2022 State of the City Address
Mayor Cam Guthrie presented his 2021 State of the City on Thursday, March 31.
Well, the past two years have been a heck of a ride, haven’t they?!
There’s no doubt it’s been a tough couple of years. So, I wanted to have a bit of fun this morning. A bit of friendly competition. So that’s why – as you know from the cards on your tables when you came in – I challenged everyone to a game of Wordle.
How many people here have played Wordle before? How many of you play it every day? OK, so we have some experts in the room.
We’re going to get to the game in a moment. I hope you all had the chance to scan the QR code and complete the word, and that you have your results handy.
But first, a brief comment on why I chose this game and what it has to do with the state of our city.
Do you remember at the beginning of the pandemic, when everyone started baking bread? You couldn’t get flour in the grocery stores, it was really interesting.
Then I started to notice other trends. People were doing recipe exchanges. People started knitting. There were more people on our trails than we’d ever seen. There were more people riding bikes than we’d ever seen.
Later in the pandemic, in October 2021, Wordle came out. At first people didn’t pay much attention. But by January, it had become a phenomenon, with millions of people playing it every day.
So why did this game become so popular, so fast?
This is a simple word puzzle. It doesn’t have fancy graphics or animation. It doesn’t have any bells and whistles. The font and colours are kind of boring.
Turns out, people LIKE simple! We don’t need the bells and whistles.
If the past two years have taught us anything, it’s the joy of simple pleasures. A bike ride with the family. A well-cooked meal. A good book.
The pandemic brought unprecedented challenges. It also brought a new appreciation for the foundations of what’s important. Our health. Our mental health. Family and friends. The ability to connect with people.
As we move forward in the months and years to come, we can’t forget those lessons. We have to rededicate ourselves to what’s really important, and focus on the things that really matter.
Normally at this event, I would put up a slide show with pictures and charts and graphs.
But I’m going to hazard a guess that the people in this room have spent enough time staring at screens for the past couple of years – whether it’s Zoom, or Teams, or every parent’s favourite, Google Classroom.
So this year, I’m going to break with tradition a little bit.
I do have a few short videos I want to show you. But other than that, I’m just going to talk. I’m going to keep it simple.
Here’s how our Guelphle is going to work:
The words were scattered randomly throughout the room. I hope you had time to complete the Guelphle at your place – and that you remember your results.
I’m going to ask the room if anyone got it in one. If you did, I want you to raise your hand and tell us your word. Then I’ll spend a few minutes talking about that word and how it relates to the state of our city.
Then we’ll just keep going – I’ll ask for a show of hands of who got it in two tries. And then three, and four, and so on.
Does that make sense? Is everybody with me? OK, let’s begin
In 2020, I stood on this stage and proposed free Transit for those 18 and under.
I had a Council motion ready to go. Community groups and delegations/correspondence were ready to advocate for this program. I was planning to bring it to the first Committee of the Whole meeting in April 2020.
My motion never made it to that meeting. The City had other pressing priorities in April 2020, as we entered a state of emergency and Transit ridership plummeted overnight.
But the idea didn’t go away – it just had to wait a bit. Approved as a pilot project for 2022 is a modified version of that original proposed motion from a couple of years ago, or as I see it – a first step – in moving towards free transit for those 18 and under. Free transit for those 12 and under.
I made a little video about this program, and I’ll show it to you now.
This is not the only significant change in Transit.
We also have a new affordable bus pass with a sliding scale based on need.
We have an on-demand Transit service that is very easy to use. If you haven’t tried it yet, you should.
We’re getting 4 new electric buses this summer. This will help us meet the Council-approved goal of using 100% renewable energy for City operations by 2050. We’re currently sitting at 25.5%. As we transition our Transit fleet to electric, it will have a major impact on our greenhouse gas emissions and our response to climate change.
In our last budget, Council funded millions in new investment for major Transit changes. This includes moving to a grid structure, instead of the central hub system that we currently have. No more going downtown to change buses all the time. It includes better service on major corridors. More express routes. Better Sunday service.
I believe these changes will help us win back the ridership that we lost during the pandemic.
And it will win us new customers.
I truly believe these changes will give our city the modern Transit system we need. We’ve been talking about it for years, and this term of Council, we made it happen.
