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Speech for the Canadian Club of London

Mayor Matt Brown delivered the following speech for the Canadian Club of London as part of their Luncheon Series at Hilton London on April 22, 2015.  Remarks as prepared for delivery.

Good Afternoon everyone,

Bob, Thank you for the kind introduction and for the invitation to address Canadian Club members and guests.  

I have to say that today is a special day for me, as I am joined by my parents - my dad, Brian and my step mom Laurel.  During the campaign, both my dad and Laurel were tireless volunteers - and we joked that my dad could have been somewhat of a stand-in for me.  I’m told we look alike ...personally, I think it’s the forehead.  In fact, during the campaign my dad would knock on doors and people would call him “Matt.”. I would remind them that he is about 30 years older than me and 6 foot 2!  Dad, Laurel - I’m so glad you are here with us today.  Thank you.      

So, It’s been almost six months since the election and this afternoon, I’d like to spend sometime talking to you about our City and our future.  I’d like to share with you a bit more about your new Council and how we’re approaching our roles and working together for London.

During the campaign, the message from Londoners was clear - they were looking for three things from their City Council: stability, focus and a plan to move our City forward.

We are delivering. We are focused on many tasks at hand. And we have developed and approved a comprehensive Strategic Plan that focuses on four things - Strengthening Our Community; Building a Sustainable City; Leading in Public Service and Growing Our Economy.

We have also approved our first budget, a budget that is responsible and a budget that is sustainable.

Now we are pivoting to a multi-year budget that will link directly to our 4-year Strategic Plan. It will allow us to both  identify our priorities for this term and link them directly to the resources needed to pay for them.

So, that’s what we’ve been up to...but to start today’s discussion, I want to share some of the realities facing us moving forward.  As some of you may know, I studied Geography and I have always had an interest in population growth and demographics. I see this kind of information as an indicator of where we’ve been and as a predictor of where we’re heading.

Here are some of issues that are a reality  in our community that can’t be ignored :

First, we are faced with declining population growth and an aging population - not just in London, but across the province and the country. We know that if our city is going to grow, we need to attract more newcomers. As a Council and as a community, we need to look at our City through a different lens.  Historically, our immigrant population has remained proportionally smaller than that of the province and other similar-sized cities across Canada and for London to grow - that needs to change.

A recent study, commissioned by the City, suggests that our population’s slower growth rate is an indicator of how welcoming or attractive our community might be to newcomers - we can do better.

In line with this challenge, London also has a higher prevalence of low income earners than the rest of the province, and we are second only to Windsor for having the highest per capita number of low income individuals amongst cities across Ontario. Here’s an example - In our city, more people under the age of 18 live in low income households compared to other cities across the province.

These challenges present real potential roadblocks for our economic growth and for our long-term plans.

This is the reality we live in — higher prevalence of low income earners, slow growth rate, declining and aging population.

And there is something else - Interestingly, compared to the province, Londoners have higher levels of education.  More Londoners have attended post-secondary institutions than people living in other cities in the province.

So, let’s take a look at our businesses in London.  Business growth has particularly been driven by small businesses and the self-employed individuals over the past five years. According to a survey commissioned by the Small Business Centre in 2014, 39 per cent of those questioned either have, had, or were planning to own a small business.  Remarkably - Small businesses, those having between one and four employees and the self-employed continue to make up the majority of our city’s business base. And this base grew at a comparatively higher rate than big businesses from 2008 to 2013.

That said, much of the recent hiring demand has been driven by the city’s largest employers in the education sector,  the healthcare and life sciences sector as well as the professional services sector. Combined these sectors generated nine per cent of total job postings across London in 2014.

So, London’s business base holds a combination of large and established employers paired with a dynamic and growing  culture of small business and an evolving entrepreneurial sector driving growth in both knowledge and service-based areas of the economy.

I share this information with you today, because I believe that in my role as your Mayor, I must be aware of the realities of our City and face them head on.  As a council, we need to think long-term and stay focused on improving outcomes, so that we see a shift in some of these challenges.  Status quo and old ideas will not guide our City forward.  Collaborative approaches, evidence-based decision making and a focus on the long-term are the ingredients for London’s success.  

