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Burlington Mayor Takes Look Back at 2020 & Outlines What’s Ahead for 2021 in Virtual State of the City Address

2021 Mayor SOTC_Slide 1

Earlier this morning, I presented my 2021 Mayor’s State of the City Address (SOTC) virtually due to current COVID-19 gathering restrictions. The event was put on and hosted on Zoom by the Burlington Chamber of Commerce.

I’m grateful for all those who were able to join virtually and for the opportunity to take a look back at 2020 and share the priorities I, Council and the City of Burlington have for 2021.

Following the SOTC Address, Cogeco’s Tim Caddigan held a Q-and-A session with me.

For anyone who was unable to join us virtually on Zoom or follow along with the live-tweets by my staff from my Twitter account, below is a transcript of my address that you can read — as well as the recording from Cogeco/YourTV Halton.

2021 Mayor’s SOTC:

Mayor Marianne Meed Ward
State of the City 2021
February 1, 2021
Full Speech Transcript

Thank you all for joining me this morning for our first Virtual State of the City event.

Of course, I wish we could be together in person as we have done in previous years, but I know we will still be able to connect and engage with one another while staying safe and healthy at the same time.

Thank you for the gift of your time, and for showing an interest in what’s happening in our city.

I’m going to focus the first half of our time together on providing you with an overview of what we have accomplished together in 2020, and look ahead to our priorities for 2021.

And then we’ll dedicate time to your questions.

Before I get started, I’d like to offer some thanks and acknowledgements.

First, I’d like to thank the leadership and team at the Burlington Chamber of Commerce for making this event happen.

The Chamber has done an exceptional job supporting our local businesses through the pandemic as part of TEAM Burlington and adapting their flagship events online in ways that are both creative and memorable for everyone in attendance.

I am grateful for their contributions to our community and the even stronger relationship we now have as a result of all the collaboration we’ve done together throughout the city this past year.

I want to thank our sponsors for today’s event. Thank you for your support in making today’s event happen.

I’m happy to have our City Manager, Tim Commisso, and members of city council and the city’s senior leadership team, as well as representatives from our partner agencies, boards and commissions here online as well. We truly are a team for our community and this past year has proven it beyond words.

Thank you all for being here today.

Let’s get started.

A LOOK BACK AT 2020

Three themes come to mind as I look back on 2020 and how we approached the many unexpected events that came our way as a result of a global pandemic:

  • Protecting and Partnering to keep people safe.
  • Adapting to ever-changing circumstances and extraordinary challenges.
  • And inspiring one another with hope, innovation, and support.

PROTECT & PARTNER

With COVID-19, the learning curve was steep and immediate for every government, health agency, business and community around the globe.

Burlington responded quickly and in a unified manner, setting aside political stripes and working together for the health and safety of everyone in our city.

We declared a State of Emergency, and began Daily Emergency Control Group and Crisis Communications calls for months on end, 7 days a week.

We collaborated as a city-wide leadership team on quick decisions and responsive actions.

Our goal was constant and accurate communication on every channel possible, and thanks to the incredibly hard work of our teams, we achieved it.

Media releases. Website updates. Social media, TV and radio interviews, and public telephone town halls.

My website alone had almost 350,000 visits last year, up 265% from 2019.

Over the course of six public telephone town halls, thousands of residents joined us to ask our expert panelists their questions and got the answers they needed.

We partnered immediately and effectively as I created the Burlington COVID-19 Task Force with all levels of government – municipal, provincial and federal — as well as our hospital, police and fire department, and essential community supports like the United Way, our local food banks, and Burlington Hydro.

We met 16 times between March and December, and together we identified challenges in food scarcity, logistics, business supports and beyond – and worked together to solve problems and get help where it was needed.

These collaborative and strengthened relationships, and improved and timely communication processes, will far outlast this pandemic and continue to benefit our community greatly in the years ahead.

ADAPT

We came together quickly as we dealt with wave 1 and the first spring lockdown last year and we learned the real meaning of the word ADAPT.

