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Burlington Mayor Outlines City’s Priorities for 2020 in State of the City Address

2020 State of the City_Cover

Earlier this morning, I presented my 2020 Mayor’s State of the City Address (SOTC) at the Burlington Performing Arts Centre. The event is put on and hosted by the Burlington Chamber of Commerce.

I am once again grateful for the opportunity to share my, Council’s and the City of Burlington’s priorities for the year and share some of the feedback we’ve received over 2019 and where we’d like to head in 2020.

For anyone who was unable to make it in person, I’ve included a full transcript of my address below that you can read.

As well, below are the videos of my full SOTC Address and the Q-and-A portion with Cogeco’s Tim Caddigan.

2020 Mayor’s SOTC:

Q-and-A with Cogeco’s Tim Caddigan:

If you like to see the slides from my presentation, please click this link for the Twitter story from the live tweets of my 2020 State of the City Address.

Mayor Marianne Meed Ward
State of the City 2020
January 30, 2020
Full Speech Transcript

Good Morning!

How’s everyone this morning?

It’s great to see you out – thank you so much for being here.

I really look forward to sharing with you today, although you’ve gotten some really good highlights already.

I really appreciate you coming and giving the gift of your time to me and to each other to learn about whats happening here in the City of Burlington.

I’m going to keep our focus sharp this morning – I do want to allow as much time as possible for your questions. Normally I get five minutes of speaking time at Council. I think I have 30 today, so that’s a great gift.

I’m going to cover what we’ve done and what’s ahead.

You will see that we are the “giddy-up let’s go” council.

This is a group of folks that has packed, I think, 4 years’ worth of activity into the first year, so I’m really looking forward to what we’re going to do over the next three years.

But before I get started, I would like to offer some thank-yous and acknowledgements.

First of all, I’d like to thank Carla and her team for organizing this event in a brand-new spot and changing it up a little – our wonderful Performing Arts Centre – so thank you Carla for putting this together for us.

We couldn’t do this without our sponsors of course: Cogeco, Bell Canada, Burlington Hydro and Durward Jones Barkwell & Company. Thank you for your support and of course to Cogeco and YourTV for broadcasting this.

I’m also glad to have our City Manager, Tim Commisso here, members of the city’s senior leadership team, as well as representatives from our partner agencies, boards and commissions. Thank you so much for being here.

And of course, my fellow councillors are here with me today.

I will call their names…they can stand and if you can hold your applause until the very end so that you know where they are if you would like to talk to them after.

So, we have Ward 1 Councillor Kelvin Galbraith;

Ward 2 Councillor Lisa Kearns;

Ward 3 Councillor Rory Nisan;

Ward 4 Councillor Shawna Stolte; and

Ward 6 Councillor Angelo Bentivegna

I’d also like to thank my husband Pete Ward who is here in the front row, and our three children for another year of outstanding support. I wouldn’t be here on this stage without the support of him and my family and I thank him for sharing me with the community to do the important work that you’re going to hear about this morning.

You, in the community, are why we do what we do.

And I want you to think as we go over what’s happened and what’s coming, think about “Is anybody better off?” “Does any of it matter?”

And you’ll hear the voices of citizens, to answer that question.


So, let’s start with Community Pride.

Burlington as you know was recognized in 2019 as Canada’s Best Community to Live and to Raise a Family. Now, we knew that already, we all know our city is number one, but it’s very nice to be recognized by others.

Many of you know that I’m not from Burlington. We moved here, my husband and I and our three kids, in 2000 for many of the reasons that we are celebrated as the number one community: we have an amazing waterfront, nature on your doorstep, healthcare, community amenities, great employment and jobs, and arts and culture.

But the very best part of Burlington is you: the people.

One of the privileges I have in being Mayor is meeting the incredible residents who quietly make our city better, from the Gift of Giving Back, Canada’s largest youth driven food drive (and we have representatives here today – they didn’t know I was going to say that and I didn’t know they were going to be here, so thank you), free weekly community dinners at our local churches, fundraisers for clothing, for cancer research, for poverty and so much more.

And as the city’s Chief Storyteller – that is on my business card – I get to tell the stories of the people and businesses that you’re going to hear about today.

Our community events are always a highlight and last year was no exception.