So next, I’d like to highlight some of the biggest ideas in our City today and provide you with an update on the action plan your council has developed to bring these to life.

I’ll start with something that I believe to be, an opportunity of a generation.  It’s called the London Plan. It’s our draft official plan, and it comes before Council this year for approval. The London Plan will guide how we grow.  It’s about building a better City...not just for the next four years but for the next 20...not just for us, but for our Children and for our Grandchildren.

This important. The last time Londoners embarked on a process like  this was 1989 - the time before that 1971!

The draft London Plan is theresult of a public engagement initiative which was, by  all counts, the largest Official Plan consultation ever undertaken in Canada.  The draft  was released last year so that the public, our partners in the development industry, business and community leaders and other orders of government could review it and respond to our main questions: “Did we hear you? Is this plan hitting the mark?”

That “mark” needs to be a plan that respects and balances our past, with exciting new directions that address fundamental changes that we must face moving forward.  It all culminates in a brave Vision of London 2035 that reads like this:  London- “Exciting. Exceptional. Connected”.

Key themes include fighting congestion and providing better mobility choices, balancing outward growth with agricultural, natural, and heritage conservation, and the regeneration of the built-up areas in London including our core. Growing more inward and more upward than ever before.

The Plan is a “Rethink” for our City.  Unlike past documents and plans in other cities, it is written in “plain language” making it readable and understandable not just for planners and not just for lawyers, but for all Londoners. The next draft of the London Plan will be released at the end of June — and the final version will be before council for approval by year’s end.

It’s important to note that the foundation of the Plan is Rapid Transit. In fact, without Rapid Transit, there is no London Plan.  It’s how we’re going to build the London of tomorrow.

Our Rapid Transit initiative is called Shift, because London needs a Shift in thinking. It’s about fighting congestion, it’s about getting to work, It’s about running errands, and It’s about 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 is a conversation with Londoners that will define where rapid transit will go, what it will look like and how it will be delivered.

Today, many Londoners are frustrated by delays in traffic. Congestion hurts our economy, our public safety, our quality of life and our environment. We can do better.

With an estimated 77,000 more people expected to move to London within the next 20 years, implementing rapid transit is a vital part of ensuring this continues to be a connected and liveable city.

We have already started talking to Londoners about Shift, and discussions will continue throughout the year. Our focus over the next weeks and months is going to be defining the routes that Rapid Transit will travel to get Londoners quickly from point A to point B, to double the number of transit riders, to help take cars off the road and to ensure we are a more sustainable city.

Investing in transit isn’t just a transportation strategy, it is an economic strategy and it’s a City building strategy. Rapid Transit will free up lane kilometers of roads for those who choose to drive cars or who are moving goods to market. It does all this while improving air quality and reducing carbon emissions.

The Shift team has participated in more than 30 events and talked to more than 5,000 Londoners. They are constantly engaging with Londoners and are looking forward to engaging with even more. In fact, they are here today, please take sometime to connect with them today.

Shift is one very important piece in the bigger transportation puzzle. Combined with our Transportation Master plan, our Cycling Master plan, and Ontario’s plan to build High Speed Rail, we can transform how we move in London, and across the Province for generations to come.

Speaking of High Speed rail. We’re working with the provincial government on their environmental assessment for the game changing service that will connect London to Pearson airport to Toronto’s downtown core.  This express service will dramatically change how people in the region live and do business.  Imagine - Linking our downtown to Toronto’s and, Toronto’ to ours in no time, effectively moving our 2 cities closer together. It’s Remarkable.

Our downtown is our calling card to the world.  Downtown represents just 0.2% of the geographical space, but accounts for 4% of all property taxes collected.  When our downtown grows, our entire City benefits.

This brings us to another big idea: Transforming our downtown. I’m extremely pleased that Council recently approved an environmental assessment for the groundbreaking first part of our Downtown Plan: the Dundas Place Flex Street. What we call “Dundas Place”.

This investment means we can start the planning process to turn 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.

Dundas Place will be connected to 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 take a stroll along a boardwalk with your loved ones. It will be a source of pride for all Londoners and a destination of choice.