We are a community that cares. A great example of that is the fundraising campaign for Guelph General Hospital – which happens to be called “Together We Care.”
The campaign recently wrapped up. It exceeded its $34 million fundraising goal, raising a grand total of $37,496,057.
Those donations are going to save lives and improve health.
They’re going to build a new special care nursery for newborns.
They’re going to expand our Emergency Department by 60%. That means shorter wait times, better space for mental health and addictions patients, and an end to hallway medicine.
They’re going to fund all kinds of equipment to care for patients. A lot of people don’t know that the Provincial Government doesn’t fund equipment. Every piece of equipment used in patient care in our hospital is funded by donors.
Congratulations to the Hospital Foundation, and thank you to every single person who donated.
This successful campaign means we can move forward to deal with the most immediate needs at Guelph General.
But when I look at our city’s growth targets for the next 10 to 20 years – it is clear to me that we are going to need a newer, larger hospital.
Our current hospital simply does not have the space, the capacity, or the layout to accommodate the thousands of families who are coming to Guelph. Parts of it are more than 70 years old!
The Hospital has started the provincial Ministry of Health’s “Master Planning” process. This involves exploring many options including building new on the current Delhi Street site, or building a new hospital on a completely new site. In an ideal situation, this build would be completed within ten years. I have been told this is on the radar at the Ministry. They are aware of the need and the hospital is working hard to move things forward.
I know any have heard me say over and over “Hospitals are Provincial jurisdiction” but here is an important fact for our community: the Provincial Government only funds 90% of hospital construction. The remaining 10% is up to the community to raise.
Please listen to me now. 10% of a brand spanking new larger hospital is a lot of money.
That’s why I’ve been talking about this for years. We must start working towards it, right now.
That may involve conversations around the Council horseshoe about continuing the dedicated levy for the hospital. It may involve another fundraising campaign.
Do I believe this community will step up and rally around a new hospital? Absolutely. There’s no doubt in my mind.
This is a community that cares.
This is a community that has raised tens of thousands of dollars for the people of Ukraine, and where I get daily calls from people ready to open their homes to Ukrainian refugees.
It’s a community where, when the call went out looking for space to host COVID vaccination clinics, Linamar and the University of Guelph immediately raised their hands and opened their doors.
It’s a community that’s opening youth mental health and wellness hubs called the Grove, where youth can drop in and access the services they need. I recently toured a Grove site on the University of Guelph campus, which will be open to all youth – not just students. There will also be hubs at the Y, at Shelldale, and at a new building on Woolwich.
This is a community that can accomplish great things when we put our minds to it.
Who here has been to a gas station lately?
Who’s been to a grocery store?
Has anyone tried to build a deck last year or priced one out for this coming spring and summer?
We all know costs are rising. But we’ve never seen cost increases quite like this before.
The City is seeing it with major capital projects too. In fact, ALL cities are facing these issues.
Let’s talk about the South End Community Centre.
A few weeks ago, we learned that the lowest bid to build this project came in 50 per cent over the budget. The bid was $121 million, on an $80 million project.
I know this is disappointing, especially to residents of the south end who have been waiting so long. It’s disappointing to me too. Can you imagine how Ward 6 Councillors MacKinnon and O’Rourke feel as well?!
The first thing I want to say is: don’t panic.
And this is coming from a fiscally conservative mayor. Don’t panic.
The process is working exactly the way it’s supposed to. When staff received the bids, everything stopped. The tender has not been awarded. No dollars have been spent. No shovels are in the ground.
The same thing happened recently when bids on the Speedvale bridge project came in over budget: staff paused the project.
And – I’m going to say it out loud, because I know you’re thinking it – the same thing will happen if bids on the Baker Street library come in over budget.
We will have to pause and consider our next steps.
Council will be discussing capital costs on Monday at our Committee of the Whole meeting. The staff report is public, and you can read it on guelph.ca.
We are being transparent about the problem. And we’re going to have a transparent discussion about how to deal with it.
I want to address all the people who are e-mailing me and saying on social media that we need to cancel the Baker Street redevelopment which includes the library.
There would be significant financial implications of pulling the plug on projects that have advanced this far. This includes reputational risks which I will not subject our city to when partnering with the private sector on projects.