Burlassic Park was an amazing accomplishment and planned in a matter of days to celebrate and cheer our Raptors on to their historic Number 1 championship. I can’t say enough about the staff, many of whom are here today, who put this event together for thousands of our residents to come together and celebrate. And I heard from many people in the community – Burlington residents – that that made them proud to be a resident. I also heard from people who are not from Burlington that were envious of our ability to pull this off.

So, here’s just some of the things our own residents have told us they love about our city:

You love our waterfront and our Teen Tour Band.

All our incredible volunteers throughout the city.

You love how we have everything we need but still have a small-town, friendly, warm people.

You love our trails and green space, our beaches, our festivals, and how family-friendly & inclusive we are.

And you love that we have a safe city full of outdoor programming all year round.

We have so much to be proud of, and one of my main responsibilities is to recognize and honour our businesses and our residents.

In 2019, I launched the Key to the City program after Mike Taylor who was with the Walk Off the Earth band died suddenly, and we had no meaningful way to recognize him. He put Burlington on the map when they travelled internationally.

So, Mike became the first recipient and we announced a new Key to the City program at a remembrance event that we held for Mike in Civic Square that was organized, again, in less than 7 days.

The key features the city crest, and there’s a lot of neat stories about the crest – you can look that up online or ask me about it in the Q&A, but it also features green for the escarpment, blue for the waterfront, trees, and our slogan at the City, which is “Stand By” and that can be taken in one of two ways: Stand by or with me, or stand by for orders – be ready for action.

And I think both are equally true of Burlington.

Residents told me that they were thrilled with the key. It was made here by a local artist. One person told me they thought it had an ethereal look to it, and how it reflects just how magical Burlington is.

A couple of weeks ago I was honoured to present 2020’s first Key to the City to Gordon Schottlander, at his 95th birthday party. He is a veteran of D-Day, landed on Juno Beach, and fought for our ability to gather in peace and freedom and for me to stand here on this stage.

As you can see he is still going strong, dressing like a boss. He plans to learn the piano and play at his next birthday party. I would say Gordon is my 95-year-old goal.

We took the opportunity this past year to honour all our Veterans. I hosted Juno75, a free sold-out event right here in this room, and I was privileged to attend the 75th anniversary of the D-Day memorial ceremonies in France, with our global ambassadors the Teen Tour Band, local residents, and another one of our D-Day vets, Jim Warford, who sadly, died earlier this week. And we did lower our flags at City Hall to half-mast to honour his legacy to us. Jim was an awesome ambassador to our city and our country and he will be sorely missed by his family, friends and the community.

The Canadian Juno Beach Centre and Museum as some of you may not know is there in France because of Burlington residents. One of our own veterans, Garth Webb, thought of the idea in a basement on Woodward Ave. Every other country had something to honour the contribution of their soldiers on D-Day except for Canada. So he worked with the mayor of Courseulles Sur Mer to locate it there He worked with residents to raise money and get money from the federal and provincial governments. And, of course, it was designed by one of our local architectural firms, Chamberlain Architects. And we’re now discussing a potential twinning relationship with Courseulles Sur Mer, to continue to honour and solidify our connection and the legacy our veterans gave us.


So what have we done at City Hall, and what’s ahead for us in 2020?

We took a 25-year strategic plan and we broke it down into what we can accomplish in the four years of this term of council, called Vision to Focus, or V2F for those who like acronyms.

A key mandate for this council has been controlling the pressures of overdevelopment – particularly in the downtown. We have always been open for business and we want to ensure the right development, in the right place, at the right amount, and enshrine your community vision for our city going forward.

So last year we launched two studies: one was to review the Major Transit Station Area designation downtown and at the Burlington GO station and the second to review height and density downtown that was in the Adopted Official Plan approved by the previous council. This MTSA designation was used by the provincial land tribunal to overrule city council and the community and allow a 26-storey building in a 4-8 storey zone. So we knew we had to do something.

We instituted a one-year development freeze downtown and at the Burlington GO Station to study the MTSA. That study found that our Burlington terminal, ticket window, as some would say, and shelter, does not function as an MTSA, and that the bulk of new population growth is going to be around our three GO stations.

So, later today right after this we’re going into a meeting to approve new policies in our Official Plan that reflect the difference between the downtown MTSA and the Burlington GO MTSAs and will limit the pressures we’ve been experiencing of overdevelopment. And we’re on track to lift the development freeze by March 5, as promised.

