As delivered on Monday night. Comments most welcome.
Councillors, Honoured Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen:
In the mid 1830s, Lady Julia Ingleby Barrie tried to convince Sir Robert Barrie to settle at the end of Kempenfelt Bay in a new town named for her husband. However, Barrie at the time lacked even basic municipal services such as water, and was little more than a military depot and a few homes clustered near what is now the Five Points. Sir Robert turned up his nose at retiring in Barrie, and returned to Swarthdale, England, near Harrogate, where he died a few years later. This story, from the earliest days of Barrie’s history, leaves us at least two lessons. One, high quality municipal services are critical for a city to grow. The second lesson, given Sir Robert died a few years after returning to England, is “always listen to your wife”.
I like to think that today, Sir Robert would have made a much different decision. Today as we sit in this Chamber, Barrie has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country. This year, we were named the safest city in Canada. And we enjoy a quality of life few could have hoped for even a generation ago. Ours is a prosperous, safe, progressive city, wrapped around a waterfront of unrivalled beauty. And we are an energetic and caring people, with a clear sense of who we are, and where we want to go.
But a restless desire for change is also infused into our community’s DNA. Barrie does not stand still. The story of our history is growth and change. That story will continue, and it is the job of City Council to guide that growth and change so that change results in a stronger community.
It might be odd to talk about change, since the election a few weeks ago returned an unprecedented number of incumbents. But I do not believe that this was a vote for the status quo. Our residents endorsed a platform of reform; while they expressed much confidence and support for those leading the change, change is expected to continue.
Today, cities everywhere are being called on to meet new challenges. For my part, as your Mayor, my commitment is to respect this mandate and work every day to build a better Barrie. In addition, through the work I do through LUMCO and AMO, I will advocate for the tools that Barrie and all municipalities need to meet these challenges. As City Council, it is our responsibility to use the tools we have to respond to the needs of our residents, whether those needs are driven by forces that are global in origin, or local to specific streets, neighbourhoods, and families. From the individual to the international, municipal government is the level of government that most affects our lives, which is what makes serving on City Council such a rewarding job.
To returning Councillors, congratulations on your re-election. The wide margins of victory for all of you speak to the confidence that your residents have in your leadership. In particular I would note Councillor Prowse’s results, being the first Councillor in fourteen years to be acclaimed. I’m delighted that so many members of the previous council were returned. For the past four years, Barrie was served by a team of energetic, visionary, funny people whose professionalism was noted not only by our voters but by the media and residents of other communities around the Province. I know that professionalism will continue for the next four years.
To the new Councillors, I want to say welcome and congratulations. With more than 60 services, a budget in excess of $300M, and a plethora of legislation, regulation, and by-laws to learn, it can be a daunting task to enter municipal office. I would echo the words of Councillor Alex Nuttall, who said last week that he entered office a politician, and in office, became a public servant. I know you will rise to that challenge, representing your residents in all the everyday tasks of local government, while maintaining vision for the future of the city. Your election results are a vote of confidence in your abilities. Welcome to City Council.
Now to the tasks ahead.
My goal for Barrie is to be a complete community. This should be a city that serves as the economic and social capital of Central Ontario; a city that benefits by its ties to the Greater Golden Horseshoe, but is not dependent on them; a city that our kids see as a place of opportunity; and a city that cares for its people.
To accomplish this goal, Barrie needs change. Despite much progress, both as a community and as a corporation, Barrie needs to continue to change how it does business. Internally, our services need to be modernized, both to make them more efficient and cost-effective, and to constantly strive to improve the quality of customer service to the public and to the business community.
In the broader community, the City must lead the transition of our economy to one based on entrepreneurialism and added value. This means working with local business owners to support their expansion in our community, expanding post-secondary education, and providing public services that are not average or passable, but superior.
Already, some of this change is evident: from the renewed strength in our downtown core, to the lights going back on at some of our long-vacant factories, to the expansion of our hospital and college, to the expansion of our largest employers, such as Napoleon/Wolf Steel, to the investment commitment of Laurentian University to a satellite university campus. But there’s much more to be done to reach our goals.
