And here’s a 2017 retrospective…only a week or so late

We had my 2018 levee on Saturday, and we had put together a quick slideshow of significant moments in 2017.  I know we’ve just finished the season for “Best of 2017” stuff, but, check it out anyway.  A lot happened.

2017 Year in Review

New Year’s Message – 2018

Overdue to be posted for sure but…ICYMI…

 

Those looking back on 2017 from a distance will likely remember this as a tumultuous year for the United States; a year when social media shaped society far more than any point in the past; a year of lost musical legends and the realization that some legends need retelling; a time of increasing prosperity but intensifying polarization.

For Barrie this was a year of records set, both for better and for worse. In March, house prices spiked to an all-time high of some $600,000 for an average single detached home. We became the third most expensive city in Canada in which to rent an apartment, after only Vancouver and Toronto. Our unemployment rate dipped to an almost impossibly low 3.4% in November, the lowest ever recorded by StatsCan for Barrie.

Signs of tremendous strength in our local economy. Yet the rapid rise in the cost of housing put unprecedented pressure on household budgets, from working families to those struggling to make rent. And the strength of those job numbers hides the more precarious nature of work, and how quickly things can change in today’s economy.

This year will also likely be remembered for the completion (at last) of the waterfront in Barrie. An expanded Centennial Park, nearly doubled in size, with a boardwalk, trails, open lawns, a new ice rink and basketball courts. A new transient marina for tourists, complete with a new landmark donated by the Rotary Club, a Victorian clock. Thanks to the Downtown Barrie BIA, 2017 saw significant progress on the redevelopment of Memorial Square, including the relocation of the Cenotaph to a more prominent location. And on the south shore, Military Heritage Park pays homage to Canada’s military history and contributions to peace, with gardens and landscapes that evoke the battlefields on which Canadians served. This was the City’s legacy project for Canada 150; it was only possible because of the vision of those who created Barrie’s beautiful waterfront in the first place. It’s a democratic place – anyone and everyone is welcome – it belongs to the people.

In addition to these high profile changes, it’s the changes in our community that aren’t as visible which are perhaps the most significant. The census data released this year told us Barrie is becoming more diverse, with a wider range of jobs, a broader mix of housing types, and yes, a wider range in incomes. This will mean we need to do more to support the least fortunate in our community. These are the long term trends that will shape our city in the years to come, and the ones that bring both the greatest challenges and opportunities for the future.

I wish everyone the very best for a safe and healthy 2018.

Which Ontario Cities Have the Most Restaurants?

I’ve been thinking that restaurants are an interesting indicator of a community’s character.  Having a lot of restaurants can indicate a lot of different things – strong tourism sector, a highly mobile population, a role as a regional centre for the food and drink sector.  Kind of an interesting question to wonder if Toronto’s urbanity actually translates into more restaurants, or whether that’s just an assumption made by urbanites…

Being pathological about data and oversimplification, I decided to measure it by creating a really simple metric – restaurants per 1,000 population, using 2016 census data for the 27 cities in Ontario with populations over 100,000.  Call it the Urban Foodie Index.  To measure the number of restaurants – this could be the contentious part – I used TripAdvisor.com and simply captured the number of restaurants listed in that City.  Read below if you’re interested in my take on possible shortcomings of that data source. Long story short, I think the data is good but not perfect.

All that said…the results were interesting. Turns out, Toronto’s number of restaurants per capita is below that of many other cities.  Topping the table…Windsor, with the most restaurants per capita of all large cities, followed by Kingston, Waterloo, and St. Catherine’s.  Barrie rings in at #5, just ahead of Toronto at 6th.  Interestingly, the three cities with the least restaurants per capita were Milton, Ajax, and Brampton.  Here’s a nifty bar chart and the table with the data.

UFI Chart July 2017UFI Table July 2017

Many reasons I could speculate for these results.  Cities that have strong tourism sectors did predictably well.  Windsor has a casino and is adjacent to a US city of 2M people.  Kingston and Ottawa have strong tourism sectors, whereas many of the cities in the lower half of the table are less of a tourism destination.  In defense of that assumption, I checked Niagara Falls (439 restos, pop 88,071 = UFI of 4.98) and Collingwood (77 restos, pop 21,793=UFI of 3.53).  Both big tourist towns, both had high scores.

Also, I think central place theory comes into effect.  Even some of the more prosperous suburban GTA cities did not have a high score (Oakville, Markham for e.g.).  But cities like London, Kingston, and Barrie did well.  These are cities that are the urban centres in relatively populous surrounding small town/rural areas; the obvious theory here would be that suburbs tend to “leak” customers to neighbouring larger urban centres, whereas standalone urban centres are home to stronger regional clusters.  That said – Vaughan bucked the trend as the only GTA city with an above-average UFI outside of Toronto itself, although Burlington scored at exactly the Ontario average.