There are contractual agreements that have been signed. Land issues that have been resolved. There are deposits and contracts for infrastructure and utility requirements. There are millions spent and investments in detailed design work and consulting fees.
There’s ongoing site preparation. The Baker Street parking lot has been closed for archaeological work – and downtown businesses have been dealing with that disruption and are already planning to wade through construction over the next few years.
Now I want to address all the people who are emailing me and saying on social media that we need to cancel the South End Rec Centre.
We have collected development charges for the south end rec center for many years.
The business case has been developed. The need for new ice pads, a pool and community space has been demonstrated and talked about for years – even decades.
You don’t throw out your plans entirely with a knee-jerk reaction when you have investments and private sector relationships when you hit a bump in the road. That’s not the way you would do business – and that’s not the way the city does business, either. We will not panic. We will take a breath and trust city staff. There are off-ramps and key decision points all along the way on these projects, so that Council and the City’s Executive Team can weigh the options, manage the risks, the finances and decide on a path forward.
I wanted to take this moment, when we are gathered for the first time in a long time, to recognize the extraordinary leadership of our Wellington Dufferin Guelph Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Nicola Mercer.
Dr. Mercer’s brave, bold, and steady leadership was a blessing to our community during one of the most difficult times we have ever experienced.
She was the first Medical Officer of Health in Canada to mandate wearing masks. Many others followed – and it soon became a given that masks were one of the simplest, easiest, and most effective public health tools we had.
But I know she took a lot of criticism for her decision in the early days.
She also took a lot of criticism for her decision to close schools in our Health Unit in April 2021. I can only imagine how difficult that decision was to make.
But Dr. Mercer made that decision, as always, with the utmost integrity – guided by data, science, and an absolute dedication to the health and wellbeing of our community.
She also was the public face of the pandemic in our city. She kept the community updated through the media and was a frequent guest on the “Finding the Balance” webinars that were viewed by thousands of people, in Guelph and around the world.
She was a calm, compassionate presence in a scary time. She provided facts in a way we could all understand.
She did all this while mobilizing the biggest vaccination effort in our city’s history – an effort that saw Guelph’s vaccination rate exceed that of the province as a whole.
And, she did it while being blamed for everything from the Premier’s latest announcement, to the fact that we couldn’t get haircuts.
This is leadership. I’ll tell you one thing: I will always be grateful that, in one of the most challenging chapters in our history, Guelph had Dr. Nicola Mercer in our corner.
At this time, I’d like to invite Dr. Mercer up to the stage to accept a gift. This is a print from Guelph artist Barbara Salsberg Mathews, and I’ll read what it says on the plaque: “Presented to Dr. Nicola Mercer from Mayor Cam Guthrie. In recognition of outstanding leadership throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Please join me in thanking Dr. Nicola Mercer.
One of the things I wanted to do this morning was take a look back not just at the year, but at this entire term of Council.
Some of you may recall my 2019 State of the City, the first one of this term.
I stood before you in this exact spot, and I said that I had failed as a mayor when it comes to the issue of homelessness in our city.
I called on the community to join me in ending homelessness. And boy, did this community ever respond.
My Task Force on Homelessness and Community Safety identified three, short to medium term priorities:
- Expanding the downtown Welcoming Streets initiative
- Funding the Addiction Court Support Worker program
- Building a Supportive Recovery Room for people to rest and recover from mental health or substance use crisis.
Check, check, and check.
These projects all got done – with the support of incredible community partners who deliver the programs, and the support of funding from United Way, the LHIN, City of Guelph, Guelph Police Services Board, The County of Wellington, and others.
The Task Force also identified the importance of permanent supportive housing over the medium to long term. As the Co Chair, Dominica McPherson, always says: the solution to homelessness is housing.
We now have three Permanent Supportive Housing projects announced or started that will reduce the number of people who are experiencing chronic homelessness by 50%.
The projects are:
- the Grace Gardens project in the former Parkview Motel, which received $6.4 million in federal government funding [recognize Lloyd Longfield].
- Supportive housing units for youth at Wyndham house
- The Kindle project in the Willow Road area, on land donated by Skyline and in partnership with Skylight Developments
This is truly incredible progress. It represents the best of Guelph – when we come together with a common goal, we can make amazing things happen.