Entrepreneurism runs in our veins here. The City is and can be an enabler for startups and small and medium size enterprises. Increasingly, our downtown is an incubator for creative sector companies. The City should back this, for example, by working with downtown building owners to help provide parking, by making it easier to get licenses to open new businesses, and by working with Georgian College’s entrepreneurship centre and the Greater Barrie Enterprise Centre to expand services for new companies.
Our economic development efforts should be a “made in Barrie” solution. Helping companies expand produces far more jobs, with far more stable economic growth, than recruitment alone. We need to leverage new sectors, such as data storage, security and management. We need to help our companies expand their physical plant more easily, and the City can play an organized role in helping Barrie-built products and services reach new markets, both within Canada and around the world. Our new Business Ambassador program, driven by the business community itself, will be very important in this regard.
And it is time for Barrie to have its own university campus. Today, with companies starting and growing daily, we need to focus on creating more stable, well-paid jobs. We need to continue to support a stand-alone campus of Laurentian University in our City, as complementary to our renowned Georgian College, because we can only get stronger with both. A stand-alone university campus will create jobs, stimulate creativity and innovation with our local industries and our social sector, attract research investments and academic conferences. It will help retain our best talent right here in our city and attract bright students from all over the country and the world. I will continue to advocate for that key missing piece of our city by continuing to working together with Laurentian University and the Province.
Training the labour force of tomorrow also need to focus on an expanded role for education in the skilled trades. In 2013, the Train in Trades initiative was very successful in bringing together our manufacturing community and the education system to showcase careers in the trades to thousands of residents, particularly highschool students. This initiative will continue in 2015 and should become a central part of our labour market strategy.
It’s also time to change our thinking about our city centre. Our Community Improvement Plan for downtown Barrie, The Next Wave, is ten years old. It has served the city well, leveraging private investment through incentives and grants. But the underlying thinking for our city centre has changed. We need to consider our core as not just a commercial district to be beautified, but as an economic engine that is the civic, cultural, entertainment, and commercial heart of our city – the Creative Hub of Barrie. And we need to think of it as a residential neighbourhood as well.
We’ve done some great planning for our City Centre but what is needed now is a stronger focus on action – co-ordinated, thoughtful action that puts some key principles first: creating great public spaces, supporting business growth, protecting our heritage, but embracing our future. The past ten years have shown that downtown revitalization, driven by new thinking, can be successful. It’s time to expand our thinking from just the historic downtown to the entire city core – Allandale, Bradford Street, the Downtown, and our waterfront.
What is needed is a new Action Plan – to renew, reinvigorate and realign our efforts, and most of all – to get the job done. We don’t need more plans on shelves. We need decisions, actions, and investment – all guided by a new philosophy for core revitalization – that can spread our success to the west end of downtown and beyond.
One of those actions should be to convert our bus terminal to a fine food market. In Byward in Ottawa, in St. Lawrence in Toronto, in downtown London, markets are the anchors of vibrant districts that are tourist attractions and great neighbourhoods. Markets are, after all, the reason cities exist in the first place. Working with the BIA, I would like to see this become a reality.
And action, not just rhetoric, needs to be our response to the affordable housing crisis in Barrie. Rents in Barrie are the 7th highest in Canada, the wait list for social housing is more than 1,500 households long, and low-income seniors face a wait of up to five years for a unit. This isn’t acceptable in a modern, Canadian city.
I want to set three targets. First, I would challenge us as Council to pass the new Affordable Housing Strategy within our first 100 days in office. This strategy will require bold and even controversial steps to succeed; we must have the will to see that through. Second, I challenge us to achieve the construction of 300 new units of affordable housing during our term, through a combination of public and private sector development. Third, I believe this Council can and should support the Pathways initiative, to centralize and expand support for the marginalized in Barrie.
