State of the City 2023

Thank you everyone for joining me today. Those both in the room and online. I’m joined today by many I’d like to acknowledge, starting with my colleagues on council!

The executive team from the city is here as well, and I can’t thank them enough for their guidance.

Our emergency services personnel is here as well from Fire, Police and EMS. Many thanks to each of you, especially over these last few years of service.

My University of Guelph friends are here.

Also here is MP Lloyd Longfield alongside MPP Schriener. My thanks to you for always bringing your willingness to support Guelph as we work so well together in our roles.

Thank you to the many sponsors for today. And thanks to The Chamber, Shakiba for your leadership and all the Chamber staff for the behind the scenes coordination so an event like this comes off without a hitch.

The Delta staff have also been so kind and welcoming, as they always are, for providing the space and the great food!

Of course my family, Rachel and our kids Anakin and Adelaide. My parents Frank and Karen are here too. Can’t thank you all enough for the support these past years.

And, as it’s my first State of the City since being re-elected, let me say a massive thanks to the voters of Guelph that sent me back to this position with a strong mandate to continue to lead our city. I’m truly humbled each and every day that I can serve as your Mayor!

For those that have come to my SOTC events in the past, you may know what’s coming. For those of you joining me for the first time, here’s what to expect today:

First I’m going to give a look back at some highlights over the last year. Things Council, staff and the city have accomplished together.

Secondly I’m going to give you an update where we are today on certain issues and I’ll weave into that section what it says on the Chamber of Commerce posters and invites to this event – which is, and I quote, “to hear what my vision is for the coming year”.

New for this year is my desire to take more questions from the floor and from those that may have sent in their questions in advance to The Chamber. I have one rule when I’m told I’ll be speaking somewhere and then answering questions from the people that have attended. That rule is simple: I do not want to know the questions in advance. Shakiba can confirm, that I have not been given a heads up on any questions, so I’m looking forward to that part of our time together.

I’m known for giving my State of the City addresses in a manner that pulls together a gimmick or a memorable group project to pull you along during my talks. A spiffy PowerPoint presentation or table exercise to keep you entertained.

I’m not doing that this time.

And maybe, but hopefully not, you may already be feeling let down as I’m just starting things off here in this way, but I did it on purpose.

I need you to listen very carefully to my words today. To watch my demeanor, my body language. Listen to my tone. Because today I need to tell you straight up what’s going on in our city and where I believe we need to go. There are just no gimmicks for the seriousness of the issues I need to address with you today.

It’s become quiet in here. That’s good. I have your attention.

So let’s begin.

What are some of the highlights from 2022?

First up, finances. Coming out of the height of the pandemic, the city remained in such good shape, both with reserves, paying down debt, along with proper forecasting of our capital budgets, that these were just some of the reasons why we were given a TRIPLE A(AA) credit rating from Standard & Poors. This positions us well for potential borrowing, lowering costs and more. One of my goals when I first became Mayor was to achieve this rating. It is often council or a mayor that may try to take credit, and we have a role, certainly, but the unsung heroes that need to be given clear credit (no pun intended) is our city staff. Thank you for your work. Guelph thanks you. It’s a wonderful achievement.

I’m often asked about what we’re doing to try to find efficiencies and save taxpayer dollars. We did a lot in 2022. Service reviews, internal audits, work through the continuous improvement office, connections with The Guelph Lab from the University of Guelph on making processes better with citizen appointed committees, the provincial grants provided for the audit and accountability funding which helped complete the KPMG rationalization report of city services were finished in 2022 and continue to this date. We, might I say, finally, are taking these reviews seriously. Looking for those efficiencies, ways to do services better and offer savings to the citizens of Guelph is paying off. Pun intended. A cultural shift is occurring and more noticeable than I have seen in the past. Lean implementation and Six Sigma processes have been embraced by many staff to date with more coming on board. We’re empowering staff to be on the lookout constantly for doing things better. Here’s a couple of examples:

A Parks Customer Service project led by two members of our staff, showed a First Call Resolution rate increase from 75% to over 95% thereby increasing the service experience to anyone who calls into parks, and providing a more centralized location to get answers.

Another example:

A project by two of our Economic Development staff for ‘Strengthening Partnerships, improved response times for external inquiries to that department that reduced decision cycle time by 86%.

These are just a few examples and they don’t make the headlines. But this is what you need to know:  Our internal staff are doing this work. Why? To make your experience better and to save time and money.

