State of the City

2020 State of the City Address

Mayor Cam Guthrie – Friday, February 7, 2019


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Good morning and welcome to my annual State of the City.

Territorial Acknowledgment:

As we gather, we are reminded that Guelph is situated on treaty land that is steeped in rich indigenous history and home to many First Nations, Inuit and Métis people today.

As a City we have a responsibility for the stewardship of the land on which we live and work.

Today we acknowledge the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation of the Anishinaabek Peoples on whose traditional territory we are meeting.

I want to thank Shakiba and the entire team at the Chamber of Commerce for doing such a great job hosting this event.

As we all know, Shakiba started as the Chamber’s President and CEO this year. I believe you’re about 6 months into the role. So I know you’re not exactly “new” to the job – but since this is my first State of the City with you at the helm, I want to take this opportunity to officially welcome you. I am thrilled to work with you on all of our shared goals for the city.

I want to thank the Chamber for donating a portion of today’s ticket sales to benefit the Guelph Humane Society. As many of you know, the Humane Society is building a new headquarters that is going to make a huge difference in the care they can provide to animals in our city. They have an information table in the back, and I encourage you to check it out.

I want to take a moment to recognize the members of Council in attendance:

  • Mark MacKinnon
  • Rodrigo Goller
  • Cathy Downer
  • Dan Gibson
  • Dominique O’Rourke
  • Leanne Piper

I also want to acknowledge our Chief Administrative Officer, Scott Stewart. Council named Scott our CAO last summer, and he is doing an incredible job.

I’ll also acknowledge the City’s Executive Team: Colleen Clack, Kealy Dedman, and Trevor Lee.

And last but certainly not least – I want to thank everyone in the room for coming. What an incredibly engaged business community we have in Guelph.

I say this every year, and it’s worth repeating: I am the one who gets to stand at the podium and provide the State of the City update. But everything you’ll hear about this morning is a team effort. It involves members of Council, Executive Team, staff, businesses, and the efforts of the broader community. So behind everything I’m saying this morning, there is an unspoken “thank you” to the many hands that are helping to move our city forward.

Before the New Year, I was contacted by a few reporters working on articles about the “top stories of the decade.”

There were many questions sent, but there was one that gave me pause. It asked, “what were you doing ten years ago, in 2010?”

That’s when it hit me – in 2010, I was elected to Guelph City Council for the first time, as a Councillor for Ward 4.

My goodness, it’s been a decade?

I remember going home that night, and the first thing I did was thank my family, who have been with me every step of the way, supporting me through all the ups and downs that public life brings.

I’d also like to thank the citizens over these last 10 years, through their votes, who offered up this opportunity to me to lead. And yes, thanks to those who didn’t vote for me too. Even when we haven’t seen eye to eye on every issue, I’ve appreciated every idea that helps to make our city better.

Many of you may have attended my State of the City in previous years. I always try to have a theme – something memorable that you can talk about back at the office, with your families or online.

Last year, I created a City Council version of the opening credits to “The Office.” The year before that, we all played a Guelph version of Monopoly. The year before that, my theme was “Guelph Proud” and we all wore “#guelphproud” buttons.

I’ve been really struggling with a theme for this year. I was admitting this problem to Katherine, who works in my office just last week and I told her “I just want my speech this year to be straight talk, to give people the facts, to be clear and focused. To have people leave the event knowing what we’ve accomplished and excited to hear my vision for our city over the upcoming year or more.”

That’s when she brilliantly said “Well Cam, it’s the year 2020! 2020 vision is about clarity. It’s about being able to see clearly – where we have been, and where we are going.” I just looked at her and said “you are brilliant!”

So this year, the year 2020, my theme is “2020 Vision.”

I’d like to begin this morning with an update of where I left off at last year’s State of the City address.

Some of you may have been here in this room for that speech.

I spoke for about 40 minutes in total. At one point, I set aside my prepared remarks for a minute and spoke from the heart about the homelessness and addictions crisis in our city. I’d like to play the clip of that moment.

Those words generated some headlines.

“I have failed as a mayor” –  not necessarily the headline I was looking for, but I’m glad I said it. It certainly got people’s attention.

As many of you know, to respond to this crisis I brought together a number of agencies and community leaders for a Mayor’s Task Force on Homelessness and Community Safety.

Guelph Today named the Task Force as the #1 top story of 2019, calling it a “shining example of how good things can get done quickly when there is focus, collaboration, and a willingness across many sectors.”

I want to show you a video about some of the members of our community who are impacted by homelessness, and how the Task Force is working to help.

I want to thank the United Way for producing that video. I encourage anyone in the room who wants to help tackle this issue to support the United Way – they are funding programs that are making a difference.

I want to thank the people who had the courage to tell their stories through the video. There is still a lot of stigma around homelessness and addiction. It takes courageous people like them to break down that stigma and remind us that these are members of our community.

