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Speech at the London Club

Mayor Matt Brown delivered the following speech at the London Club as part of their Speaker Series on February 25, 2015, at the end of his third month since taking office.  Remarks as prepared for delivery.

Good afternoon everyone!

Thank you, David, for that kind introduction.

And thank you to The London Club for your warm hospitality and for your invitation to be here will all of you.

This is my first opportunity to speak at the London Club and it is truly an honour to be addressing you as Mayor of our great City.

Today, I’d like to do a few things while we are here together.  I’d like to first reflect on the past few months, talk about where we are heading as a City and as Country and close with an opportunity for you to ask questions.  

It’s clear to me, from the last election, that voters were looking for two things from their new City Council: stability and focus.

There was one other thing as well: Londoners were looking for a way forward, a roadmap that builds a more prosperous, more innovative, more diverse and exciting community.

On our 3rd day in office, Council formally began our work on our Strategic Plan.

Over the past 12 weeks, Council has invested a significant amount of time in this process. We have spent many hours working together to define our priorities, identify where we are going, and what we want to accomplish over the next four years.

We are now in the final stages of this process and I expect we will approve the plan on March 10th, exactly 100 days after assuming office.

This Plan, which I believe is unique in Canada in it’s level of specificity, embraces the hopes, dreams and aspirations that Londoners shared with all 15 members of council over the course of the election and since that time.  

Earlier this week we finalized the vision statement. It reads: A leader in commerce, culture and innovation - our region’s connection to the world”.

We also crafted the mission, Which Reads: “At your service, a respected and inspired public service partner building a better city for all.”

and within the plan, we have four strategic areas of focus:

  • Strengthening our Community,
  • Building a Sustainable City
  • Growing our Economy
  • and Leading in Public Service

What else have we been up to?

Well, Tomorrow evening, Council will approve our first budget, a budget that is responsible and sustainable both in the short and long term.  I am proud of this Council for working everyday to find savings and efficiencies. When we began our budget talks we were looking at 2.9% increase, there were a number of other projects that could have grown the increase to 3.9%.

Instead, because of council’s hard work, tomorrow, we will approve a 2.5% increase. Very much in line with the recommendation that the Chamber of Commerce made to council in early January and something they have long been advocates for - to keep the increase between 2 and 3% around the rate of inflation and to avoid making decisions that have perceived short term benefit but actually defer costs and have long term consequences.

By my count, as a council, we spent 25 very productive hours debating the 2015 budget.  That’s in contrast to last year, when previous council spent over twice the amount of time - between 55 and 60 hours  - and delivered an increase higher than the one we’ll be approving tomorrow.

Just like in your business, just like in your home, you need to know how to budget and you need to make responsible decisions. Rest assured, your new Council is doing exactly that.

Here is some more good news. This is the last time you will see a budget process like this in London. We are doing something very few municipalities across Canada have done before.

Once we’ve completed the 2015 Budget, we are transitioning to a multi-year budget that links directly to our 4-year Strategic Plan. This will allow us to look ahead, identify our priorities, and link them to the resources that will be needed to pay for them.

It is our roadmap, London’s roadmap, to a better, more focused, and more sustainable future.

We work everyday to continue to find savings and efficiencies, to ensure London remains affordable for our families and for business.  There are two specific tools we are working to roll out alongside multi-year budgeting that will will help us achieve this goal.

First, our audit committee’s role will grow. We will bring back Service Review with a focus on zero based budgeting - so we can continue to find ways to keep our City affordable.

Second, we are going to learn from the private sector and we are going to introduce Lean Culture practices here at City Hall. I first learned about this program when I toured 3M in the late spring. I’ve since learned that through these practices The City of Fredericton has seen millions in savings. We can do this too.

In addition to fiscal responsibility, this Council values honesty and integrity. To demonstrate our commitment to living these values we will soon appoint an Integrity Commissioner. This position will have real teeth to enforce a strengthened Code of Conduct and a level of accountability for all members of Council, starting with me.

And we are also moving to a Plain Language policy so that every Londoner can understand what’s happening in their City.