We figured out how to work and learn remotely…

We became experts in Zoom calls and telling people to unmute themselves…

We made or bought our first masks and learned that six feet apart is about the length of a hockey stick…

We ventured out for essential services and washed our groceries for the first time ever…

We begrudgingly added new words to our lexicon, like ‘social bubbles’, ‘covidiot’, and ‘physical distancing’…

We learned how to really wash our hands and stop touching our faces — and we flattened the curve as we headed into last summer.

CONTINUING THE BUSINESS OF THE CITY

We found ways to continue the business of the city and manage our bottom line.

We held committee and council meetings virtually and found ways to host virtual public meetings on newly proposed developments.

Front line services, such as transit, roads and parks maintenance, fire and bylaw enforcement, introduced additional precautions including personal protective equipment to ensure staff and the community remained safe.

The suspension and cancellation of many recreational programs and facilities required us to temporarily lay-off part-time staff with many returning in the second half of 2020 as programs were redesigned.

For Burlington, lost revenues in areas such as transit and recreation were in excess of $18.5 million that was offset by more than 50% in cost savings through the immediate introduction of an Expenditure Restraint program as well as realized savings in areas such as fuel pricing and winter maintenance.

ADVOCACY

City and Regional Council, along with our partners in Ontario’s Big City Mayors group successfully advocated with our provincial and federal governments to provide much-needed funding relief to help mitigate the shortfall municipalities were experiencing due to lost revenues and increased expenses for personal protective equipment (PPE) and other safeguards.

As a result of the advocacy and many hours of work by staff completing the applications for this program, we received $15.6 million from senior levels of government under both phase 1 and phase 2 of the Safe Restart Funding agreement.

Thanks to this funding, we have avoided a shortfall for 2020, thereby not requiring us to use our constrained rainy day reserve funds and also permitting us to carryover a large portion of the government funding into 2021 to address continued COVID-19 revenues losses.

We continued to participate in meetings and conferences where it is essential that Burlington’s voice is at the table – from my work at Ontario Big City Mayor’s meetings to Councillor Nisan’s role on the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ Board of Directors to the Association of Municipalities of Ontario where I am now a board member on the Large Urban Caucus, we advocated on issues that matter like Safe Restart funding, local quarry expansions (Nelson Quarry / Aldershot Meridian Quarry), improving Burlington’s access to rural broadband, and the Halton region consolidated courthouse project.

We control what we can – and we advocate strongly for the things we can’t.

BANDING TOGETHER FOR SMALL BUSINESSES

Business support organizations banded together and took action.

TEAM Burlington – Burlington Economic Development, the Chamber of Commerce, Tourism Burlington, and our local BIAs — came together to distill a daily deluge of information from provincial and federal governments like rent relief and wage subsidies and pulled it all together on their newly built website to better help our businesses navigate it all.

Councillor Galbraith and myself joined the board of the newly formed Burlington Economic Recovery Network led by Team Burlington.

City Council advocated for funding to support local businesses affected by closures in areas such as rent relief and investments in PPE, and we, along with our partners at Halton Region, made a total of $250,000 in funds available for the Digital Main Street and Safe Restart initiatives.

TEAM Burlington leveraged the funding from the City and Region, along with other levels of government, to support Safe Restart grants, the Digital Main Street program, the Post Promise, and other valuable initiatives.

Through the Safe Restart Grant, over $242,000 was given to 153 local businesses.

Digital Main Street funding helped more than 130 local businesses strengthen their ability to do business online and the hiring of 2 digital service squad members enabled them to reach out to over 1,000 businesses.

The City partnered with the Burlington Restaurant Association, who joined our COVID-19 Task Force, and responded to the need for expanded patios through spring and summer, waiving fees and expediting approvals. We are working hard this winter to further support safe and compliant winterized tents and outdoor spaces.

City Hall will continue to partner with TEAM Burlington and our business community to identify advocacy opportunities and act on them, and ensure business owners and employees are informed of all the supports that are available to them as we look toward recovery in the year ahead.