The other study was a review of the height and density in the Official Plan that was adopted by the previous council. This (current) City Council approved a new concept earlier this week that limits height in a number of areas including Brant Street, Village Square, and nearby established neighbourhoods, and it does direct height further up Brant Street where the community asked for it to go.

So we are planning to update our new Official Plan with policies that will come back in April and then send that to Halton Region for final approval this spring. And at the end of this work, we will be approaching the province to review the MTSA and the Urban Growth Centre designations downtown, which have contributed to some of the overdevelopment pressures we’re experiencing. And the studies and work we are currently doing will position us well for those conversations.

In the meantime, Burlington has remained open for business. The Interim Control Bylaw development freeze affected 1% of Burlington’s land. The purple on the map shows all the current projects that were happening across the city last year, and we get more applications every week. We are, and we remain, open for business.

So, is anyone better off? Here’s what one resident told us:

“I’d like to say how impressed I am with the work that you and your staff are doing, especially with fighting the downtown overdevelopment. Dillon’s report sounds very promising and I’d like to encourage you and your staff to keep going and prevent the beautiful downtown from becoming a tall concrete jungle. Your efforts are much appreciated.”


Protecting our environment and our greenspace was also a key deliverable for this council.

In 2019 Council declared a Climate Emergency to ensure that all our decisions consider the impact on the environment. And we also repeated that at Halton Regional council and some of our Mayors are here today.

This week we implemented an urban private tree bylaw – after 9 years of debate!  Over those years it has been a very divisive issue, but this council worked hard to hear the community and come up with something we all could support and the vote ultimately was unanimous. We also successfully advocated to the province to back off of plans to open the Greenbelt for development last year.

Our Cityview Park Pavilion will be net carbon zero using solar panels and we’ll be redeveloping the Skyway Arena to be a low carbon operation with initiatives like geothermal heating. We already have 29 electric vehicle charging stations on City of Burlington property with more on the way thanks to the 2020 budget. And we’ll continue to contribute to the Bay Area Climate Change Council with our partners at Mohawk College and the City of Hamilton.

And we’ve invested more money in each of our budgets in tree planting and are starting a task force this year to partner with citizens groups, agencies and corporations to invest in more tree planting.

So is anyone better off?

One resident sent me this note about the Climate Emergency Declaration:

“This is a great strategic imperative for our city and I appreciate the update on some of the tactics and future plan.

Proud of my city and appreciate your leadership.”


We are also looking at ways to ease traffic congestion, and one of the best ways is to increase transit use to get more people out of their cars. This is a very transit-friendly council, and in the last two budgets, we’ve added additional funding for more buses and more drivers.

We also brought in free transit for seniors at off-peak hours, for low income residents, and for students under 12. And this year we are talking to school boards about partnering on free transit for high school students. And it’s great to see the Chair of the Halton Board here this morning and at least one of the school trustees.

So is anyone better off?

Well this led to a 34% increase in senior ridership, an absolutely outstanding number, and overall a 10% increase in transit use in less than a year.

One resident said this:

“I wanted to thank you for the bus program that you guys have given people on fixed incomes allowing those using Split Pass to ride for free. It has opened up my life and allowed me to travel a little more than I normally would have. Thank you so much. When you live on fixed income it is hard to do much of anything but this program helps so much, you have no idea…thank you again.”

And about a week ago I was here in this room for Chinese New Year celebration and a woman approached me who was so appreciative of how the free seniors transit programming is enabling her and her friends to get around town easier that she made me this amazing piece of art personally and gifted it to the City as a thank-you.


So let’s talk about budgets. We actually passed two budgets last year, the first delivered the lowest tax increase in 8 years at 2.99% on the city-portion which is about a third of your bill, and more recently our budget was 3.99%. When that is blended with the Region and Education taxes it delivers an overall increase in line with inflation, at 2.44%.

Our budgets are focused on community priorities: investing in infrastructure, tree planting, more transit, a new community centre at Skyway Arena, and more. And we’re always looking for ways to save money. Each year staff find about $1 million in savings. We also applied for and received funding from the province’s Audit & Accountability fund to review and find savings in several areas of the city, including the city fleet, and our planning department.

So…Is anyone better off?

I got this note recently:

“I am proud how well Burlington is trying to stay within budgets and cutting wasteful spending. Too many politicians use taxpayer money as a personal piggybank to fulfill their frivolous fantasies with little regard to whether the people want or need them. I’ve lived in Burlington since 1942 and love this town. I think our new mayor is doing a great job.”


