Burlington Mayor’s State of the city address

Delivered at a Burlington Chamber of Commerce Breakfast

January 20, 2011

I have to tell you….the first time I became aware of this event was September 22, at the Chamber Lunch where General Rick Hillier was guest speaker.

A PowerPoint presentation announced the Mayor’s State of the City Address would take place on January 20th. It was a very sobering moment during the campaign as I remember thinking, THERE IS A GOOD CHANCE I could be the one delivering that address.

I have so much respect for both the current and past leadership as well as the members of the Burlington Chamber of Commerce.

During the late 80’s and early 90’s, I had the opportunity to serve on the Chamber Board as Chair of the Political Action Committee, Chair of the Financial Trade Show Committee as well as a member of the Career Education Committee.

During the election campaign, I would often think of how I would be spending my time if I was not successful. In addition to being back full time in business, I would definitely want to play a meaningful role in this organization.

I am honoured to be able to present a State of the City address this morning.

My first draft simply stated “things are great…any questions”………. however, I expect that everyone here is looking for a little more insight than that.

My remarks today will focus on the current State of our City; what my Vision is for the City; and a five-step action plan to achieve these objectives.

When you leave this morning, I hope you remember just four things:

  • My Vision for Burlington is a place that is viewed as affordable, inclusive and complete.
  • I will lead our City by listening and learning from others and wherever possible building consensus.
  • Working together, we will tackle the challenges ahead with a measured approach that balances our wants, our needs and our ability to pay.
  • What you see is what you get. Expect me to be honest, direct, clear and enthusiastic. A Mayor that values gaining and maintaining your trust and confidence.

Now a little bit of background about me.

  • I speak honestly and directly. I haven’t yet learned the art of the non-answer.
  • The Pan Am/Ticat Aldershot stadium discussion provided me with great on the job training but I still have a lot to learn.   
  • I am a sports fan and love going to live events especially NASCAR races. I go to several races a year with some long time friends and don’t see that changing.
  • I was a hardcore runner and ran on average 35 miles per week for 20 years and completed five full marathons. However I am now happy to get to the “Y” 3-4 times a week.
  • Many people know that Cheryl and I have seven daughters between us.
  •  And oh yes, I recently changed jobs.

Current State of the City

As you all know in this room, we have all just come through a global recession. Canada has weathered the storm very well. While Ontario has experienced challenges especially in the manufacturing sector and Burlington has experienced some of this, we have come through the recession in good shape.

Our local unemployment rate peaked in 2009 at 9.2% and is now reported at 7.6%. This is higher than we would like to see, however the trend is going in the right direction.

The Burlington Economic Development Corporation (BEDC) reports that we have added 852 new jobs in Burlington, up from 577 in 2009. We remain prosperous.

Burlington has the 16th highest family income in Canada and remains more affordable than Oakville, Newmarket, Mississauga, Milton, Hamilton, Toronto, and Richmond Hill.

At both City and Regional Council, we like to talk about complete communities and 2010 saw progress in this area.

The City has started setting aside funds to support the $312 million Joseph Brant Memorial Hospital re-development and expansion.

The Burlington Performing Arts Centre that is on time and on budget will be open in the fall of this year. This is a significant addition to the cultural fabric of the whole city and will provide significant positive impact to the continuing development of our downtown.

Individuals and corporations have contributed over 10.3 million dollars toward the capital cost of the facility. The facility is governed by an independent board composed of a broad cross section of people including entrepreneurs, business owners, executives, as well as people with experience in the arts.

A new twin pad opened at Appleby Ice Centre in the fall of 2010, providing continuing opportunities for youth and adults to remain active. The Users have funded a large part of the project.

In 2010, the DeGroote School of Business of McMaster University opened the new Ron Joyce Centre in Burlington. This outstanding facility is the centre for the DeGroote MBA program.

Also, Charles Sturt University, one of Australia’s largest publically funded universities has expanded its Ontario Campus in Burlington to offer Degrees in Education, Science, and Business with plans to add Degrees in Nursing and other fields and to grow into a full-fledged multi-disciplinary University. 

Yes, there has been capital spending, however because of the recession, much of the spending was at costs lower than originally budgeted. 

