Newcomers. For the third year, the magazine also called us Ontario’s best place to raise a family. We have gone from 30th to 1st in the overall rankings in my time as your mayor. We know we still have work ahead of us. We will always have work ahead of us, but what our rise in the rankings tells us is we’re on the best path. Ours is a path that pays dividends in economic development.

Our rising reputation for livability attracts economic development. For example, Oakville entrepreneur Rob Tessarolo is re-locating his Mississauga-based Cipher Pharmaceuticals company to Oakville now. A proud Oakville resident for the past 17 years, Rob says what he loves about our community is the “the vibrant, anything is possible attitude in Oakville.”

I share his optimism. I hope you do, too.

Rob is just one player in our on-going economic success story.

We have an award-winning Economic Development Strategic Plan developed under our Economic Development Director Dorothy St. George. We enjoyed almost four per cent job growth last year. Job growth about doubled population growth. That’s something all of us on Council and staff are very proud of.

Chapter 2 - Controlling Growth to Only What Fits

Our population growth rate is down to more manageable levels thanks to Council’s commitment over the last 12 years to control growth to only what fits environmentally and economically. We have been growing slower for 12 years to avoid straining our infrastructure despite the province’s growth plan. Our rate of growth is half of what it was when I became mayor. Our rate of growth of population is in fact at a 30-year low.

This slower growth lets us protect the character of our stable established neighbourhoods and our greenspace.

Our Livable Oakville Plan directs growth to six growth areas: three major nodes at Midtown Oakville, the Uptown Core, and Palermo Village, and three minor nodes at Kerr Village, Bronte Village, and Downtown Oakville, in accordance with their wishes.

This is how the official plan protects the character of our stable existing neighbourhoods – it directs growth to the places where it’s wanted. Council also believes growth should pay for itself. We keep our Development Charges by-law updated to ensure that we recover the full amount possible under the Development Charges Act 1997.

The parts of growth that we are not allowed to recover are unfortunately carried on our property taxes. So, growth causes tax increases. More about this in a moment.

Chapter 3 - Keeping Town Finances Strongest and Healthiest

Our finances are the strongest. We work hard to keep life in Oakville as affordable as possible. Over the last 10 years, we’ve kept taxes in line with or lower than inflation and trending downward. We are getting great results from our decision ten years ago to adopt Performance Based Program Budgeting. PB2, as it is known, is the successor to the old zero-based budgeting that everybody, I think, heard about in the 60s. We also created the office of the internal auditor.

These steps have proven their value.

As a percent of household income, our taxes are the most affordable in the GTA. We had the lowest tax increase in the GTA this year. Our tax rate is Ontario’s sixth lowest.

We continue to have a strong stable financial position, which was validated during this term of Council by the University of Toronto’s Institute of Municipal Finance & Governance when they ranked Oakville’s fiscal health as the strongest in Ontario. And in my time as mayor, we’ve cut tax-paid debt by 88 per cent.

Halton Region has a AAA credit rating from Moody’s Investor’s Service and S&P Global Ratings. Oakville is a major financial component of the Halton rating – because we are part of this split-level government. Halton’s AAA is the sum of the fiscal health of its four local municipalities.

We all share the benefits of the AAA credit rating.

Oakville is strong and able to meet the financial and service needs of our community now and in the future.

We do need to think about the costs of growth.

With a new provincial leader and party at the helm looking for efficiencies and ways to lower taxpayers’ costs, I hope the Province now will be receptive to an approach it wouldn’t listen to before that respects the taxpayer by putting more growth where the infrastructure already exists and less where it must be built new and also fix the Development Charges Act so that we can charge the full cost of growth and get the cost of growth off the back of the taxpayer. In sum that means let us charge developers the full cost of growth and let’s have more growth in the city and less in the suburbs.

For far too long existing taxpayers have been footing the bill for the costs of schools and infrastructure needed to support the massive growth the province’s Growth Plan assigns to our town and region.

Your property taxes could be cut by 5 to 7 per cent if the Province would make developers pay the full costs of the growth from which they profit so much. Do existing taxpayers really want to keep paying for about 25 per cent of growth? I sincerely doubt it.

Chapter 4 - Setting Records in Creating Affordable Housing

We are outstanding at creating affordable housing. We blow the doors off the Provincial requirement to create affordable housing. Because resale prices are so high for existing housing and they grab the headlines, it’s hard to know if anyone knows about our affordable housing success story.

By Provincial law and Halton Region’s official plan, at least 30 per cent of new housing units produced annually in Halton must be affordable or assisted housing.

