Mayor Kevin Davis Inaugural Address December 3, 2018 

Good evening and welcome to the Inaugural Meeting of the 2018 -­ 22 Brantford City Council.

It's great to be back.

And it's a great privilege to be here tonight as we celebrate our city, share our accomplishments and plan for the future. I am tremendously honoured to stand before you as your Mayor.

I'm sure I speak on behalf of every member of council when I say we are humbled and proud to be given the opportunity to serve our city and its residents.

It's not an easy job, but we do it because we love this city and we want it to be the best that it can be.

On behalf of myself, and all councillors, I would like to thank all of our family members and friends for their continuous support.

Our families make real sacrifices so we can take part in public service.

Please join me in recognizing them for their love and patience.

On that note, I would like to say a few words about my family.

I would like to acknowledge my brother Michael, who is here tonight with his wife Kathryn. They are tireless volunteers in their town of Kleinburg. It's a credit to our parents and grandparents that public service is deeply ingrained in our family.

I also thank my sister, Linda Bodgan, and her husband, Rick Kennedy who have come from Edmonton. It was a pleasant surprise when they showed up unexpectedly at my doorstep yesterday.

Also, Suzanne, Alex and Gillian Robinson. They are the sister and children of my life long friend and fellow lawyer, Peter Robinson, who passed away last spring. I feel his presence with you being here tonight.

I can't say enough about my wife, Lisa, who has given me her unconditional support and love. Lisa, I thank you for keeping me grounded and on track.

Lisa and I are very proud of our daughters, Brittany and Melanie, and their families and want to thank them for all that they have done. Especially the grandchildren who are the light of our lives.

A special thank you to Mr. Justice Edward. It is truly an honour to have a direct descendent of Chief Joseph Brant deliver our oath of office. More importantly, it is also a symbol of the unique bond we share with our indigenous neighbours that I will speak to in more detail shortly.

I also want to acknowledge our debt to the three retiring members of council who have spent decades in service to this city: Mayor Chris Friel and Councillors David Neumann and Larry Kings.

Their contributions are endless and many of the good things that have happened to Brantford are due to their efforts.

Please join me in thanking them for their service.

Two councillors are with us tonight after winning seats in the October election: Jan Vanderstelt from Ward 1 and Joshua Wall from Ward 5. It's great to see people step forward to take leadership roles, so congratulations to them.

And to the returning members of council, I look forward to working with you to continue building on the work you’ve done to improve our city.

All of us spent many long hours knocking on doors, talking to voters and learning what's important to them.

I was moved by the stories people told me about their lives and their hopes for the city.

I shared their frustration as they talked about the ways our city could be better.

More than anything else, they confirmed my belief that Brantford is an amazing city.

The people are strong, resilient and innovative. It's a good place to raise a family or grow a business.

We have a remarkable past and an even brighter future.

And now, that future is in our hands.

So we must approach our task with intelligence, passion and, most of all, humility.

We are not doing our work; we are doing the people's work.

This is a time of major transition for our city. We are at a crossroads.

We face some hurdles that must be overcome if Brantford is to continue to progress and grow.

Foremost is the development of the Boundary Lands annexed from Brant County last year.

These lands are the future of our city, where new houses will be built and new jobs created.

There are other priorities, too.

Residents also voiced their concerns about our infrastructure problems, high taxes, the opioid crisis, homelessness and more.

I'm convinced that, working together, we can address those issues and make real progress.

As we do that, though, we have to remember that while the demand for government services is virtually limitless, the supply of money is not.

Every dollar we take in taxes is one less dollar that our residents and businesses have to spend on their own needs, their own dreams, their own goals.

That puts the responsibility squarely on our shoulders to spend their hard earned money wisely and carefully. That means our city government has to be as effective, efficient and streamlined as it can possibly be.

Before we spend one dollar on any project or program, we should ask ourselves:

  • Will it make our economy stronger?
  • Will it maintain and build our infrastructure?
  • Will it make our city safer?
  • Will it make our citizens healthier?

We have to be laser-­focused in our commitment to give taxpayers value for their money.

That starts with setting priorities for our work at this table.

Since the election I've met with each councillor to hear what they think we need to do this term.

I want to thank them for sharing their thoughts and ideas with me.

I've also met with senior city staff who provided comprehensive briefings about the issues we face and recommendations to address them. I can already see how dedicated, professional and capable they are and I really look forward to working with all of you.

The election was about more than just choosing a mayor and council.

Elections provide the opportunity for a fresh look at our community, its needs and its goals.

Elections give us the chance to recalibrate, to review existing priorities and set new ones.

