Inauguration Speech 2022
Good evening, everyone. Welcome to a brand-new term of Kingston City Council. Tonight, marks the beginning of a new chapter in the history of this great city and in all our lives.
I’d like to begin by welcoming and congratulating our newest members around the Council horseshoe: Councillors Amos, Chaves, Cinanni, Glenn, Hassan, Ridge, Stephen, and Tozzo. Through your vision, hard work and determination you have earned the confidence of your constituents and been entrusted with a great responsibility to help guide the future direction of our city. I remember so vividly when I was sworn in as a new councillor – the anticipation of wanting to get to work, the excitement of just being elected, and frankly the nerves about what was to come and wanting to do a good job.
I’d also like to welcome back our returning veterans: Councillors Boehme, McLaren, Ooosterhof and Osanic. Congratulations on your return to Council. It’s been a pleasure to work with each of you over the years and now you will take on a new role as mentors – voices of wisdom and experience around this table in the days ahead.
I’d also like to take a moment to thank all of those here in the audience tonight. Your Worship, Chris Whyman, Chief McNeely, CAO Hurdle and members of City Staff, thank you for your support, your hard work, your professionalism, and your commitment to our city. The last four years leading the city through the pandemic has not been easy but your collaboration with each other to continue to ensure the health and safety of our city is greatly appreciated.
To the truly important people here tonight – our families, friends, and supporters, I know I speak on behalf of every member of City Council when I say how thankful we are for your support. We would not be here without you. Personally, I could not take on this role and all its responsibilities and time away without the support of my amazing wife Shyla who is here tonight, along with my two wonderful sons Judah and Micah. And to all the spouses, partners, children, family, and friends of councillors here tonight, thank you for your continued support that will enable each of us to perform our roles well over the next four years.
As we start to think what we want to do over the next four years it’s important to first reflect on what our community has been through over the last four years. We’ve faced one of the greatest challenges of our generation – a global pandemic that up-ended our lives and forced us to learn how to do things differently. Yes, we learned how to social distance, wear masks and do zoom meetings, but we also learned how to support one another in a whole new way. We saw Queen’s University professors working with small downtown business owners to keep their doors open and grassroots community groups and residents working shoulder to shoulder with social service agencies to provide food and housing supports for vulnerable residents. We also saw public health officials working with tourism staff to help keep people employed in restaurants and hotels. In the midst of upheaval, we also kept our focus and pressed ahead on vital projects for our community, like the construction of the new Waaban Crossing, and now we are just a few short weeks away from opening this vital new connecting link for our city.
Through these and many more creative partnerships something important happened – Kingston emerged as a leader. During the toughest global challenges, our community showed what we are capable of. Throughout this pandemic, Kingston became one of the fastest growing communities in the country, with new residents and new businesses coming here drawn to our quality of life, our response to the pandemic, economic potential, and exceptional people. Just last week I met the owner of a little café on Princess St, who came here from Japan a short time ago, and has now started a new business and made Kingston her home. I’m amazed and inspired by the stories of so many other new residents who have now made our city their home.
Now, nearly three years since COVID-19 first took over our lives, the worst of the pandemic is behind us. However, the challenges facing our city have never been greater, and many of our residents continue to struggle. I spoke with many of them at their doors in the last few months – listening to their stories, fears, and concerns about the future. Others have written letters and emails asking what we can do to help them deal with the overwhelming challenges they cannot solve on their own. Housing and homelessness, mental health challenges, lack of housing affordability, the rising cost of living, food insecurity, climate change, access to quality health care, businesses finding the right employees and young people trying to find meaningful careers.
None of these issues are unique to Kingston. You can find these post-pandemic problems in every community and every city across the province and the country, but in the same way we were able to lead during the pandemic, we are well positioned to deal with the aftermath of the pandemic and what lies ahead. With creative ideas, new partnerships, and the right vision, we can continue to be a leading city. We can show the rest of the country what is possible when a forward thinking, caring community rises to the challenges in front of it.
Housing affordability / homelessness
First, we will lead on housing by partnering with both private sector and non-profit housing providers on innovative, lower cost housing options that provide a pathway to attainable housing, and home ownership for first time homebuyers. We will embrace creative ideas and pilot projects, on everything from seniors co-housing to tiny homes projects, to new downtown apartments that will bring more residents into the core of the city and sustain downtown shops and restaurants. We will also continue to explore all possible avenues for more affordable housing. Partnerships like the one we have with Kingston Frontenac Housing and Kingston Co-op Housing, where construction is underway on the new Hillendale Community Housing project at 1316 Princess Street – the largest affordable housing project the city has ever been a part of. These are the kind of major projects I want to see move forward, and I will continue to push for more funding from upper levels of government to meet our need for more affordable housing.
We will lead by finding effective solutions to reduce homelessness. We will partner with local non-profit agencies and community groups as we work to advance supportive and transitional housing options in our community. We will build on the success of our partnership with Tipi Moza that led to the creation of the new Indigenous housing centre on Lower Union Street. We will build on our partnership with Dawn House as we open new housing for women at risk on Ridley Drive in the coming months. Homelessness is not unique to us, it’s a national crisis that has become a complex health care issue as much as a housing issue. As mayor I will be relentless in pushing for the provincial and federal funding we desperately need, to provide housing with wrap around supports and expert staff who can help our most vulnerable heal and get on the road to recovery.