Dundas Place and the Back to River project are going to attract residents and visitors to the Downtown core, one of our “Cultural Corridors” identified in this City’s Cultural Prosperity Plan. The Plan is clear that we can grow the cultural sector and in doing so, we will not only improve our quality of life, we will also create jobs and economic benefit.

Places like, the Downtown, Old East Village, and Richmond Row and other distinct neighbourhoods are all cultural corridors that support our economy. It’s council’s job to play a role in fostering the conditions for them to grow.

Let’s talk about another building block of a vibrant and growing city. I spoke early of our economic realities and just how important our small businesses and our start-ups are as we move our city forward.  They are indeed the backbone of our economy. London 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,, Big Viking Games, Race Roster and so many others.

Together, we need to make it clear that this is a community that will support the entrepreneurial drive. London has demonstrated this time, and time again. I know I was vocal about this and I was so pleased to see the reaction and the outpouring of support for a local micro brewery called Forked River just last week. After the community came together in support of this local business, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario came back to Forked River and are now looking into the issue to find a solution. If a small business wants to open - If a small business wants to grow, we need to be with them every step of the way.

Our digital creative sector is experiencing continuous growth. From digital agencies to video game developers, the sector has been built on the shoulders of brave entrepreneurs who came before them. And the next generation of entrepreneurs will need access to fast, reliable internet; critical infrastructure that supports creativity and collaboration.

The City, along with the LEDC and Downtown London, have taken immediate steps to provide high-speed fibre in our downtown core. This strategy focuses on building a connected city. We call it the Last Mile pilot project and it was recently approved by council and will provide qualifying businesses with access to high speed fibre optic internet service. This will help us grow the existing business cluster in our core. It will make our city more attractive to the data-intensive digital technology industries and it will re-purposes some of our beautiful heritage buildings in our downtown.

Last week, I travelled to Kitchener-Waterloo with two councillors and a small team of City staff to learn about  their tech hub, Communitech — a world leading collaboration and research centre. Communitech brings together key players from startups to global brands like Google, Blackberry, Canadian Tire, Deloitte and many others, as well as government agencies, academic institutions and incubators — all under one roof.

What we saw was an outstanding environment for innovation and economic development.  We saw businesses growing and employing more people.  We saw young people excited about their future. We found some best practices that we look forward to bringing to London. We want our tech entrepreneurs to continue to call London home. London has great educational institutions giving companies access to a never ending pipeline of talent. We are working hard to keep them in London so we can continue celebrate their successes, together.

I believe that learning best practices from different cities is key to becoming a more vibrant and efficient city. That’s why we took a small team to Fredericton, New Brunswick a few weeks ago to observe a world renowned cost saving program called Lean Six Sigma in operation. Lean Six Sigma is an initiative that includes steps and activities to eliminate waste and improve efficiency.  It’s used by many by private sector settings, including 3M Canada, headquartered right here in London.  Above all, it is a way to add value for the client, for the citizen. Fredericton is one of the first municipalities to implement Lean strategies and has shaved millions from their budget based on these principles. I believe that in London we can do the same!

As a municipality, we are improving how we interact with small and large businesses that call London home.  We have been working on a program called Service London, which essentially strengthens the relationship between the municipality and the community that it serves.  Service London was created in 2011, and since taking office Council has been focused on moving this initiative forward.

Our aim is to make our services simple, seamless, personalized and accountable.  Whether it be online, over the phone or in person, we are striving to provide the highest levels of service to all Londoners.

Within the past 9 months, we launched Service London Business to improve the interaction between local businesses and City Hall.  Businesses now have a single contact - a business connector, that will help them navigate our processes to get them back in the boardroom, the workshop, the hair salon or the restaurant kitchen as quickly as possible.

We’re also extending our efforts to ensure better economic results for our city.  We are working on our first ever Community wide Economic Roadmap.

In a recent economic development review provided to Council, it was noted that businesses, nonprofits, local agencies, institutions and the city were working reasonably well together, but there was no overarching, on purpose, co-ordinated plan to get us focused on the same priorities.

To build this plan we are working with partners from the private sector, the London Economic Development Corporation, the Chamber of Commerce, the Small Business Centre, TechAlliance, and many others.

This initiative 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 priorities as well as the roles and responsibilities for the City and its partners.