Most importantly, elections give us the opportunity to hear directly from voters to learn what matters most to them.

Therefore I'm proposing that council hold a priority-­setting session as early as possible in the New Year.

We need to draw a roadmap we can follow that reflects the voices of our community.

First Nations

We have a long and special relationship with the First Nations in our area.

The people of the Six Nations of the Grand River and the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation are our friends and neighbours.

They are the reason this city exists, and they have been instrumental in building it.

I'm sure all of us at the council table look forward to forging a closer relationship with both First Nations so we can work together on projects and programs that mutually benefit our communities.

Brant County

I'm also looking forward to strengthening the ties with our other close neighbour, the County of Brant.

We already do a lot together. The paramedic service, social services and John Noble Home are good examples of the productive relationship we have.

Not that long ago the city negotiated an agreement with the county on the Boundary Lands.

With that agreement now in place, we can look for new ways to co-­operate on shared services and industrial growth.

Both communities have an interest in the development of industrial lands in the county near the Brantford Airport and in Cainsville.

And we hope to talk about how we can work together on traffic issues, particularly the ones affecting residents of West Brant.

Economic development

One of our most important roles is to create a climate for economic growth so we can attract new businesses and keep existing ones.

Fortunately, we have a low unemployment rate, though we also have a severe shortage of skilled labour in some fields.

One of the lessons we know all-­too-­well in Brantford is that you can never take a strong economy for granted.

Our economy needs to be nurtured to make sure it remains fertile ground for businesses to grow.

I look forward to working with our Economic Development team as an ambassador to sell the city far and wide.

We know Brantford is a great place to set up shop. The rest of the world needs to know it, too.

And when entrepreneurs come knocking, we need to get out of their way so they can carry out their plans.

At City Hall, we need to streamline our processes and services so businesses, developers, and builders get the approvals and permits they need in a timely manner.

I'm pleased to see that a committee has been set up to do just that.

The Building and Construction Processes Review Task Force is getting down to business and I look forward to serving on that Task Force to help in bringing it to a successful conclusion.

Infrastructure

During the campaign we heard a lot from voters about traffic issues, sewer problems, poor roads, fractured sidewalks and more.

These basic services are the skeleton of the city. They are the foundation that holds everything together.

We need a strong foundation if this city is going to continue to grow and prosper. We need to get it right.

We must maintain the infrastructure we have. And we have to make sure our infrastructure grows as the population grows so were not always playing catch-up.

Work has already started to upgrade the Empey Street pumping station, but we need to get to work on the Fifth Avenue station as well.

Once fixed, these bottlenecks blocking new development in many neighbourhoods will be removed.

And we must make progress on addressing our traffic woes.

In the coming months council will receive reports outlining our options for the Oak Park Road extension, the Veterans Memorial Parkway Widening and other potential routes, such as County Road 18.

The proposals will not be cheap, nor will they be easy to implement.

But decisions on these issues are long overdue and it's time to get on with it.

As we improve the existing infrastructure, we also need to do some serious planning to meet future infrastructure needs.

Boundary lands

About two years ago, Brantford and Brant County agreed to transfer more than 2,700 hectares of land into the city.

The Boundary Lands represent the future of our community.

Here we can develop new types of housing that will appeal to retiring Baby Boomers and first-­time home buyers.

New factories and businesses will employ thousands of people.

The dilemma we face is that we have to invest a lot of money up front to develop roads, sewers and other city services for the Boundary Lands. However, the tax revenue from the new homes and businesses won't start to flow for several years.

In the meantime, we risk running out of land in the existing city for new housing and industrial development.

So the sooner the boundary lands are developed, the better.

We need to move swiftly to plan for these areas while being diligent in ensuring it is done right.

Municipal services and amenities need to be in place as people and businesses move in -­ not 10 or 20 years later.

Our new Official Plan will guide us through this process, as will the new master plans for transportation, water and sewers.

To manage this correctly, all of us at this table and all city departments must work together.

We need a comprehensive timeline for development. And we need a champion to oversee our efforts.

When council meets for our priority setting session, I'm going to propose the creation of a task force to oversee all of the work on the Boundary Lands.

The task force will provide leadership across all city departments to keep us focused, on track and successful.

The downtown

As we address the future of these new lands, we also have to face an issue that has been on the council's agenda for generations: the state of our downtown.

We have seen tremendous changes in the core in recent years and I want to commend previous councils for the actions they took.

The presence of Laurier Brantford and, more recently, Conestoga College, has been a game-­changer.