This is what citizens and businesses should expect government to be doing with their money, (that they have to earn first). And as mayor I have those expectations as well, so it’s good to see results.

Another key moment this past year was turning underperforming assets into assets that now perform. Eight years after looking into the District Energy issues laid before us, and upon reflection of those assets, we sold the project to a company named Cascara that has potential not only in maintaining or operating them, but looking towards expansions on this technology to help with heating and cooling in our downtown. This will help partner with us as a community in reaching environmental goals.

We also revamped the operations of the Farmers Market and partnered with 10C to expand the scope and hours of the market. It was used on a Saturday for 5 hours a week. That’s it. Sitting there, doing nothing the other 95% of time. Well not anymore. Hours have expanded. Days open have expanded. And more uses are being constantly being explored.

One that really excites me however, is Guelph City Council handing the keys to the County of
Wellington for the Delhi building that is now going to become home to 28 individuals in need of supportive housing.

Although not a direct change in 2022, I see that those from Alectra are here in attendance today.  A few years ago we merged with 6 other municipalities for our local distribution company and it has paid off. Our dividend is now higher than what keeping our existing asset of Guelph Hydro would have been.

We set plans for our city’s future with Council support for our Transportation Master Plan. Our Water Systems Master Plan, the Waste Master Plan and finalized the draft of the Comprehensive Zoning update across the city. It’s easy for me to say we did those things I just listed in 20 seconds so you’re all brought up to speed. But in reality, those things took a couple of years of solid engagement work, studies and refinement to get to the approval and draft stage. Thank you to everyone that provided that feedback and got us to this point.

Our economic development and tourism strategy was finished. Speaking specifically to tourism, we introduced the Municipal Accomodation Tax which we hope will generate between $700 to $800,000 or more for tourism activities and promotion of Guelph as a destination. These funds are generated by hotel and other accomodation stays within the city so none of the funds are generated through increased taxes on our residents and local businesses. In fact, The Chamber is a direct partner when it comes to tourism now as they will help in the implementation of the program.

And speaking of economic development, we of course have our own department and wonderful staff along with manager John Regan handling our plans there but council just last week approved funding to our outside business partners, The Chamber, Innovation Guelph and the Guelph Wellington Business Enterprise Centre to help support business development. I mentioned earlier that my friends from the university of Guelph we’re here. You may not know this, but their economic impact to our city is huge. $2 Billion to Guelph Wellington. When courting new businesses to come to Guelph I often talk of the University and I can tell you they make a difference. They can be a deciding factor for many new businesses wishing to land here.

I’d like to highlight some success in Transit initiatives in 2022. The first was the Kids Ride Free Pilot program that saw (by September) 490 fare cards issued. 10,138 boardings as well. It’s projected to have a 12 month impact of 625 fare cards issued and over 25,000 boardings. We also piloted in 2022 the new Affordable Bus Pass, especially for those in greatest need in our city. Depending on criteria reached by individuals, they would pay as little as $4 a month. Success shows that we’ve moved from 700 passes to almost 1500 by end of year. A huge success. Both programs are now permanent as Council voted for these just last week in our budget.

In July last year Council endorsed the formation of a Downtown Strategic Advisory Group. And I thank Council for that endorsement. It released a plan of action that is focused on immediate, medium and long term goals grounded in the vision of:

  1. Everyone feels safe and everyone feels like they belong
  2. The area is prosperous, activated and welcoming
  3. Effective health and social service delivery is provided

Under these three visionary points, we to focus on accelerating permanent supportive housing, enhance daytime and overnight services and facilities and enhance safety – Both perceived and real.

Medium goals are to focus on service design changes especially for those with acute needs and strengthen resilience and prevention. And lastly, full policy changes to address these issues of homelessness, addictions and mental health.

Now I want to make a statement about these issues in general. We are a caring community, and the public space is a public space for all. However, our downtown cannot and should not be over run with behaviours that are unacceptable to the flourishing of our public space for businesses, visitors and anyone else that wishes to come to our downtown. We must take these issues seriously and the city must know that I do.

2022 Also brought in a third year in a row of a drop in the crime severity index. With a high in 2018 I made it a major plank in my last election and during the last term council agreed to resource our police properly, enhance community social services and to use technology where we could. From a technology point of view, we installed 6 red light cameras across the city. The police now have an easy to use program to upload security video evidence form your home or business if need be. We approved Vision Zero to make our roads safer for all modes of transportation including bicycles and pedestrians. Speed enforcement cameras will be arriving soon for community safety zones so watch out! Our Guelph Well Being Grants and other Community Grants (especially those increased during COVID impacts) made a difference in our neighbourhood groups and local programs. These things all contribute to a safer city. We must keep up with our growing city with the right programs, tech and enforcement. We cannot do it simply through arresting people alone. The Chief says that out loud a lot, and he’s right.