I expect to see real, measurable valuable results from this project.

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

You know, tourism in London is an essential engine for economic development as well. The Conference Board of Canada estimates that tourism spending in London in 2013 generated in excess of $630M of direct economic activity and our city was host to over 4.5 million visitors which includes almost 2 million overnight visitors.  Nearly 7,400 jobs were supported within London.

As example, many say our hotel sector is a reliable barometer of economic growth or contraction; the canary in the coal, mine if you will.  This sector including this hotel has recently invested approx. $50M to upgrade their facilities to sustain existing and future operational viability. They, like us,  are confident in London’s future and will play a key role in the attraction of future event and convention business to London.

Attracting people to London is important, but so is showcasing our region and other communities. Together, with our partners from the London Chamber of Commerce, Mayor Mike Bradley and the Sarnia/Lambton Chamber, we have been working to bring more 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 am confident that this private sector led initiative, will bring new investment to the region.  

It’s all about having a larger vision.  It is a vision that lives in Canada’s Cities and it is a vision in which London plays a key 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 this everywhere.

But what Canada’s cities need to realize is that their full potential is a real partnership all levels of government.

A few months ago,  I met with my peers at the Big City Mayors’ Caucus. That’s the mayor’s of Canada’s 21 largest cities - we’re the 11th Census Metropolitan Area.  As Mayors, we represent cities from very different regions across the country but we share one vision: a vision of increased job creation and economic activity, a vision of liveable communities and a vision of a good quality of life for our residents.

Today, Canada is an urban country. In this province alone, 67% of the population live in the largest urban cities.

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 our next generation.

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

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

Regionally, London is a leader in a number of sectors. In fact, when global companies are looking to plant their roots in Canada, they are choosing London.  Our city is home to international companies and research centres.  London is becoming a well-known investment site for expanding companies from around the world.

Some of our best examples can be found in our regional agriculture and food processing sector. London is blessed to be both a city of innovation as well as an innovative agricultural centre. Food processing companies setting up in London have access to many raw materials - benefiting from operating in this bread basket as well as benefiting from a water system that is supplied by two Great Lakes. That combination of big city-big rural makes London unique and should be seen as an important strength.

To continue to attract and secure investments in all our economic sectors, we need to have reliable infrastructure. City roads, bridges, sewage and water treatment—these are all critical to business and community alike.

The kind of infrastructure renewal London needs can not be done without a strong partnership with provincial and federal governments.  London is looking forward to working with both levels of government to make a case for the need to invest in infrastructure so we can move people and goods more readily and with more flexibility.

Housing affordability is another issue that can’t be ignored in London or any other community across Canada.

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.

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, unless we do something differently, families will face instability in the years ahead.

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 Big City Mayors calling for a new focus on Ontario’s and  Canada’s future through its cities.

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

We’re telling Ontarians and Canadians that political parties need to have have a serious plan to work with cities.  Because a serious plan to work with Cities means a serious plan for jobs and economic develop to move this great country forward.

This is not about what cities need, it’s about what the country needs.  Governments must work together to strengthen the things they can control: proven job creators like investment in transit, infrastructure and housing.

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

We must continue to seek an enhanced federal and provincial partnership with cities to build and drive the provincial and national economy.  To make our communities more livable and attractive for investment and job creation.

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

So - Today, we’ve discussed several facets of London’s past, present and future.  Every single day I can see Londoners feeling more confident about our future.  I have felt that positive energy right across London, since Council took office in December. Over the past almost six months, your Council has seen that positive change demonstrated in the way Londoners speak about our city. When we speak with our fellow Londoners, we hear about just how optimistic they are feeling.

I believe that change occurs when leaders collaborate with their teams, when we keep our minds open to what is new and different, when we think big and aim higher.

My approach, as many of you know, is to build consensus, to work with Council, to promote discussion and engage our community.  I believe in building others up so that success is shared.  I make this commitment to you, I will always be open to dialogue on moving our City forward and helping London to realize its untapped potential. 

Our great city needs your ideas, your innovation, your ingenuity and, above all, your unconditional support

We are on the cusp of a renewal and regeneration, we should feel optimistic about our future.  Let’s all do our part and let’s all work together to put London back on top.

Thank you.