SOME BUSINESSES CLOSED, WHILE NEW ONES OPENED DURING COVID-19

We saw many businesses struggle this year, with some of our most cherished and favourite spots closed for good.

We lost 27 businesses in 2020, most of whom were those hardest hit by the closures and restrictions that came along with rising COVID cases. Restaurants, gyms, and personal services like hair salons saw challenges like never before.

Restaurants pivoted to focus on take-out and delivery, salons started providing take-away kits and special packages, and fitness providers started offering online and outdoor classes wherever possible.

Their adaptability and innovation was an inspiration to us all.

I was constantly moved by how much our residents did to support their favourite businesses by taking them up on these new offers, buying gift cards, and shopping local this holiday season.

We saw women particularly hard hit in what was called the “Shecession”, taking on a high percentage of the burden of home schooling and childcare but the good news story was the “Shecovery”, where women opened new businesses and took risks to start new ventures.

Hue La La, Park Market and Refillery, The Market by the Platter Company, Grounded Pilates, the Vegan Pantry, and Bubbles and Blow are just a few of the new businesses owned or co-owned by women in Burlington.

And we saw businesses like Babaz, Branded Burlington and the North Coal expand into new locations.

Favourite shops like Joelle’s and Jeff’s Guy Shop created amazing online stores complimented by easy curbside pickup.

And we’ve all seen new businesses like The Food Villa, Aldershot Foot Clinic, New Street Media and Scholars Education Centre emerge in Burlington and that’s great, particularly during a pandemic.

Overall, we gained as many businesses as we lost in one of the most challenging economic years of our lifetime, showing our community’s resilience and perseverance in the face of extraordinary circumstances.

PROGRESS MADE ON CITY PRIORITIES

Throughout 2020 the City continued to make progress on our new Official Plan, and it was approved by Halton Region on November 30th of 2020.

The City is working closely with the Region of Halton through their Official Plan Review Process to explore removing the Major Transit Station Area designation around the downtown transit terminal and adjust the boundary of the Downtown Urban Growth Centre. This is intended to direct future growth around the GO stations where additional density is best supported by access to mass transit.

We continue work to refresh our outdated zoning bylaw with the goal of helping make simple things easier to get done – and that will be a multi-year process.

AND throughout 2020 we continued to see development applications and settlement approvals.

The construction value of residential and commercial building permits approved in 2020 was more than $370 million and we would expect to realize an increase in the city’s assessment base over the coming years based on occupancy of these new buildings.

In 2020, more than 680 building permits were issued for non-residential development totaling over 124,000 square metres of floor space that will continue to help our business growth and economy.

Also in 2020, building permits were issued that will result in over 670 residential units that will continue to grow our city’s housing capacity.

We presently have 93 active major planning applications in various stages of review as of January 2021 and totaling over 4,000 residential units that would further increase the assessment base once approved and occupied.

We continue to be open for business, directing growth where it needs to go.

We also announced an exciting project with Brock University, who has decided to relocate its current Hamilton campus to a more accessible location in Burlington, to better serve students and the broader community.

We are thrilled to see this expanded post-secondary offering in our community and look forward to further updates on location and timelines this year.

And in October 2020, City Council supported the establishment of the Burlington Lands Partnership, a new organizational structure that will oversee the strategic lands management function of the City.

The BLP represents a transitional approach that allows for the expansion of organizational capacity and a build-up of expertise that will in turn enable further consideration by Council of a formalized municipal development corporation (MDC) in line with other municipalities in Ontario and utilizing the powers allowed under the Municipal Act related to municipal corporations.

Driven by the goals of the City of Burlington 10 Year Economic Vision and 25 Year Strategic Plan, the goal is to affirm and enable the City of Burlington’s focus on strategic lands related to the following key priorities:

  • maximize business development opportunities to support economic growth and job creation;
  • implement city building projects and initiatives that enhance the quality of life for all citizens; and
  • leverage opportunities and deliver increased affordable housing.

GROWTH & EVOLUTION AS A COMMUNITY

A global pandemic didn’t stop our growth and evolution as a community, nor our commitment to creating a diverse and inclusive city.