The United Way and Guelph Community Foundation, in partnership with the three project partners – Stepping Stone, Wyndham House, and Kindle – are working together to launch a capital campaign to support these projects.
The funds will not only address the capital shortfall to get these projects done, they will also establish an ongoing fund that will enable us to respond to new opportunities.
Please, watch for the announcement of this campaign later this Spring. Donate if you can, and help them spread the word.
In addition to these important construction and renovation projects, I recently had a conversation about a way we can provide homes for people right away – literally, today. I was so blown away by the conversation, so I went back and made a video about it!
Here’s the video.
So that’s my challenge today. We have made tremendous progress on this issue. If we all contribute where we can – whether we have an apartment we could rent, or we could donate to the capital campaign, or even help spread the word – I truly believe this community can end homelessness.
Over the last two years, we dealt with a major public health crisis. Measures like shutdowns and gathering limits were necessary to protect our health. But as we all know – they had major impacts on local businesses and our local economy.
As the world is opening up again, we are beginning to see signs of economic recovery.
But my goal is not just recovery – it’s renewal.
Council recently approved a 5-year economic development and tourism strategy that will help drive that renewal.
The development of the strategy began before the pandemic hit. It was completed during the pandemic, and has been made stronger by all we learned when our world was turned upside down.
For example, it builds on the strength of the buy local movement – including the award-winning Guelph Shops program – that gained huge momentum during the pandemic and was a suggestion that came out of the Mayors Task Force on COVID Economic Recovery which included many business from our community.
It also puts emphasis on talent attraction and retention. The Guelph area’s unemployment rate sits at 4.3 per cent as of February. This puts us in the top 10 of cities across Canada for low unemployment. This is amazing news in terms of our recovery – especially when compared to the layoffs and job losses we saw in the first wave of the pandemic. But as you know, it makes it harder to find talent. Our economic renewal depends on our ability to attract the best and brightest – and our economic development strategy reflects that.
The strategy also puts a strong emphasis on growing our tourism industry, and focusing on destination development.
The tourism and hospitality industry was one of the hardest hit by the pandemic. We’re gathered at the Delta this morning for the first time in two years – it’s a perfect example. We want to see hotel rooms filled again, restaurants busy, special events happening.
Council has approved a new Municipal Accommodation Tax – MAT – that will provide a source of funds to support tourism and destination development. I am so excited to see the opportunities that flow from this.
We had a glimpse of what destination development can look like during the first wave of the pandemic, when we implemented our patio program. We enabled patios almost overnight, to maximize outdoor dining. In the process, we created a destination in our downtown and attracted all kinds of people who hadn’t come downtown in years.
It was a glimpse of what a truly pedestrian-friendly downtown could look like. This was something I talked about in my 2020 State of the City.
In the short term, we will continue to enable expanded patios, though not with street closures. In the longer term, we are beginning a period of downtown construction because of the need to replace underground pipes. As we do that, we have an opportunity to make downtown more pedestrian friendly, more welcoming, and more of a destination for people from all across the city. This is an opportunity not just for recovery – but for renewal. We will make the most of it.
Central to our economic development and tourism strategy is the idea of building on our strengths.
And those strengths are significant.
They include major players in sectors such as advanced manufacturing, agri innovation, clean tech, and information and communications technology. As part of the launch of our economic development and tourism strategy, we have launched a series of videos to highlight these sectors. You can check them out on the City’s YouTube channel.
We are leading the way in future-looking sectors. Through the Our Food Future project and Circular Opportunity Innovation Launchpad (COIL), we are exceeding our goals in developing Canada’s first circular food economy – improving access to healthy food, and designing waste out of the system.
One of our community’s major strengths is the University of Guelph.
The University of Guelph just released an economic impact report. It’s got some pretty incredible numbers in it.
The University’s total impact to Canada’s gross domestic product (GDP) is $8.6 billion. That’s right, billion with a B.
The University of Guelph community contributes more than $2 billion to the Guelph-Wellington economy alone.
It sustains more than 13,000 jobs in Guelph and Wellington. Students spend $444 million in our community. And they contribute a whopping 1.5 million volunteer hours.
The past two years have been some of the most challenging times in our history. I am looking forward to a new chapter of not only recovery, but renewal and coming back stronger than ever.