Anyway – this post really tells you two things:  1.  The cities we might assume are restaurant sector powerhouses may not actually be, and 2. I had too much spare time this weekend.

 

NOTES ON METHODOLOGY:

I stress tested the data a little, using my home city of Barrie.  Checking the maps, it appears the listings corresponded roughly to the municipal boundary, although there were a few exceptions.  Four restaurants out of 365 were outside the city boundary, one by a matter of meters, three by several km.  That said, I would assume these exceptions would likely distort results similarly for other cities on the list (I could well be wrong).  I also found one restaurant that is closed (very recently) and one that seems like it never opened.  That’s a pretty low error rate.

That said, there are definitely restaurants missing from Tripadvisor.  Most chains like Tim Horton’s seemed to only have some of their locations listed (Barrie has four AvocoBar outlets for example, Tripadvisor only lists three).  Again, one has to assume since the information is basically crowdsourced, this underrepresentation would apply equally to all cities.  But clearly another source of potential error.

Last disclaimer – there are probably lots of other sources of error I haven’t mentioned.  That said, I claim no rigour or scientific method to any of this, it is mostly for amusement.

5 Things to Celebrate About Barrie on the 150th Canada Day

 

  1. Steel frames are going up – Why is this important? Steel frames are the basis for commercial, institutional, and industrial buildings in Canada. But it’s what goes in them that makes the difference: jobs, labs, classrooms, clinics, services. Today in Barrie there are steel frames everywhere, here’s some examples:
  2. The Economy is Booming – Employment in Barrie is at 94.6%. Social service caseloads have dropped by 20% in the past 18 months. The City has sold out its supply of industrial land. Housing starts are up, although Barrie is still in the midst of a supply crisis that is driving rents and sale prices to unprecedented levels. But there’s little question the local economy has strengthened in the past few years and is expanding quickly again.
    • Mapleview/Veterans – An enormous new 200,000SF industrial building – one of the largest industrial buildings in the City is under construction
    • Welham Road – Innovative Automation’s new 60,000 SF manufacturing plant is coming along quickly
    • Georgian College – The Centre for Advanced Research is under construction, with labs and classrooms for university-level engineering programs
    • Gallie Court – A new medical office building is being built across from RVH
  3. Most of Downtown is thriving – Storefront occupancies are at a record high, and patio life is thriving this summer. Office space on upper floors is slowly being renovated and new companies are choosing the core. The bus terminal is planned to become a new public market, including a new pavilion for the Barrie Farmer’s Market (which has moved out onto the road on Mulcaster Street and is itself thriving and awesome). Georgian College is bringing hundreds of students to a new digital media campus at Ross/Bayfield, opening Sept 2017.
  4. Public Spaces are growing – It’s been a long time coming, but the all-new expanded public waterfront is starting to open up, with the new marina and docks open now, new landmarks such as the Rotary clock, an improved playground, and new attractions now open at the Beach. Meridian Place and the new bandshell is underway. In a few weeks’ time, the expanded Centennial Park will open, with 5 more acres of parkland, more parking, new separate walking and bike paths, and large new lawns and areas to just sit and enjoy the jewel of the city, Kempenfelt Bay.
  5. The vision for a Just Society is getting ever closer – In 2016, Barrie was one of only two cities in Canada to have zero hate crimes reported to police. The vision of inclusion and diversity laid out in the Charter of Rights is slowly progressing, year by year, as Canada tackles difficult questions of inequality and seeks to remedy them.  And we have seen new educational and cultural initiatives supporting reconciliation of indigenous and non-indigenous Canadians – from Springwater Park to the Maclaren Art Centre to the first pow-wow in Innisfil, to the BNFC’s first National Indigenous Day event at Barrie City Hall.  Reconciliation can only follow speaking hard truths, and there are no short cuts, but it feels like we’re starting down the right path when both leaders and grass roots initiatives from both sides reach out.

Most of all, especially as we look around the world at other nations, we need to remind ourselves and celebrate that we live in a democracy where freedom, diversity, a high standard of living, and political expression are possible.  These freedoms were earned by prior generations through two world wars and constant effort to make forward progress as a society over the decades.  We can continue that legacy by committing ourselves to continue to strengthen Canada in the years to come.