These issues continued to dominate the collective consciousness as we saw how COVID-19 affected different communities in disparate ways – I’ve said often that we are all in the same storm but we are not all in the same boat – some have had a yacht and some are trying to bail themselves out of leaky rowboats.

The Black Lives Matter movement gained global attention after tragic events and loss of life in the U.S., and our residents came out in thousands to march locally in masks while keeping their distance to show their support against racism here and all over the world.

We had a temporary art installation by a local artist not long after, in front of city hall.

The City supported the temporary public art installation called “The Promenade of Pain” in Spencer Smith Park, hosted by local artist, Amber Ruthart, First Nations, White Bear Clan, 60s scoop survivor and performance artist. The REDress Project was created by multidisciplinary artist Jaime Black and has been installed in public spaces throughout Canada and the United States. The dresses represent the hundreds – perhaps thousands – of North American Indigenous women and girls who have been murdered or disappeared during the past four decades.

We launched our first Rainbow Crosswalk together this past summer, and had a virtual Pride flag raising for Pride Month in June.

With the support of Burlington’s own Accessibility Advisory Committee and Inclusivity Advisory Committee, council signed the Halton Equity and Diversity Roundtable Charter: an explicit declaration of commitment to the values of equity, diversity and inclusion which also lists commitments and guiding principles to follow.

We have more initiatives to further strengthen our support for these issues in the year ahead that I look forward to sharing with you soon.

INSPIRE

We were collectively inspired by the Front Line porch clap on Friday nights last spring where we all stood on our porches and balconies to show our support for the people in our community working tirelessly to keep us safe and healthy.

The stories poured in of ways people all across our city were donating their time and money, helping their neighbors, building gardens and chalk murals, singing to one another and so much more – that we ended up creating a Wall of Inspiration on my website to spread the joy of these stories of support, creativity and community.

Habitat for Humanity’s 18 affordable housing homes were completed and are now occupied at Crew-Goetz Landing on Queensway.

And Seniors exercise equipment opened at Burloak park thanks to local fundraising efforts by Burlington Seniors Community Inc.

The stories are just unlimited and as much as we are all struggling, there is so much kindness, generosity and resilience to be found in our wonderful City that gives us all the strength to keep going in these difficult times.

KEYS TO THE CITY

We gave out Keys to the City to local D-Day veteran Gordon Schottlander, who I was able to give to in person last January at his 95th birthday, as well as online via Zoom ceremonies to local business owner Ian Elliott who keeps literature alive and well at Different Drummer Books, and to Aldershot’s own young women’s hockey superstar Kendall Cooper.

There are so many amazing people in our community and I’m thrilled we now have this program to shine a light on them for all to see.

MESSAGES FROM WARDS 1 & 2 COUNCILLORS

I spoke with my fellow councillors this past month and found that they too saw a lot of silver linings and positive outcomes in 2020

Counc. Kelvin Galbraith of Ward 1 noted that the future of meetings has changed forever.  No longer do we need to waste as much time and energy (or gas, emissions, and wear and tear of our cars) just to meet in person or groups when the virtual technology is present.  He saw this as the greatest carbon reducing measure of the pandemic.

In the year ahead one of his key focus areas will be on helping as many business owners as he can rebound from the losses sustained during the pandemic.

Counc. Lisa Kearns of Ward 2 told me she found so much value in the ability to engage our community in a new virtual way that can still be used when we return to the faces and places we love.

She said that in 2021 she is most excited to usher in the development policies of the new Official Plan that puts resident and local business values first.

MESSAGES FROM WARDS 3 & 4 COUNCILLORS

Ward 3 Counc. Rory Nisan found the biggest silver lining to be the strength of Burlington as a community, as he has seen how neighbours have come together to support one another and believes those social bonds will stay with us.

He’s looking forward to accomplishing an effective vaccine rollout in Burlington and Halton so we can get back to making the most of the best place to live in Canada.

