Speech to the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce
Let me begin by congratulating the new chair of the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce Mr. David Donaldson and thanking Tim Redpath, your outgoing chair.
This is my first major speech since being sworn in on December 1st. Over the past six weeks, this Council has already shown it can come together in a spirit of cooperation to effect the change that Ottawa voted for.
There is a real sense of collaboration already apparent. A new dedication to work together. But the challenges are only beginning and we’ll face our first serious test tomorrow with the tabling of our first budget that will govern our work together over the coming year. I know that my fellow council members will help me deliver on both a new commitment to prudent spending but also a renewed focus on the better services our residents want and deserve.
I am very proud to have been elected to lead a great group of representatives at City Hall. We have on Council a solid mix of experience and new energy. With ideas and ingenuity, we’ll set the course and deliver. The public sent us all to City Hall with a very strong message: It’s time to pull together. We are focused on working together to strengthen our municipal government and on delivering the vital services taxpayers have a right to expect.
And I am pleased to say that we are off to a running start.
Working together, we have already:
– Established a new transit Commission, that will for the first time consist of councillors and members of the public
– Implemented a discretionary spending freeze and a hiring freeze on non-emergency personnel
– Created a reserve fund for environmentally sensitive land
– Struck a new Environment Committee to bring greater focus to the importance of making Ottawa a green, sustainable place to live
– Created the Finance and Economic Development Committee, FEDCO, to bring greater focus on economic development in our city
– Brought forward a comprehensive integrity package that includes the creation of a lobbyist registry; an integrity commissioner; and a new policy to post expenses online beginning this month
I am especially pleased to say that on December 15th, City Council unanimously passed a motion to keep taxes predictable and dedicated itself to cap tax increases at no more than 2.5%, As a Council, we understand the importance of living within a tighter fiscal environment. Families in our communities live within their means, and they rightfully expect their municipal government to do the same.
We want more than restraint. We expect excellent value and we need to be able to rely on good services. In our first two Council meetings a lot has already been accomplished, and I am proud of that. Early on, it’s already clear that when we work together, we get more done. It won’t always be perfect, and we certainly won’t agree on everything. But through respectful dialogue and discussion, we know, as a team, that we can deliver more for the people of our City.
Tomorrow’s tabling of the 2011 budget will be the first major test for both me and my Council colleagues. Establishing our fiscal framework is the single most important task we will undertake this year. It sets out our course for the coming year.
It establishes our goals and priorities. And, it sets the foundation for budgets to come. This budget is about our entire city – from Cumberland to Constance Bay from Ottawa’s downtown to Watson’s Mill – and beyond. I have had the benefit of receiving advice from each councillor on the special needs and priorities of our residents. Along with City staff I will be privileged to present a Budget that will strike the balance and will mark the start of a new era.
We will not be putting things off, or sweeping them under the carpet. We will be facing the challenges and looking to the long-term health of our community. The unprecedented leadership demonstrated by council, unanimously committing to keep tax increases to 2.5%, will give the City Manager a roadmap for the next four years. And while I can’t reveal what’s in tomorrow’s budget, needless to say, I have been working night and day to ensure my campaign pledge will be embraced and respected.
I believe this will put Ottawa on the path to becoming a sustainable community for the long term. There are tough choices to be made in this Budget, but that’s why we were elected. It is tough in business right now and people worry about their jobs. In some families, a parent may spend more than half a year in between jobs, because employment opportunities are harder to come by and business is cutting back. Families want us to hold the line on taxes and we need to make the right decisions now. Restraint in some areas, difficult decisions in others – but most importantly, the decisions that our City has to make to put us on a sustainable path for the future.
We have to make these decisions because we care for our children, and our families. Because we care for our environment and our health. Because we care for our businesses and our hard earned tax dollars. And because we care for the quality of services that make Ottawa such a great place to live. Tomorrow’s budget will reflect these values.
After the budget is tabled, there will be opportunities for improvement and public engagement. I will hold the first ever Spending Control Town Hall Meeting. My Town Hall will be a chance for individual members of the public to come forward with specific and realistic ideas to contain costs and to innovate. Those that merit consideration will be sent to appropriate staff or committees for follow-up for this budget or future ones.
This Town Hall Meeting will take place March 1st at 7pm at Ottawa City Hall. While many of our delegates to committees appear and ask for more funding, this unique Town Hall will be dedicated to realistic and practical ways to save money. I am committed to engaging taxpayers in the budget process, and I believe this Town Hall Meeting is a valuable and important addition to the five multi-ward consultations and committee hearings that will take place throughout the City in February and March.
I want to thank the Chamber, and its members, for the work you do. You are vital to the fabric of our City – creating jobs, making it work, creating a payroll and watching the bottom line. My door is always open to the Chamber, and I look forward to speaking with you at regular meetings and working with you as we build a more prosperous Ottawa together. You are the job creators and the engine of our prosperity.
I would also like to take this opportunity to discuss some important opportunities for our City when it comes to economic development. I look forward to renewing common cause among the agencies and organization that help to make Ottawa’s economy grow. We will renew that common table of The Ottawa Partnership (TOP) and bring everyone together again to push new common goals. Once again, we will see the Chamber working hand in hand with our Business Improvement Areas, Ottawa Tourism, our post secondary partners, OCRI and other private sector leaders.
Reinvigorating this partnership will deliver economic opportunities for our small businesses and our City, and I look forward to personally chairing the TOP meetings. Of special interest to me is the often ignored importance of our tourism advantage. Tourism is the third largest industry for our city and contributes significantly to the local economy.
Over the next seven years we have a unique and exciting opportunity to mobilize around the 150th anniversary of Confederation in 2017. I believe that we need to be in a position to welcome the country and the world to this incredible celebration and engage our business community to assist us in this important journey. And as the Capital twinned with Beijing, we are especially well positioned to benefit from Canada’s new status as an approved destination for travellers from the world’s most populous and fastest growing nation.
I expect us to be actively engaged with Ottawa Tourism, specifically focusing on the attraction of major events. Ottawa has successfully hosted numerous major events, including: the 2009 World Junior Hockey Championships, 2008 Skate Canada Internationals, 2007 FIFA U20 World Cup Canada, and the 2001 Brier, to name just a few, and I would like to see us build on this. We also need to leverage incredible assets like our new convention centre opening this spring.
A gem along the Rideau Canal, the convention centre will bring prestige and dollars to our City while serving as a major hub for national and international conventions. All of us have a responsibility to fill this marvellous new convention center with events, and that will take a team effort. Small businesses, the backbone of our city, will be the driving force behind this initiative.
Their strength drives our quality of life and provides us with many exciting and dynamic opportunities. As we move forward within our new fiscal framework, I will establish a council of Business Improvement Areas. In today’s environment, where both the knowledge-based work force and investment capital are highly fluid, our challenge is to find ways to relentlessly retain and grow this knowledge resource.
We have vibrant young companies that are growing and leading the next wave of high tech success. You can count on me to be a champion for our businesses and entrepreneurs. I am in your corner and stand ready to be Ottawa’s marketer in chief whenever I am needed. I understand the need for a vibrant private sector, partnership and a team approach to getting things done.
There is a new tone of collaboration. A new “can do” attitude. This new group of Council members will deliver for you and with you. And I thank you for inviting me to speak to about the great future I know we are building together in Ottawa.