In Oakville 51.4 per cent of new housing is below the affordable threshold of $365,000.

Chapter 5 - Protecting Our Built, Cultural, and Natural Heritage

Our Members of Council remain committed to preserving Oakville’s greenspace and natural heritage. We’ve worked hard at defending our decisions to refuse development of the Glen Abbey Golf Course.

It will be the job of the new Council to defend the town from the appeals launched by ClubLink. ClubLink’s plan would break our official plan’s urban structure and destroy our most important cultural heritage landscape.

If this decision isn’t worth defending, there is no point in having a set of land use rules called an official plan.

ClubLink has filed numerous appeals and the cost of defending our decision will be similar to the cost we paid to defend our vision of a town greenbelt, called the Natural Heritage System, earlier in my time as your mayor.

It also remains true and daunting that Ontario owns lots of land in Oakville that it wants to develop and some of it is in inappropriate places. As Toronto recently discovered, the Province is the boss of the municipalities. A large area of northwest Oakville owned by the Province has been under threat of development by the Province for many years.

I am pleased our town was able to secure the Merton Lands under Town ownership from the province earlier this year.

As a result, we saved 83 per cent of the Merton Lands even though the Province wanted to develop them. We saved all of the environmental lands, even in the part the Province succeeded in getting developed. The lands are now protected recreational open space, neighbourhood parkland, and public green space with wildlife corridors and linked natural heritage systems that our community can enjoy forever.

So keeping the greenspace and open space we have in good condition is more important than ever. Down at our lakefront, Oakville Harbour is more accessible for the public and shoreline rehabilitation and waterfront trail improvements are being made from Tannery Park to Waterworks Park. A new waterfront trail is now open to the public and is accessible at the bottom of Maple Grove Drive or from Lakeshore Road at the west end of the Edgemere property.

And over the last year we have planted 30,000 new trees and shrubs, and cleared 77 woodlands of dead and dying ash trees, a public hazard.

By popular demand, we enhanced our private tree protection by-law to reduce the removal of healthy trees.

The town also launched Please Let’s Add New Trees, which is abbreviated as PLANT, to encourage residents and businesses to plant trees on their property and record it on our PLANT webpage.

More than 22,000 new trees have already been logged.

This initiative, alongside our existing tree-planting work and Oakvillegreen’s new Backyard Tree Planting Program in cooperation with a group called LEAF, will surely help our town reach its 40 per cent canopy coverage goal by 2057.

Trees contribute significantly to our personal health and our town’s livability.

As a community, I hope we will continue to work together to protect, preserve and grow our urban forest.

Chapter 6 - Infrastructure, Facilities and Services

Our vision of being the most livable town in Canada is strengthened by our continued investment in high-quality facilities, infrastructure, and services. We recognize the importance of investing in a healthy active lifestyle and what our residents need and value. Each year, our community centres and cultural facilities welcome nearly four million visits.

That number will continue to grow with the addition of the new Trafalgar Park Community Centre, which opened over the weekend.

This 65,000 square feet facility retains the distinctive wooden roof truss system of the old Oakville Arena while boasting a full NHL-size ice surface, an indoor running track, a new seniors’ centre and much more inside and outside.

We have also begun work on the South East Community Centre and neighbourhood park on the former hospital lands.

About three acres of greenspace will be created on this presently greyspace. It will be open to the public by fall of 2020.

Library services are being offered now at Sixteen Mile Sports Complex much like the services offered at Queen Elizabeth Park Community and Cultural Centre. A temporary library will also open this winter across the parking lot from the Sports Complex to address the growing need for library resources in north Oakville.

This 5,000 sq. ft. modular building will be equipped with traditional library services and resources, technology, programming, seating, and study space. It will become part of a new community center there when that project is built.

Meanwhile the White Oaks library branch is open again after being closed for the summer for renovations. In the spring of next year, the Glen Abbey branch will see renovations that will update it into a technological and creative hub for residents.

Investments in our infrastructure are crucial to our livability and we aren’t stopping there.

Fresh on the heels of the new bridges over the 16 Mile Creek harbour, there are five road improvements you will see in addition to our 10-year road quality resurfacing program:

First, key arterial roads are being widened to help move traffic. Work on Cornwall Road and Dundas Street has already begun with Trafalgar Road construction set to begin next spring.

Second, the Grade separation projects at Burloak Drive and Kerr Street will begin next year in partnership with Metrolinx.

Third, an east-west bridge will be built to connect Wyecroft Road to Burloak Drive.