And just let me mention five more initiatives that I believe are important building blocks for London.

Number 1. We continue to make improving our approvals process a priority. We know that it has a direct impact on local businesses and our economy. Starting or growing a business is a challenge, particularly for first time small business owners. Working with the City should make this challenge easier, not harder.

We are implementing a new tracking system. This will allow us to increase accountability - better monitor our work, and allow a business to easily track, for example, where their application is in the process.

We are shaking things up at City Hall. For the first time in many years, Development Services – which includes Planners and Engineers – will be working together sharing the same work space. This will also allow Londoners to access a wider range of services at one location.  Additionally, we will be creating a virtual counter to improve customer service through the use of technology by connecting staff at external locations into the conversation.

Council has invested in Service London, a corporate wide effort to improve our citizens’ experiences with the City. We are making a significant investment in each of the service channels – phone, in person, and online. We’ve made changes to the first floor of City Hall to include a ‘one stop’ counter where Londoners can access many City services in one place. We also repurposed a position to create a “Business Connector”,  it’s this employee’s job to help businesses navigate City services.

We know how important our approvals process is to small businesses and to London’s economy, and we’re committed to continuous improvement in this area.

Number 2: We also must strengthen the backbone of our economy - start-ups and small businesses. This is a City where entrepreneurs are taking their ideas and making them a reality. We've seen some incredible successes like On the Move Organics, Forked River Brewery,, Big Viking Games and Diply, owned by GoViral Inc. We need to make it clear that this is a community that will support their entrepreneurial drive.

And to attract the next generation of entrepreneurs, they will need access to fast, reliable internet; critical infrastructure that supports creativity and collaboration.

The City, along with the LEDC and Downtown London, are taking immediate steps to provide fibre optic connectivity in our downtown core. The long-term strategy will focus on building a connected City. We must make it easier for people in London to export their innovation to the rest of the world.

Number 3: It’s the opportunity of a generation - The London Plan.  It’s about growing our City inward and upward, using our infrastructure more efficiently, and keeping our taxes low.

The London Plan establishes a connection between land use and transportation.  Our roads will reflect both their function as part of movement within the city and the kind of land uses that can line those roads.

The London Plan places an emphasis on creating a wide-range of transportation choices - walking, biking, transit or driving.  A high quality rapid transit system with higher intensity development along the corridors is at the heart of this strategy.

The plan calls for building a mixed-use, more compact City:  The London Plan also brings more flexibility by not focusing on the strict separation of land uses, but rather on creating "Places", and allowing for a greater mix of uses to support complete communities.

The Plan has an emphasis on neighbourhoods: Londoners identify themselves by where they live, and the Plan encourages complete, diverse, connected, age-friendly accessible neighbourhoods.

And since the release of the draft last May, almost 10,000 Londoners have provided comment or input on the draft.

The London Plan comes to Council for approval this spring. It will guide how we grow over the next 20 years.  It’s about building a better City...not just for us, but for our children and our grandchildren as well. Because we want to make sure that when they grow up, they can live across the City instead of across the Country.

Number 4: You’ve heard me say this before. Our downtown is our calling card to the world and it’s our City’s economic engine. Though it makes up a very small % of our land, it represents proportionally a significant amount of our tax base. This means, when downtown grows, the tax burden is eased for all of us, we can have better roads and cleaner parks across the whole City. The downtown is growing and will continue to grow.  

I’m very pleased that Council just recently approved investing in the groundbreaking first part of our Downtown Masterplan: the Dundas Place Flex Street.

This investment means we can start the environmental assessment on turning the four-block stretch of Dundas from the Thames River to Wellington Street into a curb-free “flex street.” It will be able to transition easily from traditional vehicle traffic during the business day to a pedestrian-only space on evenings and weekends.

This will help draw more people to the downtown core and allow for more opportunities for restaurants, events, parades and festivals to happen right in the centre of our City.