In the 2018 election, community safety was an important priority. It came up at almost every door I knocked on – and I know several Councillors had the same experience.
I’m proud to say this is an area where we have made major progress in this term of Council.
In 2020, I stood on this stage and gave you data that made the case for a significant investment in the Guelph Police Service.
The data said:
- The crime rate was going up
- The number of officers per 100,000 population was going down
- Police overtime costs were at historic highs
These numbers were at the heart of the business case for 30 new employees for the Guelph Police Service.
Today, I’m pleased to share data to show the results of that investment.
Here are some highlights:
- Total crime decreased for the second year in a row in 2020, going down 11% over 2019
- Our Crime Severity Index numbers are trending in the right direction, with a 12% drop in 2020
- Priority 1 response times have improved, and 2021 saw the fastest response time in the last 5 years
Guelph Police Service has created new permanent units. The Downtown Resource Officer unit has 4 officers who provide 24/7 coverage, as well as a dedicated officer who is a familiar face and builds relationships in our downtown.
The BEAT Team (Break, Enter, and Auto Theft Team) was made permanent in January, after pilot projects demonstrated its value.
In its first 20 days, here are some of the BEAT Team results:
- 20 arrests
- 83 charges laid
- More than $70,000 in stolen property recovered
- 5 stolen vehicle cases solved
- 4 break and enter cases solved
Not bad for the first 20 days!
I want to thank Chief Gord Cobey for his leadership during this crucial time for our police service.
I also want to thank every front-line officer. Throughout the pandemic, police officers continued to be out in our community, serving our community wherever they were needed. I am so grateful to our first responders and their service throughout the pandemic.
I want to touch on another area where we’ve made significant progress this term. It’s in the area of road safety.
This is a major factor in our overall community safety and security.
Council just approved the City’s Transportation Master Plan. The Plan adopts a Vision Zero approach to road design and operations – an approach based on the philosophy that no loss of life is acceptable on our roadways.
That’s not just about safety for drivers. It’s about all the other ways we move around the city too – walking, cycling, riding transit, riding on trains, and so on.
The Plan includes a pedestrian priority network. We need to start building sidewalks on BOTH sides of new streets. The plan also includes a cycling spine network. We need to build more protected cycling infrastructure.
Last summer, Council approved a number of safety measures:
- We reduced speeds by 10 kilometres per hour in almost 50 neighbourhoods and throughout most of downtown. Some bigger roads went from a speed limit of 60, down to 50. Residential streets have reductions from 50 to 40.
- We’re introducing photo radar, with equipment that will rotate through school zones and other key areas.
- Red light cameras have been installed in six spots throughout the city.
- Last summer you may have noticed bollards and pedestrian crossing signs in some areas, that narrow the road and slow down traffic. They come down in the fall and go back up in the spring.
Just like with policing, with road safety there is the data and statistical side of things. There is also the anecdotal, community side of the story.
I talk to a lot of school groups. You wouldn’t believe how often students talk to me about wanting to feel safe riding their bike or walking to school. You wouldn’t believe how many people say they would commute by bike if they knew they had a protected bike lane.
And guess what happens when people feel safe out on the sidewalks and on their bikes? Neighbours say hi to each other. We get to know each other. We build an even stronger sense of trust and safety. It’s a positive cycle.
Our journey to eliminate systemic racism is a journey of learning.
Sometimes that learning comes in big moments that were felt around the world. The murder of George Floyd. The discovery of mass graves of children on residential school sites.
Sometimes it comes in small, individual moments.
The first time you use the elevator at the main library, and actually think about what it would be like if you use a wheelchair. What would it be like, to have to squeeze into an old elevator that’s so tiny, you can’t even turn around?
For me, one of those moments came when I saw a post on Facebook from a mom whose 13 year old son was getting bullied. I reached out to the mom, and her son and I ended up going out for a walk. I was bullied myself as a teenager. It’s not OK and it has no place in our community.
As a City, we know we have to listen closely to the stories, struggles, and pain of those who have experienced oppression. We know we have to un-learn systems that are not equitable. And we have to re-learn from those in the community who possess the knowledge, expertise and lived experience to change these systems.