Fourth, we’ll have smart traffic signal coordination upon completion of a pilot project to test out smart traffic signal technologies.

Fifth, with Lakeshore Road East between Navy and Allan streets coming to the end of its lifespan in downtown Oakville, this road will be rebuilt next spring.

Smart infrastructure will be incorporated, the streetscape will be revamped, and public spaces like Towne Square and Centennial Square will receive a makeover.

We will have the most attractive downtown in all of Canada when it is done in two years. Council’s mitigation strategy will minimize disruption to businesses during the reconstruction, as we work towards transforming downtown Oakville into the most attractive downtown village in Canada.

The town will also have the option of restoring Town Hall to its historical roots in downtown Oakville.

The Province’s official Growth Plan has led to the requirement for a new transit bridge over the QEW by Trafalgar Road, running over the present Town Hall location. Town Hall will need to be moved. A logical place for it would be in our downtown. I believe the move to downtown Oakville would help reinvigorate the area.

One possible location could be the old fire hall site on Navy Street where a 12-storey office building has been permitted in our official plan.

Our community can also look forward to welcoming a new 21-room courthouse in Oakville to replace the courthouse that was traditionally in Milton. It is expected to begin construction late next year. This has long been needed by our judges and lawyers – and by our police! I was pleased to have provided my support for getting this project approved – and located in Oakville, near our new hospital.

I’d also like to congratulate Halton Police on opening its new headquarters in Oakville. As chair of the Halton Police Services Board, I’m proud to see this state-of-the-art facility finished.

For fifteen years, the need to either expand our police headquarters or build a new facility to accommodate our growing service was obvious but the consensus necessary to make it happen was not available. I am proud of the part I played in getting the consensus needed to make this headquarters happen at last.

Chapter 7 - Inclusivity and Serving Needs of All

We have very much to be proud of here in Oakville, but as we continue to write our story we should be reminded that our greatest strength is our sense of community and our direction. We continually work at being an inclusive community and we have ever since our days as a terminus on the Underground Railroad when we welcomed escaped fugitive slaves from slavery in the United States.

Everyone deserves to enjoy a place to work, play and raise a family.

Recognizing that everyone has a right to live in good health and with dignity, we have people and organizations like June Cockwell’s Halton Poverty Roundtable leveraging resources and partnerships to fight poverty in Halton through education and engagement.

They are the reason I support the Town of Oakville becoming a Living Wage Employer and why I’m fully supportive of community benefit agreements, social procurement and social enterprises.

 As Chair of Halton’s Health and Social Services Committee, I will ask the Region to create a poverty advisory group to develop opportunities for action on poverty. While we know that many of us in Oakville and across Halton enjoy a higher social and economic status, together we can work at helping lift those who are struggling to make ends meet.

It is the Oakville way to care about and connect with our neighbours.

You can see from the candidates in the current election that people of all faiths and ethnicity feel included enough in our community to run for office – and I would say have a very good chance of winning. We are a city that calls itself a town, and acts like a village that still includes, and cares about, and listens to everyone. That’s how we hold on to our small town charm and safety.

Chapter 8 - Police and Safety

Our safety has been a paramount concern to me. Every year that I’ve been mayor, we have been Canada’s safest large community.

Halton Police have steadily improved their record in crime solving and just plain “catching the bad guys.”

Halton Police deserve our respect and thanks for the work they do in keeping our communities safe, our children safe. Halton has been recognized again as the safest large municipality in Canada according to Statistics Canada, this year.

Halton Police are deeply committed to British Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel’s Principles of community policing and I hope all of us understand our crucial role as community members in having a safe community, “the police are only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence,” is what Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel said.

In line with those principles, Halton, the upper tier of our split-level government in Halton, and the Halton Police have created the first regional Community Safety and Well Being Plan to work together with helping agencies to get at the upstream roots of crime and social disorder and poverty to make our community even safer and healthier.

I have to tell you the proudest moment of my time on the police board was ten days ago when former Halton Police Chief James Harding gave me his keepsake Medallion for the Bi-Centennial of Sir Robert Peel’s birth. He told me to keep it until I was sure I could find a worthy successor to whom to pass it. Chief Harding was Chief five chiefs ago, and his legacy of establishing the Peel Principles here is stronger than ever. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a legacy we can all aspire to – to make change and to see it last.

Our police take the safety and well being of our community to heart. We owe them a reciprocal commitment and gratitude. I hope you will join me in expressing our deep appreciation and our wishes for speedy recoveries for the two valiant Halton police officers who were wounded in the shooting Saturday in Burlington. As chair of the police board I was part of the swearing in of each of these young officers. It felt like being a Police Board Chair “Dad” when I was visiting with Officers Schneider and Hanson and their wives on Saturday.