We set a goal of fostering respect and civility at City Hall – we can disagree about issues without being disagreeable. We respect diverse voices and experiences, and we want every voice to be heard, around the council table and in the community. And we’ve delivered.

This council works together with each other and with the community, and here’s just a few examples:

  • I’ve partnered with Kelvin Galbraith on the Red Tape, Red Carpet task force, and the Tyandaga Quarry community council.
  • I’m working with Paul Sharman and Kelvin Galbraith on the review of BEDC, TechPlace and consider a potential Municipal Development Corporation.
  • I’m working With Rory Nisan and Shawna Stolte this year on the free student transit.
  • I’ve worked with Lisa Kearns on downtown overdevelopment.
  • And of course with Angelo Bentivegna on countless flag raisings and fundraising events.

We are committed as a team to working together for the good of our city and we’ll keep doing so in the years ahead.

And right away, people noticed a change.

One of the first comments I got after a council meeting last year was this one:

“The difference in how council, committees and staff work together is palpable at city hall and throughout the city. Citizens at city hall and council meetings are not only respected but are heeded. Thank you council and staff for listening and adapting to a whole new mindset so quickly and graciously.”


We’re also building collaborative relationships with fellow mayors through my membership in the Large Urban Mayors Caucus of Ontario, and with our local representatives at the provincial and federal level to advance the interests of Burlington. We had the Prime Minister visit us last year, and in the near future will hope to welcome the Premier of Ontario for a visit.

We’re also building global relationships through our twin city partnerships with Apeldoorn, The Netherlands, where I’ll visit this May with councillor Nisan, and Itabashi, Japan which we both visited last October. Those twin city visits occur once every five years.

The goal of twinning is to build bonds of friendship and peace, increase our understanding of other cultures so we can welcome diversity in our own community,we  learn from other cities how they tackle major issues and advance our economic interests. We learned that we have much in common: from dealing with flooding and the impact of climate change, to affordable housing, transportation and building a global economy. Most of you know I love seafood, especially fish, and I learned new ways to eat fish! It was in my sake, and that’s a true story, and I even ate it on a stick at a local festival, which was wonderful!

I got this note on social media during my Itabashi trip:

“I really admire how you and delegates are not doing just fun “tourism” stuff, how you are all deeply going into areas and history of devastating parts of Japan as well – which will help move forward with understanding and knowledge on how to better promote friendship, peace and camaraderie between both communities and cities and countries!”


So I want to take a minute now to update you on business activity over the past year and what’s ahead – so many great things are happening in our community and our businesses often operate very quietly. Last year I had the pleasure of touring some of our unique and award-winning businesses that are putting Burlington on the map globally.

I toured Samuel & Son company and they make steel so if any of you drive a Tesla it might have some local steel in it.

I went to PV Labs in Burlington who recently got an investment of $4M US from Lockheed Martin and they also made the gimbal – which is a housing for cameras – that was used in the Marvel film Black Panther and have won both an Academy Award AND an Emmy for their technical contributions to movie-making – that’s amazing!

I met local businessman George ‘Sandy’ Thomson from Thordon Bearings when receiving the prestigious Elmer A. Sperry award in recognition of a new technology that they developed in the 60’s, this is an oil-less water-lubricated bearing for ships. What it means? It has prevented millions of litres of oil from polluting our lakes and oceans.

We also have a local business, Precision Records, that did the vinyl pressing for Kendrick Lamar’s album Damn, which won the Pulitzer prize ever for a rap album, and they’ve also pressed records for other groups like The Tragically Hip.

And I toured Hunter Amenities so if you’ve ever washed your hair in a hotel room, you’ve probably done it with Hunter shampoos, anywhere in the world.


At last year’s State of the City address I announced the formation of the Mayor’s Red Tape Red Carpet Task Force, that was co-chaired by my fellow councillor Kelvin Galbraith. Burlington Economic Development was also a key partner as were city staff. We spent six months listening to our business community and heard a few things about what we were doing well and we heard about what we needed to do better.

The result is 22 recommendations that were unanimously passed by Council and are already being implemented. You can follow our progress of all 22 recommendations on the website that is up on the screen and continue to give us feedback there as well.

So, is anyone better off yet?