Together with the community, we have added a new section to our Community Plan, called “We are Community.” We are committed not just to working toward equity – but to eliminating systemic racism and discrimination, in all its forms.
I am pleased that the City now has a Senior Advisor for Equity, Anti-Racism, and Indigenous Initiatives – Sara Sayyed. We’ve also just welcomed an Intergovernmental Advisor specializing in Indigenous Relations, Trevor Bomberry. We’re currently recruiting for an Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Specialist.
We know we can’t learn, un-learn, and re-learn everything overnight.
But we are committed to this work because it goes to the heart of what it means to be a community: a place where everyone feels a sense of belonging.
Growth is that it is driving almost everything else we do as a municipality: from development planning, to water and wastewater infrastructure, to transportation, to waste management, to parks and recreation centres, to transit…. And on and on.
Guelph is growing to 208,000 people by 2050.
The big question for all growing cities in Ontario – and Guelph is certainly not alone in this – is, where are all these people going to live.
In Guelph, some of them will be accommodated in the Clair-Maltby area in the south end, which is currently in the home stretch of the secondary planning process. This is going to be an amazing, vibrant community.
Some will be accommodated in the Guelph Innovation District – the former correctional facility lands on York Road.
Some will live in the Dolime Quarry area. The Province has given approval for these lands to become part of Guelph’s municipal boundary. This will protect Guelph’s drinking water source, which the City has concerned about for years because of the potential impacts of quarry operations on the water table. I am thrilled that we reached a solution to this complex problem.
We know that these new developments will not be enough to accommodate all of our projected population growth.
One of the issues that keeps me up at night is the cost of housing. The cost of housing is at a crisis point, here in Guelph and elsewhere in Ontario.
The Province just tabled legislation on this issue yesterday. To their credit, they held a number of conversations with municipalities on this issue, and a lot of our feedback is incorporated in the legislation. I attended a Housing Summit with Premier Ford and the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing this winter. They also commissioned a Task Force on this issue.
While I don’t agree with everything the Task Force recommended, or with everything in the legislation, there are a lot of positive measures that I think will make a difference in housing affordability.
It’s a start. It’s a step in the right direction.
As a municipality, Guelph has also taken a number of steps:
- Allowing basement and garden suites – which account for about 10% of units every year
- Getting a fully online building permit application portal up and running
- A building permit checklist for new builds in existing built-up areas of the city, to make it faster and easier
Our City has been awarded $1.75 million in Provincial funding to streamline our development approvals process. We will use a LEAN process to find efficiencies in our timelines. We will be working with key local stakeholders such as the Guelph and District Home Builders Association.
I believe this will be an important process of self-reflection. We will take a good, hard look at what we can do ourselves – as a municipality – to improve supply, and improve affordability.
The Province has framed this mostly as an issue of supply. I question that. Certainly, supply is a factor, but it’s not the only one.
For example, I wish the Province had included reform to the Ontario Land Tribunal as part of their legislation. The OLT costs the municipality tens of thousands of dollars, and can hold up housing unit construction sometimes for years.
We also know that there are housing units that have been approved, but not built. As a City, we need to work with developers to find out why that is.
The reality is, we simply cannot go on with home prices the way they are. People need affordable places to live. I know it. You all know it. And upper levels of Government know it too. While there’s no magic wand – there is an urgency and a desire to work together on this file, that I have never seen before.
I know that at the beginning of my remarks, I talked about keeping things simple and getting back to basics.
Then I proceeded to talk for 45 minutes about dozens of different things the City is working on.
Believe me, the irony is not lost on me.
We are coming up on another municipal election. The next Council will have the challenge of setting a path for the new term, including a new strategic plan that is affordable for the City.
As that happens, it’s important to remember lessons of the pandemic. We need to get back to basics. We need to get our fundamentals right. All of the things I’ve talked about this morning reflect that. They are the foundations that will help us do the important things, and do them well.
There was another important lesson from the pandemic.
To illustrate it, I want to do one final Wordle – together!
There’s nothing we can’t accomplish when we are united. We see it in every aspect of our lives – health care, housing, mental health, transportation, safety, economic growth and investment.
So that’s my call to action today. Whatever we do, let’s do it in a spirit of unity. That means Council, the community, city staff, you and of course – me.
Thank you very much for being here today.