After a year away…the Progress Breakfast 2017

So, stopped blogging for a while. In reality I’ve struggled to find time for any in depth writing, and some of what I was able to do shifted to Facebook, which I have a love-hate relationship with…in any event, herewith my presentation from the 2017 Progress Breakfast last week.  There was an incredible opening speaker, Nicole Verkindt of CBC’s Next Gen Dragon’s Den, who talked about the path to success for young entrepreneurship and the impact of disruptive technology on just about everything. My talk was both a State of the City update (first ten slides) and then a discussion about shifting service delivery models to being proactive instead of reactive…and leveraging the sharing economy.  here’s the deck:

Mayors-Progress-Breakfast-2017_FINAL

And I do plan to start writing back here now and again…

 

 

Progress Breakfast 2016

For all those who couldn’t be there today, I started my day with a speech to about 275 people at Liberty North.  The topic was innovation in the public sector – I wanted to show some of the examples of the innovative ways Barrie is making service delivery more efficient and effective.  But, it being the annual Progress Breakfast, I also did a “state of the city” address to start with…so the first 8 slides give you a bit of a snapshot of the city.

Progress-Breakfast-2016-FINAL

 

Five Year Report

Hard to believe it’s been five years.  As we close the door on 2015 and look ahead to 2016, here’s a five year report on our top priorities, and how our community has changed.  Thank you for the honour of serving you as your Mayor.

 

 

On Refugees, Terror, and Canada’s Response

Been a long time since I’ve blogged.  So, so much I could write about locally, and I’ll get back to that, but I wanted to post my thoughts on Paris and the questions about refugees.

If we allow Paris to harden our hearts against refugees – to allow ISIS to dictate to us who we will and won’t be humane and charitable to – then we let them win.  The objective of terrorism is fear; to use fear to push us off the ideals that groups like ISIS detest – freedom, tolerance, and an open society.  And so I will continue my work to support the Syrian family of 8 – with 6 children under 13 – that we are sponsoring to come to Canada.  And I support the government’s call to bring more refugees here.  They should not move so quickly that they are ill-prepared or skip any security checks or basic planning.  Canadians will forgive the government if they miss their quota by Dec 31st, if the effort is being made to do it properly.  But Canada as a country has always helped those in need, and we should again.

It is part of the responsibility of a civilized, tolerant, and prosperous nation to both give refuge to the desperate and defend the innocent.  This may sound too black and white but it really is to me; I am Canadian and this is what I believe.

Six Months In

The first six months of a Council term are always busy, but this has been a period of unprecedented activity for Barrie Council.

In December, following inauguration, Council set 4 Strategic priorities for our term.   They are:  A Vibrant Business Environment, Responsible Spending, An Inclusive Community, and Well Planned Transportation.

Since then, the following matters have been dealt with by Council:

  • The 2015 budget included an increased focus on renewal of infrastructure.   Council established a new Dedicated Infrastructure Renewal Fund – these are funds that will be spent on roads, bridges, sidewalks, pipes, parks, and all other city infrastructure, in order to address the backlog of state-of-good repair projects that have gone uncompleted for far too long.  This funding will also reduce reliance on debt by some $252M over the next 20 years, saving residents millions in interest payments and reducing the burden on future taxpayers by doing work now instead of at great cost later.
  • Work began on Essa Road and proceeds through the final weeks of the Lakeshore Drive project, Capital plan also includes a substantial expansion in road resurfacing and reconstruction work on many roads that badly need it, such as Ferndale, Morrow Road, Bayview, Duckworth, and many others
  • EA’s were passed for Duckworth Street (Bell Farm Road to St. Vincent), Dunlop Street (Toronto Street to Mulcaster Street), Brunton Park (Lovers Creek Slope stabilization improvements)
  • Feasibility Study completed for Year Round Downtown Market
  • A New Waterfront and Marina plan was passed by Council
  • The Sustainable Waste Management strategy was put into place, with resulting increases in green bin use
  • The City’s technology overhaul kicked off, with the ERP project working to map and automate thousands of manual processes
  • A new plan to use our downtown parking lots to spur revitalization and improve the parking budget was passed
  • The Allandale Station site was improved and the plan for final fit out and completion was passed by Council
  • Barrie is one of six Ontario cities working to merge their electric companies, to create the largest municipally owned utility in the province
  • A new energy savings plan will cut costs for taxpayers – through in part a project to convert all 11,000 streetlights in Barrie to LED’s, saving taxpayers more than $2M a year in energy costs – a great example of innovation delivering savings.
  • The new Affordable Housing Strategy was passed in the first 100 days, including 14 actions to begin increasing the supply of affordable housing, and Budget 2015 provides funding toward 54 unit affordable housing development on Brooks Street at the IOOF campus in Allandale.
  • Farmer’s Market – Wednesdays at City Hall plus study of the Transit terminal- committee formed

In our broader community:

  • Invest Barrie has begun expanded Business Retention & Expansion efforts through Phase 1 of a formal employer outreach program.
  • The City has seen job growth and new employers.  A new 75,000SF manufacturing plant by armored car manufacturer Streit Inc. coming to south end of Barrie, and major industrial employers such as JEBCO and Napoleon continue to expand.
  • The City was not chosen for a university campus – a major missed opportunity.
  • The City is working to reduce costs and become more open for business – processing time for industrial building permits continues to drop; now 1.1 months, down from 3.5 months in 2010
  • The Memorial Square/ Meridian Place project kicked off,
  • A new performance-based transit contract was put in place, and will begin July 1st.  Transit ridership was up by more than 7% year-over-year in late 2014 and early 2015.

