Time flies when you’re having fun and a year has never flown by so fast!
365 days ago, on December 3rd, 2018, your new city council was inaugurated and held our first official council meeting along with a sold-out crowd of local citizens at the Burlington Performing Arts Centre. The energy and optimism in the room that night was absolutely inspiring. I woke up the next morning with a spring in my step and a heart full of gratitude and that hasn’t changed one bit a full year later.
Being Mayor of Canada’s Best Community and Best Place to Raise a Family is my honour and privilege. Partnering with you, with council, and everyone here at the City of Burlington to create change and help our city evolve and grow is exciting and challenging every single day. What we have all accomplished together in the last 12 months is nothing short of amazing, and there’s so much more to come.
I want to take this moment to say thank you to the entire Burlington community for all the support, feedback and great ideas we have received from you this year. Your voices are welcome, heard, and respected and we encourage you to keep reaching out, coming to council meetings, and participating in the democratic process. Between myself and council, we have attended over 500 community events this year and they have all been valuable ways to connect with you and hear your points of view and concerns (while also celebrating some awesome music, art, culture, sport, business and philanthropy together)!
This community is exceptionally engaged in what is going on at City Hall and the appetite for information never ceases to amaze me. My blog has had over 130,000 views this year and we’ve shared over 300 articles with you there. More than 6,000 people subscribe to my monthly newsletter and almost 20,000 of you connect with me on social media. I can’t even count the emails I’ve received and the number of businesses, schools, community groups, young people and residents I’ve met with, but I’m grateful for every opportunity we have had to communicate with each other and connect on the things that matter to you.
You elected us to get things done and we wasted no time in getting started. We launched an Interim Control Bylaw in our downtown core to pause development for 1 year while we reviewed our planning guidelines and simultaneously began work with staff, the Region, and our residents to update our Official Plan to better reflect the vision our community has for the future evolution and growth of our downtown.
Together with our finance partners, we passed the 2019 budget with the lowest tax increase in 8 years (2.99% city increase with a 1.96% overall increase) while still adding new services and delivering on infrastructure improvements. We finished building and opened the Kilbride Skate Park. We opted into retail cannabis stores and created our own guidelines for where we want to see them and why. We took steps to improve inclusivity by expanding fireworks permissions to additional cultural groups and events, and approving the implementation of rainbow crosswalks next year.
We committed to protecting our environment by declaring a Climate Emergency to ensure all our decisions pass through an environmental lens that prioritizes clean air, water, and land in everything we do. We approved our 2018-2022 Workplan: From Vision to Focus with a key objective to support sustainable infrastructure and a resilient environment, and we implemented a new organizational structure at City Hall to help us bring that broader workplan to life along with a greater emphasis on the customer experience for everyone who interacts with the City of Burlington.
I want to genuinely thank my council colleagues for a year of passionate debate and respectful dialogue as we seek to represent the priorities, interests and ideals of our constituents. We have spent over 250 hours in council and committee meetings together this year and while we don’t always agree, we all know we are free to speak openly and honestly, and shake hands (or even hug) at the end of the day. Civility and respect are the cornerstones of democracy and ensure every voice and perspective can be heard. I am so proud of how we demonstrate these behaviours with one another, as well as with our colleagues and constituents.
Speaking of colleagues, I was so impressed when I looked back at how much the people who work for the City of Burlington (962 full-time and 223 part-time) have accomplished for the people we serve. From the Walk Off the Earth tribute concert in Civic Square back in January when our community lost local musician Mike Taylor, to the shared excitement of Burlassic Park events watching the Raptors take the NBA championship, to new bus routes with free transit for low-income residents and free off-peak transit for seniors to help people get around, it has been a great year of bringing people together and creating amazing memories. We also hired a phenomenal new City Manager, Tim Commisso, and he is setting a great tone in elevating both employee engagement and customer service.
In their drive to make Burlington the safest, most resilient community in Canada, our fire department visited over 9,100 homes as part of their “Steps to Safety” program, aimed at educating people on smoke and carbon monoxide alarm ownership, escape planning and avoiding the common causes of fires.
We all learned a lot this year at City Hall as we seek to deliver the best services and experiences for our community. We know we need to communicate as quickly and effectively as possible during weather events that impact our service levels. We know we need to streamline the applications and permits experience so we can get to yes or no faster and provide clarity and consistency to our customers. Our Transportation Services team kicked off the multi-jurisdictional QEW Corridor Study in partnership with the Region and the Ontario Ministry of Transportation, working to help remove obstacles and delays for landowners looking to develop along the QEW employment corridor. We know we need to roll out the red carpet and remove red tape for businesses who want to locate here or grow and we are already hard at work implementing 22 new recommendations from the Mayor’s Red Tape Red Carpet Task Force to make that happen.
Burlington is open for business and we proudly welcomed many new companies and saw existing ones expand. Endless + Hauser broke ground on their new Customer Experience Centre and headquarters, and new companies like Rampf Composites, Tandia, Code Ninja and Senator all located here. Overall, 172 new business leases were signed across the city, along with 3 expansions and 4 new builds. The Burlington Economic Development organization was recognized for their great work, winning two Excellence in Economic Development Awards from the International Economic Development Council. The Burlington Chamber of Commerce said a fond farewell to longtime President and CEO Keith Hoey and welcomed the great energy and experience of Carla Nell as their new leader.
We launched the Key to the City program to honour the people who have made outstanding contributions to our community, starting with Mike Taylor from Walk Off the Earth and Mayor Sakamoto of Itabashi. Local artist Teresa Seaton created a key that is a true work of art and reflects the many unique features of our city.
We reached well beyond our borders in so many ways. We built new relationships with changing political partners across municipal, provincial and federal boundaries, and helped prevent development in our greenbelt and the threat of in-year tax cuts to front-line services. We worked with our community to send a strong message that our two-tiered City/Regional governance structure works well and we are not interested in a “City of Halton,” and were rewarded when the province scrapped plans for any changes to municipal or regional governance.
We strengthened our bonds with international friends through our mundialization program, hosting a delegation from our twin city, Itabashi, Japan, and visiting them in return in honour of our 30th anniversary together. We represented our city proudly at the 75th anniversary of D-Day in France, joining Burlington veterans and the Teen Tour Band on Juno Beach to pay our respects with people from all over the world. Our own sold-out Juno75 event beforehand at the Burlington Performing Arts Centre brought a grateful community together here at home and acknowledged our community’s role in building and designing the Juno Beach Centre in France to honour Canada’s contribution to the D-Day landing.
It is hard to believe all of this happened in just one year, but when I think about how many people came together to bring it all to life, I understand why it was possible. It’s the teamwork, the collaboration, the passion and commitment shown by every single person who lives and works here.
For that, and for a truly amazing year, I thank you.