This Council will also face strategic challenges that force us to change our thinking. For example, adapting our infrastructure to climate change is no longer the stuff of science fiction; it is a reality – ask the residents of Burlington, Toronto, or Calgary. We need to seriously look at the City’s resiliency and sustainability in a completely new way.
And our population is aging; the number of senior citizens in Barrie will more than triple in the next 20 years. Shifting our service priorities and planning for an aging community should be about much more than programming, it needs to be reflected in fundamental changes to how we build our neighbourhoods, public spaces, and health care.
But the last challenge I want to address is financial. While municipal finance is immensely complex, the major fiscal challenge facing our city is straightforward – we are spending less than half what is needed on repairing our existing infrastructure, which has led to an infrastructure deficit. In addition, we have projects that should have been undertaken years ago that need to get done – completing Ferndale Drive, widening and urbanizing Essa Road and Huronia Road, and fixing far-below standard streets like Duckworth are just a few examples.
Keeping taxes down while meeting this challenge will require the kind of service reforms I talked about earlier – using new technology and new approaches to service delivery to become more efficient. But it will also require a conscious commitment to make investments where they are needed, in our roads, our water and wastewater systems, renewal of parks and buildings, in social housing.
These are some of the challenges our Council will need to face. To meet these challenges – for Barrie to truly become what it can be – Council will need the foresight and political will to make decisions that may not have immediate benefits, or may even be unpopular. We are called on not only to make the decisions of today but more importantly to build the future. I’ve often thought that is the mark of true leadership and that is the standard that I expect to be held to, and I hope it’s the standard that our residents will hold Council to.
Hazel McCallion once said that Council must remember that they represent “the silent majority”. Having spoken with the silent majority on their doorsteps throughout the fall election campaign, I know that people expect some straightforward things: value for their tax dollars, reliable, high quality public services, and for their concerns to be listened to. But in addition to these basic things, what characterizes truly excellent leadership is vision, to be willing to endorse positive change: to be bold, in the words of Willard Kinzie.
The last thing I want to say is that the fact that I even have the opportunity to be here is because of the support of an incredible campaign team. Many of the members of the Committee to Elect the Mayor who were the architects and chief bottle-washers of the campaign are here tonight, and to Tom, Laurie, Marg, Andrew, Aylan, Hank, Chris, Charlene, Kristian, Linda, Sherry, Mike, Michael, Quito, Sean, and Allan – thank you, thank you, thank you.
I owe my parents Bob and Joan so much; most importantly, my values – among them a deep belief in Barrie and a desire to serve the community. They are themselves two people who have worked tirelessly to build a stronger city and I am very proud of both of them. Thank you Mom and Dad.
I am so lucky to have a smart, funny, beautiful, creative, and wonderfully supportive wife, Jennifer. And despite being half me, I also have a smart, funny, beautiful, creative, and wonderfully supportive five-year-old daughter, Cassie. They are the best part of every day for me and their patience, understanding, and support of Daddy’s job is boundless. Thank you Cassie, and thank you Jenn.
Last, to the people of Barrie. I can only say a very heartfelt thank you for your confidence in me. I hope that my actions over the next four years are representative of the trust you’ve put in me as your Mayor. I am deeply honoured and humbled to have the opportunity to lead this incredible city, and for that I am grateful to you every single day. Thank you very much.
Well, I’m back! Thanks to all those who are following this blog despite the many months of hiatus. I also want to say a thank you on here to all those who supported me during the recent election. It was a historic night on many fronts. I’m delighted to have so many returning Councillors as well as three energetic new members and am looking forward to this term of Council.
Lots to talk about – jobs reports, transit ridership numbers were both released in the last couple days and showed amazing strength. At the same time, demand remains high for social services, showing income polarization continues (or at least, that cost of living continues to make it difficult to make ends meet). This points to one of the big issues for this new Council – affordable housing.
I’ve had a request for some more visual and video content on this blog. That’s a great idea. I’ll be doing more of that this term.
My inaugural speech addressed some of the challenges I see ahead – will post that here shortly too.