My New Year’s Message

How to summarize a year such as this one past? A year that brought new opportunities and new challenges, a year full of events that both inspired us and shocked us. In our peaceful city on the shores of Lake Simcoe, we became more closely connected to the world around us, and we continued to demonstrate the unique energy and strong sense of community that Barrie has always been known for.

In Barrie in 2012, we grew more prosperous. We welcomed new employers and industries on the leading edge of technology, such as IBM and MacLean Engineering, among others. The lights went back on at two of our largest vacant factories, bringing new, higher paying industrial jobs to Barrie. Our unemployment rate dropped by years’ end to 7.4%, now well below the Provincial average.

Yet too many in our town did not share in that prosperity. Despite our gains, more people came through the doors of our charities seeking support. If as is often said, a society is judged by how it treats it’s least fortunate, we need to thank our local angels such as Rose Romita, who again in 2012 provided Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas dinners to hundreds of people in need. 2013 needs to be a year in which our community gets even more strongly behind those organizations who give a hand up to those who need it. And government at all levels needs to tackle the uncomfortable fact of greater income polarization despite prosperity.

In Barrie in 2012, we grew safer – greatly so, with a drop of about 8% in the number of crimes in our city, compared to last year. And yet the world did not seem a safer place, with the events at home on Virgilwood Crescent in July, and tragic events in the US and abroad. We live in a city with an extremely low crime rate, in one of the safest countries in the world. But we must never take that safety for granted – and I for one hope that 2013 brings real steps to make not only our own communities in Canada even safer, but the United States and abroad as well.

In Barrie in 2012, we took great steps forward in health care. Cancer treatment close to home is a reality, with the opening of the Simcoe-Muskoka District Cancer Care Centre at RVH this summer. The hospital itself also expanded, thanks in no small part to a $52.5M donation by the City, and an incredible $35M raised from donations to the I Believe campaign. And the Barrie Community Health Centre opened the doors at its new home on Huronia Road. In 2013, with these facilities in place, we now need to grow the number of health professionals in our community, so more people have a family doctor and can access basic care.

In Barrie in 2012, we became a bigger part of the global community. Barrie companies did more business in new markets, including emerging opportunities in Asia and South America. Products once produced exclusively for North American markets are now being sold overseas – ultimately leading to expansion of industries here in Barrie. In 2012, we formed a new friendship city arrangement with Puerta Princessa, in the Philippines, cementing the already strong ties between Barrie’s Filipino community and their home country.

In Barrie in 2012, our city centre grew stronger, as shovels went into the ground on a long-awaited new grocery store, pharmacy, and office tower/condo complex at Collier and Mulcaster. This development represents the largest new office building downtown in more than 30 years, and will bring hundreds of new workers into the core – providing customers for the shops and services that we need to keep our Downtown’s daytime economy vibrant.

There are many reasons to feel we’ve made progress in 2012, and to look forward with optimism to 2013. Yet, although the strength of a community can be considered in many ways or measured through many statistics, I’ve often felt one of the true measures of community strength is in the support our residents give one another in good times and bad.

Barrie’s strength is embodied in the acts of community service – both the everyday and the extraordinary – that our residents, our businesses, our service clubs, and our charities are famous for. In December alone – witness the legions of volunteers and the outpouring of support from Barrie businesses for the Christmas Cheer campaign; the homeless man in Downtown Barrie who found a lost cellphone and returned it to police; the efforts of a three-year old boy and his family on Innisfil Street to provide gift bags of donated food and clothes to those living in emergency shelters on Christmas Day.

There are thousands of acts of kindness performed every day, and we don’t need a holiday season as a reason to do it. So if I have a wish for 2013, it’s that as our city grows, we keep on looking out for one another – as we welcome the opportunities of a growing city, we retain that close-knit sense of community so often credited to small towns. It’s one of our greatest strengths, and one that makes our beautiful city unique among our peers.

On behalf of City Council, please accept my sincere best wishes to you and your families for a Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New Year!