I was impressed, when I visited them in hospital that they had also received a personal visit from Premier Doug Ford.

As municipalities look ahead at the legalization of marijuana on October 17, I know that we are ready and so are the Halton Police to ensure our community remains safe. Now I know opinions differ about cannabis and I want to take a moment to set out some basic facts. We take an oath of office that says we will be faithful to the laws of Her Majesty’s government.

Her Majesty’s governments have decided cannabis will be legalized October 17 and next year, in April, there will be private retail stores in Ontario. These are settled matters. I do not dispute them.

I take my oath of office to heart, as you can see. Now, here are the facts about the government of Ontario’s plans. The government provided us two briefings last month on their plans.

They are offering municipalities a short, one-time opportunity to opt out of having private stores in April and this option, this opportunity doesn’t exist until the next term of Council when they decide to make the option available, but we believe it will be in December. The reason they are offering it is that they recognize the uncertainties they are not ready to clear up around six big questions: locations, numbers of stores, hours, enforcement, authorities to do the enforcement, and public smoking. If you opt out you can opt in later when the six big questions are answered, if you like the answers.

If you don’t opt out and you discover later that you don’t like the answers to the six big unanswered questions when the answers come forward – they said you cannot opt out after. In any case, the opt-out decision is a matter for the next council, after the government opens their short, time-limited, opt-out window and puts the opt-out question to the municipalities. No matter what cannabis will be available online as of October 17 and it will be legal for adults to smoke it in their homes. And there will be no stores for anyone before April they said. They said retail will be “an iterative process.” The word iterative means experiment, it means keep trying things until you get it right, so the choice is, do you want to be part of the experiment or do you want to wait and see how it settles down?

Chapter 9 - Municipal Governance and Planning Reviews

We now face two new challenges in the next term of Council. Being an eternal optimist, perhaps these two challenges can become opportunities. But challenge or opportunity, a municipal governance review and a municipal planning approvals review have been launched by the Ontario government. We, as part of Halton, are included in those reviews. A governance review usually involves a look at who does what.

The actually terms of the review have not been set, but we have been given some advice by the Province. In consultations with us last month at the annual conference of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, the government told us the main thing they want from us in the planning approvals review is to identify ways to speed up approvals of developers’ projects. They want to get a big increase in the speed and the number of houses being built.

Then, in his speech to the delegates, Premier Doug Ford closed his speech with these words: "And together we will make this province better than it has ever been," he said.

He then added these as his final words that were not in his prepared text: "A new day has dawned in Ontario, a day of prosperity and growth the likes of which the Province has never seen before."

The Premier has spoken. I’ve known him a few years and I always find it’s best to take him at his word.

He likes to move quickly – if we want a say in these reviews, we, all of us in our community, need to start thinking about what we want our future story to be and we need to share it with our MPPs, Stephen Crawford and Effie Triantafilopoulos.

We need to start asking them, what they want the future story of our community of Oakville and for Halton to be.

This was not covered in the elections in June so there’s not a lot more to go on, except the government statements that it needs to cost taxpayers less and growth needs to speed up.

Through the last 12 years, I’ve been fortunate to work alongside my Council colleagues, dedicated staff, engaged residents, and passionate community leaders who are committed to, and achieving our shared vision to be Canada’s most livable town. It’s been even more fulfilling work than running my television network, YTV, was. And that’s saying something.

Our traditional two-tier Town Council of councillors who are town-only and councillors who are town and regional has served us well for generations, providing more voices at the table and giving us real value in better decisions.

Councillors Ralph Robinson, Ray Chisholm, Nick Hutchins, Peter Longo, Marc Grant, and Natalia Lishchyna, your positions on Town Council have helped give Oakville the good governance that we are known for.

To retiring Councillor Robinson, I say, thank you sir, for your remarkable 36 years of service.

As we leave here tonight, reflecting on our town’s story so far and the possible twists and turns that lie ahead, we are in good shape, strong and resilient.

If the going ahead gets challenging, let’s hang on to this thought from our heritage of First Nations stories: if we take care of the land, the land will take care of us. Now we know that four of you on Council will be here in December and 11 seats, including mine will be decided by Oakville voters by the end of October 22. These thoughts and my State of the Town are my contribution to our future and I hope those who are here in the future will receive some help from these remarks. Whoever is here in future, may Oakville be forever!