And add to this The London Community Foundation’s Back to the River project. We are working with LCF to launch the design competition later this spring. In time, our riverfront will become a place where you can go to have a coffee with friends, go for a paddle or stroll along a boardwalk with your family. It will be a source of pride for all Londoners and a destination of choice.

And finally: we’ve been working with our regional partners on a plan for the Southwest. Together, with our partners from the London Chamber of Commerce, Mayor Mike Bradley and the in Sarnia/Lambton Chamber, we have been working to bring private sector exports to markets like Mexico, Brazil and China, through our Chamber’s Global Business Opportunities Committee.

Our long-term goal is to expand the partnership to other communities including those along the 401/402 corridor.  I’m confident that this private sector led initiative, we will bring new investment to the region.  

So given all that I have just said, it is no surprise that the number one focus for most Londoners is jobs and the economy. They want us to get this right, to create the right atmosphere with the prudent business supports to grow our local economy.

Connected to this - and Remarkably, London has never had a pragmatic City-wide plan that engages our partners to help all of us maximize our economic success.

We’re fixing that: Council is developing our first ever Community wide Economic Roadmap.

In a recent economic development review provided to Council, it was noted that while all of the different parts of our economic engine -  businesses, nonprofits, local agencies, and the city - while all of those part were working reasonably well together, it was now time for an overarching coordinated plan to get our economy moving.

We have started an extensive consultation process to build a broad base of support for the plan.  We are working with partners such as the London Economic Development Corporation, the Chamber of Commerce, the Small Business Centre, TechAlliance, and many others.

It will embrace a community-wide focus and will guide decision making for the City over the long-term by consulting with business and community leaders, aligning plans, and identifying the roles and responsibilities for the City and its partners.

We expect real, measurable value from this project.

These are just some of the projects your new City Council is tackling.  We are just getting started.

But I also want to speak to you today about a larger vision, a vision that reaches from coast to coast to coast in this country. It’s a vision that lives in Canada’s cities and it is a vision in which London plays a very large role.

Jane Jacobs, the famous city-building activist, once said that dull cities contain the seeds of their own destruction. But lively, diverse, intense cities contain the seeds of their own regeneration.”

London, and many other Canadian cities, contains those seeds of regeneration. You can see it all around in our city.

But what Canada’s cities need to realize is that full potential is a real partnership and committed, long term sustainable funding from all levels of government.

Earlier this month I met with my peers at the Big City Mayors’ Caucus (that’s the mayors of Canada’s largest cities) and our colleagues from across Canada at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities Sustainable Communities Conference we hosted here in London.

As Mayors, we represent cities from very different regions in the country but we share one vision: a vision of increased job creation and economic activity, liveable communities and a good quality of life for our residents.

Today, Canada is an urban country. Our biggest cities, the Census Metropolitan Areas, account for 72% of our GDP.

Cities are where we assemble that critical mass of entrepreneurs, researchers, creatives, skilled workers, knowledge workers, professionals, and community leaders … a whole range of ingenuity, imagination and skill that brings new ideas to life, new economies to fruition, and new jobs to new generations.

Simply stated, our cities are the engines driving the national economy.

In London, you'll see innovation in advanced manufacturing, life sciences, digital media, agri-food and more.

And let me just diverge here for a moment to highlight our regional agricultural sector. London is blessed to be both a city of innovation as well as an innovative agricultural powerhouse. That combination of big city/big rural makes London the economic envy of many of my fellow Mayors across the country.

Consistently, Canada’s Mayors have identified transit, infrastructure and affordable housing as areas that require federal investment.

Each area is crucial to our ultimate success as cities, as provinces and as a nation.

Every year, traffic congestion costs Toronto's economy $6 billion dollars. In Metro Vancouver, it’s $1 billion.

London is not without it’s own congestion problems.  Congestion in this city is getting worse everyday, it keeps us away from our families and our work, it makes living in the city harder.  We need better transit to take the pressure off our transportation system.

Which is why we launched Shift, London’s Rapid Transit initiative. Rapid transit is about all of us. It’s about getting to work, running errands, getting to appointments - it’s about getting across the City faster.