And, I want to thank the many people who work hard, behind the scenes and without a lot of fanfare, to make a difference in our city. Some of them were featured in the video, but there are many more.

I have invited just some of those community champions here this morning:

  • Jan Klotz
  • Kerry Manthenga
  • Dominica McPherson
  • Adrienne Crowder
  • Gail Hoekstra
  • Julie Porter and Rachel Vear – Welcoming Streets
  • Leisha Burley – Supportive Recovery Room
  • Rayanne Thompson – Addiction Court Support Worker

Please stand to be recognized.

In the video, you saw that the Supported Recovery Room was under construction. It actually opened in November and since then, it’s provided more than 6,000 hours of safe, supportive rest and recovery support to 74 individuals.

The Welcoming Streets program has provided service to 118 people over the past 8 months, with 1,122 service interactions.

The Addiction Court Support program has provided service to 41 people, with just under 400 service interactions. 56% of people were referred to community treatment resources, and 44% were referred to residential treatment.

All of these people are getting help to change their lives for the better.

This is an incredible impact in just under one year.

I am pleased that Council approved just over $300,000 to continue the Task Force programs in 2020, and we are finalizing funding contributions from other partners as well.

But we’re not done yet. The Task Force always identified permanent supportive housing as a long-term solution to homelessness. But we also know that permanent supportive housing costs significant dollars and will take time to implement.

Next week, I am re-convening a smaller group under the umbrella of the Task Force to begin a discussion about permanent supportive housing. I am looking forward to having the Task Force spur government, agency, and private sector commitments to start building supportive housing units as soon as possible.

I want to take a moment to acknowledge the work of the County of Wellington on the housing and homelessness issue. Thanks to the efforts of the County, in partnership with the Guelph and Wellington Task Force for Poverty Elimination, we reduced chronic homelessness by 29 per cent in 2019.

Let me say that again. We have reduced chronic homelessness by 29 per cent in one year.

My message last year around the homelessness issue was a message of urgency. This year, my message is one of hope.

We are working together. We are making progress. I believe if we keep at it, we can – and we will – end homelessness in our city.

My re-election platform in 2018 talked a lot about building an even safer, stronger, and healthier community. The Mayor’s Task Force is an important component of that.

But it’s not the only one.

I have continued to be vocal about investing in “need to have” items like police and health care.

A few have said that these types on investments are inconsistent with my longstanding commitment to keeping taxes as low as possible.

But these investments are critical for a growing city like ours and cannot be overlooked.

I came across a quote from former Mayor Norm Jary that sums it up perfectly.

As most of you will know, Norm Jary was Guelph’s longest serving Mayor, occupying the mayor’s chair from 1970 until 1985. On top of that, he served as a City Councillor for an additional 21 years. He still lives in Guelph, and he turned 90 this year.

Reflecting on his time as mayor, he said: “[My goal was] a city not so expensive that nobody could afford to live in it, but not so cheap that nobody would want to live in it.”

Well said!

Police

I have always been an advocate for data-driven decision making. In Council chambers you can often hear me say “You cannot manage what you cannot measure.”

When it comes to our Police Services, the data is clear.

Our crime rate is going up.  The number of officers per 100,000 population has been going down over the last ten years. Our officers are getting burned out: medical leaves and overtime are both going up. In fact, overtime costs exceeded $2 million for the first time last year.

But even without this data, you knew there were problems.

Our community knew it.

And Council knew it too.

I am thankful, that in December, Council approved a budget needed to fund just over 30 new employees for the Guelph Police Service (including civilian and front-line officers). This is the level of staffing that is required. And yes, this was a significant cost that contributed to a larger overall budget from years past, but in my mind, this was absolutely critical to enhance the safety and security of our city.

Hospital

Data is also driving decisions around our hospital.

Guelph General Hospital is seeing a 13% increase in inpatient beds compared to just two years ago – that’s 21 more patients per day.

They are seeing 20,000 more visits to the Emergency Department than it was designed to handle. And those visits are more serious – they are seeing an increase in the most critically ill patients, and a decrease in the least ill patients.

Mental health and addictions visits have gone up by 37% over the past 4 years.

The Guelph General Hospital Board has a comprehensive plan to address these pressures.

They plan to expand the Emergency Department by 60%, adding 14 new treatment areas. Emergency mental health and addiction treatment areas will expand by 50%. New technology and equipment will ensure the highest quality of care. A renovated special care nursery will improve care for the very youngest patients – newborn babies – and their families.

While health care and hospitals are a Provincial responsibility, it is a little-known fact that the Ministry of Health funds only 90 per cent of construction costs, and does not provide any direct funding for hospital equipment. That means the remaining 10% of construction, plus all equipment costs, must be funded by the local community.