We took action on Energy and Climate Change initiatives as well.

PACE/Guelph Greener Homes – Council approved the go ahead in 2022. Development work is well underway to get ready for launch in Spring this year. This is a great financial support for Guelph residents to reduce GHG emissions at home in an affordable way.

Guelph Transit Electrification – Upgrades at the Guelph Transit garage with fast chargers installed for Guelph’s first electric bus which arrived two days ago with more on the way in the next few weeks. On average, each electric bus reduces GHG emissions by 90 tones of carbon dioxide emissions(CO2e) per year.

WECC Air Source Heat Pumps – Thanks to the community for the patience as we worked on the HVAC upgrades at the West End Community Centre last year. This had 20 units replaced with energy efficient heat pumps that improve indoor air quality, save energy and reduce GHG emissions.

Finally, for the 2022 update section of my talk today, I want to showcase some of the stats that I feel are important for the community to know. The following will revolve around housing, finances, jobs and economic development:

Economic development:

  • As of December 2022, the labour force participation rate in Guelph is 69.5 percent, which is higher than both the national (64.9 percent) and provincial (64.9 percent) labour force participation rates.
  • The unemployment rate is the second lowest in the province at 4.3 percent; lower than the national (5.1 percent) and the provincial (5.6 percent) level of unemployment rate.
  • In 2022 the city welcomed millions in investment. Including commitments by three that alone valued it at over $200 Million, and which will result in the creation of over 200 jobs.

In regards to Building permits and development:

2022: 1,183 new units issued. Please note that this is up from 847 new units in 2021. We also increased densities across the City with our new Offical Plan work that came to Council last July. We are planning for a population of 208,000 to 2051 or 27,330 new units.

That is but a highlight of things we accomplished in 2022. I know, I know, it doesn’t capture everything. And keep in mind we did all of this with the beginning of the year still in COVID lockdown and in the late fall during an election. We buckled down and kept doing the work required throughout 2022.

This brings me to the moment in my speech I warned you about at the beginning. I wanted you to hear my words, my tone and to portray to you the seriousness of the issues facing us in 2023 and more than likely throughout this term of Council.

I need the community to know what’s keeping me up at night and the mindset I believe we should embrace to tackle these issues. So here we go:

The Provincial Legislation changes dropped on cities the day after our own election will have major ramifications on how we handle the housing crisis. The housing crisis is real. And it’s been coming on for a few years now. But now it’s smacking us in the face and our wallets big time. Council must come together, and we are and we will, around what we can do to help get more housing built. And that means all types. Supportive, Affordable, Social, Non-Profit, Market rental and market ownership. It all has to happen and it must happen quickly. The quickly part rests on a number of players and a number of layers. The city is one of those players. The development community is another player. But this is a three person player problem. The third player is the existing community.

  1. Developers must have applications that are fully complete and ready for that stamp of approval from either staff or council if necessary. And developers have to commit to put shovels in the ground as quickly as the approvals come.
  2. The community must stop being NIMBY. Not in my backyard. Hear me citizens of Guelph. It’s gotta stop. More often than not it is the same recipe of complaints from every neighbourhood. Not every development is going to destroy the value in your home, cause accidents and have children or animals run over or cause massive parking issues or have a design element that you don’t like. We are in a housing crisis and you and me and probably every single person in this room is comfortably housed. It’s time to embrace different housing types for different people. Because communities are made of differences. It’s time to embrace YIMBY – Yes in my backyard. You play a pivotal role in getting housing built. Welcome it where possible, write letters or delegate to council saying you want developments because you want to welcome new neighbours to your area and create new friendships. Oh, and new developments help pay for things too so if you don’t like rising property taxes, allow good, solid, compatible developments to occur.
  3. And then there’s the city. We can be gatekeepers. We have been gatekeepers. I’m pleased to see another cultural shift being led by the executive team and specifically Krista Walkey our general manger in the planning department. Council just approved more funding for more staff in this department. We’re investing in technology to streamline processes and get things done faster. But Council can be a gatekeeper too. It’s happened in the past but so far, early in this term I have seen no gatekeeping from this council.