Let’s hear from our businesses:

“I am so impressed, not just by these recommendations but by the team, the process and the time-line that produced them. Our Mayor and Council should be very proud of what they’ve accomplished. I look forward to seeing all of these recommendations implemented, and to the fruit they will bear, particularly in the Rural Area.”

One of the recommendations that we made was to create a role focused on liaising directly with business owners to remove obstacles and challenges – that’s the “roll out the red carpet” piece. Mike Greenlee at the City has been doing a great job, stepped into that role immediately and I know from personal experience that he has helped dozens of situations and quickly gotten people the answers they needed and helped move business forward.


Another of the Red Tape Red Carpet recommendations was to create a stronger value proposition and branding for Burlington and…you heard it here first…watch for the launch of Burlington’s One Brand – an initiative that came out of the city’s 25 year strategic plan to create one unified message that speaks to one city, one story, and can be used equally by residents, businesses, and City staff. It will better position Burlington to compete for investment, talent and tourism, as well as build local pride. A project team comprised of Burlington Economic Development, City Hall Corporate Communications, and Tourism Burlington has been formed to create the brand.


In closing, none of this would be possible without a great team to work with on staff and council, so I’d like to leave you with their words about what they are most proud of this year or looking forward to and maybe a few little-known facts about them.

Tim Commisso, our new City Manager is already proud to be part of our strategic leadership team, and in his words, he works for a visionary and passionate Mayor and Council. So thank you Tim. His goal is clear and aligned with our #1 Community ranking: to be the Best Run municipality in Canada based on achieving Council’s approved customer experience and strategic outcomes. My goal, and Tim’s is this: if you could choose a city hall across the street to do business with, we want you to still choose us.

Little known fact – if you have a morning meeting with Tim, he’ll always bring coffee. And maybe also a scone.

Ward 1 Councillor Kelvin Galbraith says that as a business owner himself, he really enjoyed the experience of working on the Red Tape Red Carpet initiative because business owners and entrepreneurs contribute so much to our growing economy and local employment. He found that hearing their concerns and helping to address them proved to be a very rewarding experience and helped ensure Burlington is very much open for business!

Little known fact: Kelvin is also a great source of fitness tips which are always handy this time of year! And he has the record number of kids on council at SIX! True story. Check his Instagram feed.

Councillor Lisa Kearns said the highlight for her has been the sense of possibility that runs through our city and that she is elated with the path we are on together. She’s proud of the Vision to Focus workplan, the efforts to bring a community vision to downtown, and the amazing progress we’ve made on matters that make us the best place to live, run a business, raise a family or age in place.

Little known fact about Lisa: her big smile and heart are part of her proud Newfoundland heritage thanks to her grandparents.

Councillor Rory Nisan was proud to bring forward the climate emergency declaration for Burlington, one of the first in Ontario, now being followed up with a climate action plan. He’s also noticed that since joining city council he has become an instant expert on…everything?

The highlight for Councillor Shawna Stolte in 2019 was the people: the enthusiastic, engaged residents of our community, the dedicated and hardworking staff of the city and the great group of passionate and committed Councillors/Mayor that she has the pleasure of working with every day. That’s a mutual feeling. Little known fact – although the secret may be out – Shawna is our official tree hugger, and the only thing Shawna loves more than trees is her three daughters, and the soup that she newly discovered from Saigon on Brant!

Councillor Paul Sharman from Ward 5 told me the most important moments and defining aspect of the last year was the huge learning process experienced by everyone and the degree to which our whole council has come up to speed.

Little known fact although some of you might know it well: His nickname around City Hall is “data guy.”

And finally, Councillor Angelo Bentivegna of Ward 6 told me about a few key phrases he now uses on a regular basis:

  • No, I don’t have all the answers
  • Sorry, but I can’t have your street plowed first
  • Please don’t ask me for a favour, and
  • Yes, I’ll be late for dinner

And a little-known fact about Angelo is that he will often bring you treats from the business he and his wife Diane have run together for years, Mrs. B’s Gifthouse. My personal favourite is the chocolate covered licorice. If you haven’t had it yet, you are missing out!

Like I said, this is an amazing group of people working together for your city and for you and I’m so proud of the work we have accomplished, and I truly look forward to the next three years.

I want to thank you again, so much, for your time and attention and for being engaged in what is happening in our City, for the support you offer our staff and council, myself – and each other.

— Burlington Mayor Marianne Meed Ward


*Posted by John Bkila, Mayor’s Media and Digital Communications Specialist

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