The Hospital Foundation has embarked on a major fundraising campaign to raise funds for these much-needed expansions. Many of you in the room may already be engaged in their fundraising, and if not, I encourage you to jump on board to this worthy cause.

Just after my re-election I asked Council to allow our staff to engage with the hospital on determining their capital needs. This past December the report outlined a need for a $4.5 million dollar commitment. Just as Council agreed to invest in a “safer city” through increased policing, Council agreed to a $4.5 million city contribution ($750,000 over six years) – to the Guelph General Hospital for a “healthier” city. This is an investment well spent on the wellbeing of everyone in our growing city.

As we make strategic investments, I continue to focus on the financial well-being of our city. At Monday’s Council Committee of the Whole meeting we received an update on the City’s financial condition.

I’m pleased to report that the overall financial condition of the City has improved since 2015, indicated by increased reserves, a continued solid credit rating score, and a better financial position.

The 2019 credit rating score of AA+ reflects sound financial management, budget performance, healthy economy, and low debt levels. It demonstrates that the City is well managed, financially healthy and able to meet all debt obligations.

The report was accompanied by an assessment of our financial condition by an independent consultant. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Guelph is growing. No surprise there. Our population grew by 8.3% between 2011 and 2016 – significantly more than our peer municipalities.
  • Our debt levels are healthy – they are below both the provincial limit, and the City’s own maximum of 10% of revenues. We know our debt will grow as we finance large upcoming capital projects – but they will not exceed our limit.
  • On the other side of the ledger, for the past several years, our reserves have been below average. But we are moving the needle in the right direction:
    • Our contingency reserves – the reserves that help us manage the impact of unplanned costs – have increased 66% over my time as Mayor.
    • Program specific reserves for things like sick leave and WSIB have also increased 41% over the past 5 years.

The City is developing a Long Term Financial Framework that will improve the City’s financial sustainability and flexibility. It will provide the foundation for metrics and KPIs related to sound fiscal management. And, the City is moving to a multi-year budgeting cycle that will give us a much better picture of our financial needs moving forward.

Large Urban Mayors’ Caucus of Ontario (LUMCO)

Just after my re-election, I was honoured to be elected as the Chair of the Large Urban Mayors’ Caucus of Ontario – LUMCO.

This is a group of 29 mayors of cities with populations greater than 100,000. Collectively, we represent almost 70 per cent of Ontario’s population.

Little did I know that two months after my election as Chair, the Province would pass a Budget that out of nowhere included major funding cuts to municipalities – cuts that came after we had already approved our city budgets.

On behalf of LUMCO, I issued a statement calling on the Province to eliminate these retroactive funding cuts. And immediately my phone started ringing.

Less than a month later – and just three days after Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark sat down with LUMCO Mayors – the Premier and Minister called me. The Premier told me that they heard us and that in less than an hour they would make an announcement stopping the retroactive cuts made in-year collectively saving multiple millions for every municipality in Ontario.

It was an unbelievable moment. I remember exactly where I was too. I was at home, just about to leave to get down to city hall. Rachel and the kids had already left so I was by myself. And I started air-fist-pumping and dancing around. I most certainly looked and sounded ridiculous but I didn’t care, it was worth it.

I truly appreciate that the Province listened to us and took action quickly. In the weeks and months since, we have seen a new positive tone from the Provincial government, and a new willingness to work with municipalities on behalf of the people we all serve.

I look forward to continuing to work with the Province, both as the Chair of LUMCO and as the Mayor of Guelph, as a collaborative partner at the table.

Future ready

Two years ago at my State of the City, I helped launch a year-long public engagement effort that led to the creation of Guelph’s first Community Plan.

When it was all said and done, that engagement effort gathered input from more than 10,000 people.

That input formed the basis of our Community Plan – a long-term vision for not only our municipal government, but the broader community as well.

The City then took the further step of creating a Strategic Plan. This is a four-year plan that sets out how we can achieve aspects of the Community Plan that fall within the municipality’s scope of responsibility.

The name of our strategic plan is:

“Future Ready.”

It establishes directions that will help the City of Guelph become more modern and effective – in our economy, our transportation networks, our environment, our social and human services, and our local government.

With this plan, Council and the Administration are both rowing in the same direction. We don’t have administrative priorities, and Council priorities – we have Guelph priorities.

So what do we mean by “Future Ready”?

Let me give you some examples.

Just one month ago, it was announced that Guelph is receiving $40 million in federal funding and $33 million in provincial funding for the electrification of our Transit fleet.

This includes replacing 35 existing diesel buses with electric buses, adding 30 new electric buses, and building a new Transit garage with EV chargers to keep all those buses running.

Once fully implemented, the electrification of Transit will result in a reduction of about 7 million kilograms of greenhouse gas emissions, which represents an overall reduction of almost 30% of our total corporate emissions.