One of the best times for the public sector to build is during an economic downturn when resources are available and costs are reduced. As an example, the projected cost of the Appleby Arena dropped by over $3.0 million with the recession and Performing Arts Centre was able to include many important components to the building that we originally thought would be deferred into the future. 

Federal and provincial stimulus dollars have helped this City and province manage through the recession.

In total, the City received some $22.4 million in Senior Government Funding through various stimulus programs. This stimulus funding provided for among others:

  • Appleby Arena
  • New dressing rooms at Nelson Arena
  • Paving of multi-use pathways which are seeing increased use
  • Northeast Burlington Fire Station # 8
  • New Transit Operations Centre

In addition, at the Regional level we received $90 million towards the upgrade and expansion of the Skyway Wastewater facility on the Beachway. Not very exciting, but a very important investment in our Regional infrastructure.

Traffic is being improved with the King Road Grade Separation and the Waterdown Road Interchange.

Our City also saw some key improvements in Public Transit.

The Presto fare payment system was introduced in May this year and will ultimately improve the usability of our system and connect Burlington’s transit system with the GTA network.

Burlington Transit ridership increased by 5.4% in 2010 and the introduction of low floor fully accessible buses has dramatically improved accessibility.

The Burlington Public Library is reaching customers in new ways and has put access to the Library in the palm of your hand with the City’s first mobile APP.

Our best practices and outstanding staff were recognized this year with a number of awards and honours.

The City continues to be an innovative municipal leader.

City Finances

I think it appropriate to also speak to the financial status of the City itself.

Based on my education and experience I’d give us a B+.

Taxes are comparable with other communities. Our balance sheet has a little more debt than I would like to see and we have seen a moderate deterioration in asset maintenance spending. 

The City has $2.0 billion in fair market value assets. Roads and facilities are the bulk of the assets. We need to spend about 2% per year of fair market value just to protect and maintain these assets. We have not been doing that.

Municipal councils throughout Canada have similar challenges and have to juggle priorities and balance the need for infrastructure renewal, with additional services and other community needs.

Over the last four years the City portion of property taxes increased by 29%.

I have set a target of 10% over the next four years and I want to keep this number a priority in our civic agenda.

I’d like to talk a little bit about why 10%.

  • First, we need to set targets that are meaningful and achievable and I believe that this target is both.
  • Second, I believe that it is time to review our services and operating structure. Our operating structure has been relatively static for 15 plus years and the City has changed in culture, size, demographics, development profile and needs.

It is my observation that despite the tax rate increases that we have experienced, council continues to ask staff to do more with less and this cannot continue. We need to take a different approach.

  • Thirdly, the City has to think long term about its human resources. Over the next four years we have a number of staff retiring. If we want the right people, the City should be an attractive place to work and build a career. It is in all our best interests.
  • Fourth, I believe that the City has to review its processes and its use of technology and communications tools to be more productive and more effective.
  • Lastly, I want to restore a culture at the City of Burlington where Council, Staff and Community are working together to fulfill the long term vision of the city.

I believe that our circumstances call for an focused, collaborative and measured approach with the objective being an updated City Hall operation which deals with 21st century issues using 21st century technology, people and processes and which demonstrates the ability to operate within a sustainable economic plan.

As we move forward together we have some key challenges:

  • Burlington is now growing more slowly than any other community in the GTA and will see less revenue as a result.

We will have to approach City operations and services in a different way.

  • Burlington’s demographics are changing. Burlington is soon expected to have 20% of its population at retirement age or older.

These key issues lead us to the key questions that we as a community have to address:

  • How do we live within our means with slower growth and a changing demographic profile?
  • How do we re-align the City’s services to meet the needs and priorities of the community?
  • How do we keep a motivated professional staff in place at the City and deal with the costs?
  • How do we support and grow our local economy to maintain our quality of life?

Some thoughts on City Issues of the Day

Community Engagement: We have a very engaged community with an abundance of service groups, special interest groups, volunteer sports groups, foundations and fundraising organizations. That said, we can do a better job getting the views of our citizens.

During my first term as a Ward Councillor I conducted several leading edge community consultation processes. These were very effective and helpful and I believe that this type of engagement is an example of ways to improve our connection with the community.

Downtown and the Waterfront: We have an excellent Downtown / Waterfront Plan which was developed with extensive public consultation and included input from over 1400 citizens.