Ward 4 Counc. Shawna Stolte told me how much she appreciated the opportunity to support the creation of new Neighbourhood Groups in Ward 4 during the pandemic. She saw first hand that as residents came together in unprecedented ways to support each other through this challenging time, it truly reflected the message that we are stronger together.

Moving into 2021, she is most looking forward to working with residents to explore creative, innovative affordable housing solutions now that the work on Burlington’s inaugural Housing Strategy is able to commence.

MESSAGES FROM WARDS 5 & 6 COUNCILLORS

Ward 5 Counc. Paul Sharman echoed seeing the benefits in the deployment of technology that has been sitting on the shelf for a number of years, leading to people doing many things from home without burning gasoline on unnecessary shopping and meeting trips!

He looks forward to hanging out with family, friends and colleagues without fear of becoming unwell or making others sick in the year ahead.

And Angelo Bentivegna, our Ward 6 Councillor, saw first-hand the incredible co-operation from our hard-working city staff during this pandemic with respect to quick responses, timely phone calls & virtual meetings, resulting in positive and productive results.

In the year ahead, he is excited about working with City, Region and Upper levels of Government in making significant progress with providing reliable Broadband in Rural Burlington.

MESSAGE FROM CITY MANAGER

Our City Manager, Tim Commisso, also has a lot of gratitude to send out to our city teams for how they adapted and flexed to constantly changing circumstances, closing and reopening parks and recreation programs at a moment’s notice, implementing safety procedures on buses and at golf courses and inside community centres and city hall, working tirelessly to maintain our commitment to keeping our city moving and keeping our community safe.

In 2021 he looks forward to providing leadership in 2 major areas:

  1. First and foremost to work closely with Council and staff to do whatever the City can to protect the community from the COVID 19 pandemic including redesigning and adapting City Services as needed, and that includes doing everything we can to support local businesses; and
  2. Continue to deliver the citizens of Burlington with high quality public services and excellent value for their tax dollars. Over the balance of this term of Council, Tim’s focus will also be achieving Council’s strategic priorities as approved in their 2018-2022 Vision to Focus (V2F) workplan.

WHAT’S AHEAD

Looking forward, we have 4 key priority areas.

We will continue to support an effective and efficient vaccine rollout so that all residents of Burlington who want to get one will be able to do so by this fall, supporting a broader reopening of our economy and a healthier new normal. (COVID-19 Vaccine Updates)

We will stay focused on our city’s bottom line, finishing the 2021 budget in the coming weeks and looking to maintain an overall increase of just 2.5%, same as last year. And in the fall we will begin the 2022 budget process.

We will complete the work on our Official Plan, getting growth and development where it makes sense in Burlington.

And we will continue our advocacy work and partnerships to ensure the needs of our community are heard and addressed at every level.

Through Ontario Big City Mayors of which I am a member, through the Association of Municipalities of Ontario where I now sit on the Large Urban Caucus as a board member, through the Halton Mayors and Chair group, through the Federation of Municipalities of Ontario, through the COVID-19 Task Force, through the Burlington Economic Recovery Network, and through our strong and collaborative relationships with our 3 local MPs and MPPs.

We will continue working on issues like Safe Restart funding, sick pay, rent relief, rural broadband, the environment, and more.

And as Canada’s Best Community to live in and raise a family, we will continue to be kind, resilient, persistent, and supportive of one another. That’s the way we get through this and build back even better.

If the past year has shown us anything, it is how undeniably interconnected we all are, and how much we can do when we all work together.

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A Better Burlington began in 2006 after my neighbours said they felt left out of city decisions, learning about them only after they’d been made. As journalist for 22 years, I thought “I can do something about that” and a website and newsletter were born. They’ve taken various forms and names over the years, but the intent remains: To let you know what’s happening at City Hall before decisions are made, so you can influence outcomes for A Better Burlington. The best decisions are made when elected representatives tap the wisdom of our community members, and welcome many different perspectives.This site allows residents to comment and debate with each other; our Commenting Guidelines established in 2016 aim to keep debate respectful. Got an idea or comment you want to share privately? Please, get in touch:

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