We must all play together. We each have a role. We cannot accept $1,000 a month room rentals for students. We must no longer accept over $2,000 a month for a one bedroom apartment. We must accept supportive housing for individuals in need in all corners of our city. We have to pledge to the Provincial government an agreement of 18,000 new housing units by 2031. About 2,000 a year that needs approval. Let’s unite and say no more delays and no more gatekeeping and no more NIMBY and get housing built.

The second issue at hand relates to two significant projects heading our way. The South end Recreational centre and the Baker Street Redevelopment which includes the new library.

Almost two years ago my campaign manager died suddenly. I miss him greatly. His wife contacted me soon after, after going through some items and asked if I wanted to come and get them. Included in some of the items was all his collection of important front page articles and headlines from our city’s original print edition Guelph Mercury Newspaper. I took a picture of two headlines, and these are the only two slides I wanted to show you today.

The first is the South end Recreational Centre. Look at the date, it’s May 2014 and Council was being asked for $59 million. Last year the bid came in at $121 million. Next month an updated report on the scoping of the project and costs will arrive to Council.

And then we have this headline. June 2014 and Council is being asked for $43 million for the Baker Street Redevelopment. It’s more than likely triple that cost now.

I wanted to show you this because I need to make it very clear. Delays cost money. Actually I’m saying that wrong. DELAYS COST YOU MORE MONEY.

Whether you voted for these projects or not Council, they’re approved projects and we must do what we can to get them done. If we don’t I’ll be showing headlines in 8 years with an out of date cost of 2023 pricing and everyone will be wondering why we just didn’t get it done in the first place. I want to specifically ask the business community to help if they can with either of these projects, but especially our new downtown library. There are sponsorship opportunities coming up. Perhaps naming rights, or equipment donations and more can be thought of for you and your organizations.

I’m on my second last point of this section folks. And this has to do with affordability. Affordability will ultimately be determined by the strategic plan that this new term of council will endorse. the endorsed plan then gets implemented over a multi-year budget, more than likely four years.

This is a change in our processes revolving around what use to be yearly budgets and instead moving to a more predictable annual budget increase and work plans over the term to accomplish the strategies council wants to be done.

So hear me out Guelph. If you want to make an impact on what you should expect for our city from your council, then you need to engage with us over the next few months as we develop the strategic plan. Let us know what you want your city to be like but also what you think is affordable. Council plans to endorse the Strategic Plan in July so this is your heads up. Decisions have consequences. And especially for your wallet. Speak up folks.

Lastly, I need you to understand the impact the homelessness, addictions and mental health crisis is having on our community. People are dying. Families are being torn apart. Businesses are suffering from these impacts as well. I acknowledge, fully, that the upper levels of government have many of the solutions we need. Especially the Provincial Government. So I need you to help me. We need to rise up together as a community to tell them that what people are going through is unacceptable. That we need funding, urgently. Or it’s going to get worse. A lot worse.

The Ontario Big City Mayors Caucus, in which I was the Chair last year, made an unanimous call for an emergency meeting on these issues and it’s now 8 months later. With no meeting. Frustrated is an understatement. Council will certainly help where we can, I know it’s of importance to them as well, but healthcare is provincial jurisdiction. We need to hold them to account just as you would hold me to account to the things under my jurisdiction.

So, I hope you got a snapshot of just a few of the things that occurred in 2022 and a quick update, a serious update, on the things we’ll be wrestling with over 2023 and this term. Before I take questions however, I don’t want to leave you with the impression that the things I discussed, with my serious tone for 2023, as negative.

It’s the lens on what we look through that is so important. For me, I’m not going to waste my time playing the victim card on provincial housing legislation. Oh I’ll point it out where I must, stand up where I can, but I’d much rather spend my time thinking about how to get homes built faster, reducing red tape and making things easier for people to deal with city hall on housing. I’d much rather our energy be put into becoming the best and most affordable city to find a place to live. That’s a vision I’d. like to embrace and see come to fruition.

I’d like to put my energy into finding out how to get the south end rec centre and the Baker Street projects done. With the least amount of financial impacts as possible for our community.

I’d like to concentrate on a strategic plan that people and businesses are proud of but that’s balanced with affordability.

I want to celebrate when an individual receives the mental health they need, or the thrill of a supportive housing room with counselling from addictions.

The seriousness of these issues doesn’t mean we wallow in them. It means we tackle them, together, with positivity, kindness and partnerships for exciting solutions I know are coming.

Thank you everyone for joining me today and I’m happy to take questions.