 I plan to revisit it through a public symposium, and update it to ensure it continues to reflect a 10-20 year community vision. We also have to expand this neighborhood approach to other areas of the City.

The Pier: The new Council has spent 14 hours in briefings on this issue and is united in our resolve to complete this project. We will fix this as quickly and as cost effectively as possible. 

Thinking of community-building brings to mind a recent inspiring speech by Barack Obama last week.

Some of the themes spoke to me and I’d like to share with you now.

–          We need to keep the ‘civil’ in civil society.

–          We need to be more respectful towards others, and rediscover the virtue of humility and modesty in private and public life.

–          We need less ego. In City-building, we need more ‘we’ not ‘me’.

–          We need to accept that we live in a complex world. The challenges we face are complex.

–          The truth is not always black and white.

–          Solutions to every problem are not always quick, easy, simple or even possible.

–          We need to listen better.

–          We need to be willing to work with others to achieve agreement, even if it means compromise.

–          We need to accept that a meaningful community debate means sometimes hearing what isn’t popular. Achieving good public policy is most often a messy process.

–          We need to have the courage to share our ideas with one another and encourage others to contribute and improve on these ideas.

A Vision of Burlington

So it’s fair to ask, what is my Vision of the City, and how will we achieve it together?

I feel we should continue to strive to make Burlington an affordable, inclusive, complete community.

Affordable so new families can move here and seniors can stay in their community. Inclusive and complete communities offer an attractive quality of life.

It’s time to take a regional view of the place we call home. Let’s appreciate and embrace the amenities, services and facilities next door as part of our unique Quality of Life.

McMaster, a university ranked in the top one percent of comprehensive universities globally is a 10 minute drive away and we have easy access to Mohawk and Sheridan Colleges.

We have an emerging technology centre in Kitchener-Waterloo an hour away with one of the most successful technology companies in the world.

We also have a world recognized wine district in Niagara.

And Burlington sits in the epicenter of all these amenities and attractions.

My Vision for the City also rests on a foundation of entrepreneurship and innovation.

Enterprise and the amazing contribution business create through wealth-generation, jobs and prosperity is what will help keep Burlington an affordable, inclusive and complete community. The Burlington business community must continue to thrive for all of us to prosper.

So what will Burlington look like 25 years from now?


–          A city of about 193,000 nestled on the lake with an escarpment and a rural backyard.

–          A city with a strong local economy which allows more people to work close to home.

–          A public transportation network which connects Burlington with the GTHA and allows us all to move around better and preserve the environment.

–          Increased access to lifelong learning opportunities so that our community can compete and thrive in a global economy.

–          An inclusive community which provides for youth and seniors and is a tolerant and cultural oasis in the region.

–          A beautiful and well-maintained city with unique and diverse neighbourhoods that are pedestrian and cycle friendly.

–          A community that values and achieves sustainability through clearly defined ecological and environmental practices

To achieve this Vision I’m proposing a five-step action plan.

  1. We need a New Strategic Planning process for the community. Council will be defining a very different process that will provide all citizens a variety of opportunities to provide input into the future of our city. The result will be a more meaningful and measureable civic strategic plan.


  1.  I am proposing to start a new relationship with our community stakeholders with the Mayor’s Community Roundtable. We will have our first conversation next week. The 25 or so Community leaders attending represent a broad cross section of the community through their members, congregations and participants.


  1. I will be introducing a series of lectures leading up to our next Official Plan review to inspire Burlington to look at ways of changing and improving our quality of life.


  1. We need to support efforts of the BEDC and the Chamber and others to bring new business to our community and to help existing businesses be successful. Burlington needs to be open for Business including not-for-profit, co-ops and other forms of emerging social entrepreneurship.


  1. We will create a 4 year financial plan to maintain a manageable level of taxation and live within our means while delivering the services the community wants and this plan will be sustainable in the long term.

In summary, we live in a prosperous caring community blessed with a tremendous natural environment. We have the opportunity to live an urban, suburban or a rural lifestyle. We have the infrastructure and the services needed to provide for the community and most importantly we have a community of citizens that show their commitment every day to our city and the people that live in it. Our opportunities are many and it is up to all of us to build our community to care for those around us. I have complete confidence that we can do this together.

Thank You.

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