This is going to be transformational for Guelph. When we talk about tackling climate change, creating a sustainable environment, and having a highly effective transit system – This is what we mean by “future ready.”

Another example is something that most of you have heard me talk about before: two-way, all-day GO train service.

A McKinsey report estimates that two-way all-day GO could deliver $17.5 billion in direct annual GDP and more than 170,000 high-quality jobs by 2025.

Those are some big numbers. Let me give you another big number.

The total population of the Greater Toronto Area plus the corridor cities of Kitchener, Waterloo, Guelph, and Brampton is projected to grow by more than 7 million people over the next 25 years. We know that 7 million more people cannot possibly be accommodated on the 401.

Just last week, I was at Queen’s Park meeting with Ministry of Transportation officials. I am pleased to report that they told me that two-way, all-day GO is proceeding well, to be in place by 2025.

A few years ago I asked Council to help brand and market Guelph as a beacon of innovation, clean-tech and agri-tech on the Innovation Corridor between Toronto and Kitchener, Waterloo. To shine a light on the strength of the University of Guelph and Conestoga College. And it’s working.

We know that two-way, all-day passenger rail service is absolutely critical for the health of our economy, our transportation systems, our environment, our educational institutions and our quality of life. Again, when we talk about “future ready” – this is what we mean.

Looking ahead, there are a number of other priorities I have that I believe will be key to realizing a ‘future ready’ vision. I’d like to share three of them with you today:

The first, is our operating costs:

We, and that means all of us, both inside city hall and outside boards funded by the city taxpayers, need to get a handle on operating costs. Especially when new capital facilities like the library and the south end recreation centre come online. As we work on getting things built, we still need to keep our eye on the ball when it comes to operational efficiencies and savings. The City has established a Continuous Improvement Office to facilitate service reviews – and that’s an excellent start.

Second, free transit for our young people: 

I will be introducing a motion shortly to Council to get us moving “pun intended’, on free transit for all high school students and children under 13 in the city of Guelph. This will be a game-changer for families and for improving options for students to get to jobs, school, extra curricular activities and volunteer opportunities. It will also introduce them to public transit sooner – and there is ample evidence that this leads to more transit use, well into adulthood.

Lastly, a car-free downtown: 

Guelph has always been proud of its historic and vibrant downtown – and rightly so. I’m going to ask you to look into the future, and think about what our downtown could potentially become.

Imagine what it would be like, if our downtown were a place where the streets were designed for pedestrians, cyclists, and public transit first – and cars second.

Imagine if it were a place where people could get around more easily and comfortably on foot, on bikes, or on transit – with cars only in designated places, or at designated times of day, as needed to make deliveries.

What if everyone who arrived downtown by car parked in one of our parking lots or parkades – and then visited shops and restaurants on foot or by bike? What if the parking spots became benches, planters and patios spilling out to the streets? How would you feel if you weren’t breathing in gas fumes? If instead what you heard downtown was people, music and nature?

What if by being people-centric and not car-centric our downtown could become a safer, healthier, and friendlier place?

This vision is possible and I’m not afraid to champion it. They have implemented measures like this on streets in Toronto. They have done it on a larger scale in cities like Copenhagen and the Belgian city of Ghent. Those cities all tell the same story: At first, nobody wanted to do it. They thought the sky would fall. And now, it’s the best thing they ever did.

I’m not saying we should close our downtown streets to cars tomorrow. Perhaps we could look at doing it on a few weekends in August, in coordination with special events. We could build on this over a series of years.

What I’m saying is, we should have a conversation about what’s possible. Ten years from now, do we want our downtown to be just slightly better or prettier than it is now? Or do we want to be bold, and push ourselves towards a downtown that is truly a destination – not for cars, but for people?

This is what we mean by “Future Ready.” Those are not just words on paper. It’s a call to be bold, and to truly think about what we want our city to be. But let me be direct, a city that is “future ready” is a city that makes active transportation a priority. Walking, separated bike lanes, trail connections and transit must be embraced. And not just for our downtown, but implemented across our entire city. I hope that my Council colleagues, city staff and the citizens of Guelph will join me on a journey, starting in 2020 to bring this vision to life over the years to come.

Conclusion

I know a lot of politicians like to talk about “vision.” I have never been big on this word, because it’s easy to talk about a long-term vision. It’s a lot harder to deliver concrete action that actually makes life better for people.

But I do like the idea of “2020 Vision.” And so I wanted to speak to what my vision is over this year.

2020 vision is about clarity – clarity in what our community expects of us, and clarity on what we will deliver. That’s what our strategic plan will bring.

It’s about taking a good, honest look at where we’ve been and where we’re going next as a city.

It’s about looking the challenges in the eye and taking them on.

It’s about seeing the opportunities coming, and making the most of them.

Thank you once again for being here this morning. And thank you for everything you do, day in and day out, to make Guelph the amazing place it is.

Thank you.