I look forward to working with these institutions and the Six Nations Polytechnic to explore ways we can further support and benefit from their success.

Harmony Square has become the heart of the city and a great venue for cultural events that bring the community together.

And we're starting to see new, private sector developments take off. The new condominium project on Wellington Street will bring more people to our core to support its businesses and services.

We'd like to see more of this in the future.

There's a lot of underused land south of Icomm Drive that is ripe for redevelopment. We should consider expanding the downtown to include this area so investors can take advantage of some of the development policies that are already available in the existing downtown.

While these are all positive developments, there is growing unease among our residents about the core. Some of it is perception, some of its reality. Either way, these concerns need to be addressed.

I'll be talking a bit more about some of the factors driving the concerns -­ drug use, homelessness, mental health issues -­ in a moment.

But even as we address the root causes, we also have to tackle the perception issues. A consistent police presence helps and we should think about providing the police with additional tools such as a bylaw to deter nuisance behaviors.

But these are not permanent solutions.

Many of those struggling are genuinely in need and Brantford Police Services is working closely with several community agencies to intervene and get them the help they need. We all want that effort to succeed.

Drugs, homelessness and mental health

Brantford has always had a reputation as a great place to raise a family.

And that's still true.

But every city has vulnerable populations who are disadvantaged, challenged and in need of support.

Brantford is no exception and residents are becoming concerned.

We have seen an alarming increase in drug-­related issues. More visits to the emergency room. More drug use and discarded needles on the streets and in our parks.

And most disturbing of all, more overdoses and deaths.

As the housing market tightens, homelessness is becoming more common.

And mental health issues are taxing our hospital, our social services, our police and community organizations.

These are complicated issues, and, in many ways, they are interconnected.

To resolve them we will need the active involvement of all levels of government, private and public agencies, the medical community, police and others.

The Brantford-­Brant Community Drug Strategy is a blueprint to addressing drug issues. We have to make sure that we are putting effort and resources into implementing it.

Some of that is already happening. The new Rapid Access Addiction Medicine Clinic on Colborne Street is a great example of how several community organizations can work together to provide innovative and effective ways to help those who need it most.

We desperately need a residential detox centre where those suffering from alcoholism or drug addiction can get clean and then move on to a treatment program to help them stay clean.

The new Ontario government has promised significant investments in mental health and addiction services. We need to work with our MPP Will Bouma to ensure we get our share and we get it as soon as possible.

We will also need to work closely with senior levels of government to address homelessness.

In Brantford we have seen some innovative approaches to developing more affordable and assisted housing, such as the recent John Noble Apartments development. Traditionally, it is the senior levels of government that finance social housing programs. They need to hear from us.

Cannabis

With the legalization of cannabis, the federal and provincial governments have shifted much of the legislative implementation and enforcement responsibility to municipalities.

The first decision we have to make is whether we will allow cannabis retailers to operate in the city.

One of the primary purposes of legalization is to eliminate the black market and replace it with a tightly-­regulated legal market.

If we want to get rid of the black market, we need a robust legal market in Brantford.

However, that's not the end of the story.

The province has given us an option to opt in or out of allowing retail cannabis sales in our city.

Before we exercise our option, we need clear guidance from the province on what the rules for this industry will be.

And we need to develop our own strategy so the industry will be managed in a way that respects what our community wants and needs.

Other projects

I've touched on some of the key issues facing our new council. Of course if I mentioned all of them, we would be here for hours. Nobody wants to listen to me for that long.

However, there are few other notable initiatives I'd like to mention:

  • The renovations to the historic Federal Building are starting so it can become the new city hall in 2020. Putting all city staff under one roof will provide a way to streamline administration and allow staff that are currently in separate buildings to work together more efficiently and effectively.
  • The new Customer Contact Centre, a 24-­7 call centre, will go a long way to helping our citizens get timely responses to their questions and concerns.
  • Work is progressing on projects to improve our parks and recreation facilities, such as a West Brant playing fields, the Tutela Park splash pad and the Dufferin Park redesign. It's important to have good places to play and relax.
  • Seven collective agreements for city staff are up for renewal this year, which will require a great deal of effort by management and labor to bring them to successful conclusions.

Conclusion

As to-­do lists go, this is a long and ambitious one. It won’t be easy.

It will take a lot of effort and teamwork to make progress.

To be fair, I don’t think residents expect council and city staff to produce miracles overnight.

But they do expect us to make real progress and soon.

And they are looking at us, the 11 members of city council, to be leaders and work together to build a better future for our beloved Brantford.

It's the job we signed up to do.

So let's get to work.