It’s about creating a transit system that moves Londoners of all ages quickly and efficiently. It’s about thinking long-term.

“Shift” will engage residents, businesses and students in a conversation about how we can best implement RT in London.

We will double ridership, fight congestion and free up the roads for other modes of transportation like cycling. Ultimately, this is about Moving London Forward.

With rapid transit, our Transportation Master plan, our Cycling Master plan, and Ontario’s plan to build High Speed Rail, how we move across our City and our region will be transformed for generations to come.

And investing in transit isn’t just a transportation strategy, it is an economic strategy.

It gets workers to their places of employment. Rapid Transit in London would get students to Fanshawe or Western faster. Shoppers to stores. Families to parks and recreation facilities. And it frees up roads and highways for those who choose to drive cars or those moving goods to market, and making the just-in-time economy feasible. It does all that while improving air quality and reducing carbon emissions.

And yes, while the federal government is contributing to transit projects, the need is immense, and only growing. A comprehensive, national strategy for transit investment is essential for the health and prosperity of our cities and our country. This must be a key priority for all the federal parties in the upcoming election.

We are working with the Provincial Government in their environmental assessment of a high-speed rail service that will connect Windsor, London, Kitchener, Toronto Pearson airport and to Toronto’s downtown core.  This express service will dramatically change how our region lives and does business.  Linking our downtown to Toronto’s in just over an hour.

The second area of urgency is infrastructure. City roads, bridges, sewage and water treatment—these are all critical to business and community life alike.

And while the federal government has been making some much-appreciated infrastructure investments, there’s still more work to be done. And the cracks are widening.  

Cities in Ontario collect just 9% of all taxes collected across the three levels of government, but are left with the bill for over 50% of infrastructure spending.  The kind of infrastructure renewal London needs can not be done without a strong partnership with provincial and federal governments. The current Building Canada Fund is a start, but the investments need to move more readily, with more flexibility, and ultimately more dollars are needed to make a dent in the infrastructure deficit.

Housing affordability is another issue holding both cities and the country back.

While there are vast differences across the country in market prices, the fact of the matter is that more and more people are finding home ownership less affordable.  Others face precarious housing situations or homelessness.

When we price more and more people out of the housing market, we undercut a key element of what makes cities successful.

It is more difficult to attract talent, couples leave to start families elsewhere, and students leave to other areas taking their valuable education with them.

This is an area where there is a huge federal vacuum.  The Federal Government was once a big player in affordable housing, but has vacated that role in recent years.  Initiatives to make housing affordable have slowly disappeared and with hundreds of millions of dollars in expiring CMHC leases not being reinvested, some here in London, families will face instability and in some cases homelessness.

People often see affordable housing as primarily a social issue, but it it’s far more. Ensuring affordable housing is crucial to our lasting economic success.

So London is adding its voice to the growing chorus of cities calling for a new focus on Canada’s future through its cities.

It’s time to recognize that cities are the drivers of jobs and the economy and a stronger economy means a better quality of life for all Canadians

We’re telling Canadians, if a political party does not have a serious plan to work with cities, then don’t be fooled.  They don’t have a serious plan for jobs and the economy.

This is not about what cities need, it’s what the country needs.  The time has come for governments to strengthen the things they can control: proven job creators like transit, infrastructure, housing.

We are offering our hand as a partner with solutions to help solve the greatest challenges our country faces.

I am hoping that I can call on you and our fellow Londoners to support this initiative.  To call for a federal partnership with cities to build and drive the national economy.  To make our communities more livable and attractive for investment and job creation.

I am asking you to speak up for a new deal for Cities, to ask all parties to recognize the important role of cities and make the investments required to help all of Canada succeed and prosper.

It’s time to focus on the things that matter. It’s time to build a better City and put London back on top.

Everyone in this room and everyone in this community has a role to play. Our City Council is committed to working with you to drive this change.

There is so much at stake. Our future and the future of generations to come depends on us getting this right.

We need your ideas, your innovation, your passion, your determination and your commitment, so we can continue our work together to make London better.

Thank you.