The City also continued to grow its role as a leading municipality, regionally, provincially, and nationally:

  • The City won several awards, including:
    • The Lieutenant Governor’s Ontario Heritage Award for Excellence in Conservation for the Restoration of the Former Allandale Station
    • AMCTO Municipal Excellence Award for Zone 2 (Dawn McApline)
    • Barrie Police Services is awarded the High Five Innovation Award by Parks and Recreation Ontario (PRO).
    • AMCTO E.A. Denby Award (Accessibility- Sunnidale Park Playground Redesign)
    • NFPA 2014 Fire and Life Safety Educator of the Year, (Samantha Hoffman)
    • Environmental Services/Access Barrie- award for the Rethinking Waste animated video
    • Lifesaving Society congratulated the City of Barrie for operating the 15th largest lifesaving program, the 5th largest in a community with population between 100,000-250,000 and the 10th largest leadership training program in Ontario for 2014.
  • The City held the Central Ontario Resiliency Conference, bringing together regional and national leaders on severe weather and climate change, to look at this pressing issue.
  • City staff organized the first Ottawa advocacy day for the Large Urban Mayor’s Caucus, with dozens of meetings in Ottawa over 24 hours as well as a regular meeting of the group.

Through it all, Councillors and staff continued to use new tools and technology and work 24/7 to provide service to our residents.  Councillors answered thousands of calls and emails, held meetings in their neighbourhoods, took on issues both small and large, and planned for our future and that is the work we will continue in the months and years to come.

Statement on the University campus decision

Mayor Jeff Lehman’s Statement

 

(Barrie, ON) For five years, Barrie City Council, staff, business and community leaders and Laurentian University have been working hard to make a case for a standalone university campus in Barrie. The Ontario Liberal Party committed in the 2011 election to funding three new undergraduate campuses. A provincial request for proposals was launched in December 2013 to build capacity where student demand is strong but at the same time, where access to post-secondary education is limited.  Barrie continues to have a very strong case.

  • The Presidents and CEOs of Barrie’s largest employers have expressed their support for a campus in Barrie, through interviews and letters of support;
  • In June of 2012, more than 200 leaders from the Barrie business community joined a City-led economic strategy session called Ideas in Motion. A University was established as one of the top priorities for Barrie’s economy;
  • More than 1,500 residents signed an online petition supporting bringing a satellite campus to Barrie;
  • In September 2014, a public opinion poll of 1,000 people in Barrie indicated that 80% of respondents are supportive of the Mayor and Council of Barrie’s goal of establishing a stand-alone university campus in Barrie.

As I stated in my inaugural address in December 2014:

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.

Barrie has suffered from a four-year moratorium on new university programs while this process has played out, in the expectation that the Province would address the serious shortfall of access to university spaces for our students here by investing in our city. They failed to do this. We are the only city in the Province which has had a moratorium on new university programs.

We are extremely disappointed with the Province’s decision. Instead of investing in three campuses in areas of the Province that are underserved, one campus was approved in an area with nine other campuses within a half hour’s drive of each other.  The decision abandons our students and our business community, in Barrie, Simcoe County, and Central Ontario.

Waterloo Region, with a similar population to Simcoe County, has more than 40,000 university spaces.  In Simcoe, we have less than 3,000. Barrie is the largest census metropolitan area in Canada without a university campus, and is projected to grow by over 30% in the coming years. We are the urban growth centre of Simcoe County. Currently, 88% of university applicants from the region are forced to leave to study, and this will only get worse without a stand-alone university campus.  Our participation rate in university studies is far below the Provincial average.

This cannot be allowed to continue, regardless of this decision.  As such, I will not be taking “No” for an answer.

So what happens now?

While we have not been successful in the Provincial Major Capital Expansion (MCE) process, we assume that the four-year moratorium on new university programs in Barrie is lifted.  A vision of university education has been co-developed by Laurentian, the city, our community, and industry that would help Barrie thrive into the future. Laurentian University now needs to be able to grow in our community, which I will continue to fight for.  Georgian College also needs to be allowed to expand degree programs in Barrie.

In short, if the Province will not help us with this growth, we will have to do it ourselves. Barrie needs and deserves this investment in our economy and in our young people.

 

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