To be clear, we will be bold and ambitious in our approach! We will take the first step to secure new properties for supportive housing, but we will also challenge the provincial and federal governments to step forward with the health care investment needed to make this form of housing work. We will meet our most vulnerable residents where they are at, and at the same time create a continuum of care and a ladder into more independent housing and employment.
Second, we will lead on the health and wellbeing for all residents. After years of social isolation, we will invest in public spaces where people can come together. We will invest in access to waterfront green space and ways to enjoy our amazing waterfront with the new Confederation Basin Promenade and downtown swimming area. We will also continue to expand on the success of our tree planting initiative to enhance our urban tree cover. We will look at new opportunities for pedestrian friendly spaces in the downtown, for safe and inviting cycling corridors, and development designs and policies that promote walkability.
Third, we will lead on food security by promoting more local food markets and building on the success of programs like the Community Food Warehouse, where surplus food is stored and then distributed to those in need. We will look to expand other initiatives like the Community Training Farm project, where in partnership with Loving Spoonful and St. Lawrence College, we are training a new generation of farmers. We will advance new local food production in the rural area of Kingston and explore new innovations like vertical farming in the urban area.
We will also work with our local health care partners to facilitate new solutions and better approaches to improve access to quality care. This is a critical issue for so many in our city. We will build on our existing partnerships with local family physicians to find new spaces and creative ways for health care professionals to work together to serve more patients. Over the years I have heard from hundreds of people struggling to find a family doctor but we’re making progress. Even now, I’m excited by the prospect of a new project with the potential to make a real difference for so many in our city. We will have more information to share on that in the coming weeks. To be clear, when it comes to health care and the funding of family doctors the city cannot take the place of the provincial government. They fund health care!
For our part, we will work with health care experts, innovators right here in our community to develop new and better ways of providing health care services and promoting a healthy community – so long as the province provides the necessary investments.
Sustainability / green community plan
We will lead on sustainability through tangible, practical actions that promote energy efficient buildings and zero emission vehicles. We will partner with emerging local companies like Li-Cycle and Umicore to build a network of sustainable manufacturing. We will build on the amazing outcomes of the Better Homes Kingston program, where hundreds of residents have already signed on to perform energy efficient retrofits of their own homes. Through our new Green Community Improvement Plan, we will work with housing and construction partners to incentivize leading edge net zero buildings. We will get to work now on expanding the City’s electrical infrastructure to enable a larger shift to electric cars, buses, and other vehicles. We will explore both local and regional opportunities to reduce waste and use more green energy.
As one of the fastest growing cities in the province, we will unlock new spaces to grow– spaces for housing and for businesses. Where will we find these new spaces? Some of these spaces are already in reach, like the former Prison for Women property, empty and abandoned for years, now set to be transformed into housing for seniors and other residents as part of the new Union Park development. Or the North Block property next to the Leon’s Centre, for many years a gravel parking lot in the core of the city, but now with the promise and potential to be rebuilt in a way that will rejuvenate lower Queen Street. Some new spaces will be found in the city’s rural area, as we work to advance the vision for a rural business park.
Mayor’s regional council
We will even find some of these spaces outside of our municipal boundaries, as we move our vision beyond our city to generate new ideas and creative partnerships with the municipalities around us. I have already reached out to the mayors of Napanee, Loyalist Township, South Frontenac, Gananoque and the Township of Leeds and the Thousand Islands. As mayors, we have all agreed to come together to the same table in the days ahead to form a new regional mayor’s council. Together we will share ideas and information and explore ways we can collaborate on housing solutions, on transportation and development ideas, and new ways we can accommodate growth in our communities and ensure this growth is benefitting everyone across our region.
As we continue to grow, we will channel the proceeds from new growth into enhanced supports for our community, like subsidized affordable housing units for the growing number of residents that cannot afford market rents. With smart growth and infill development we can find new revenue sources that can cover the costs of city services while keeping property tax increases to among the lowest of other cities in Ontario.
Diversity and reconciliation
Of course, one of the most exciting effects of growth in our community isn’t new houses or larger business parks. It is the arrival of new neighbours and residents, new Kingstonians, and with that a rapidly expanding more diverse city. In just this last year I’ve had the chance to meet and spend time with so many growing local ethnic communities – to celebrate, as with our Malayalee and Gujarati communities. Or to stand in solidarity, with our Ukrainian and Iranian friends and neighbours.
As we embrace the challenges and opportunities of growth, we also foster a welcoming and inclusive community where everyone is valued and supported. We will work together to ensure those from marginalized or disadvantaged backgrounds are able to find exciting career opportunities, engage in the civic life of our community, and be free from racism, hatred, and discrimination. We will continue our work towards reconciliation, taking inspiration from the new Waaban Crossing, whose Ojiibwe name speaks of a new dawn, a new morning, and an opportunity for new beginnings between Indigenous and non-Indigenous residents.
Tonight, as we begin this new term, I have no doubt we will rise to the road ahead of us. To be creative, to work together, and to lead, we will need to change the way we work and the way we think. It will require every city department to think beyond itself to break down silos. It will require every city councillor to think beyond their own district to see a bigger picture. It will require businesses, social service agencies and community groups to link their own organization with a larger effort. It will require residents to contribute, to engage and to work together – not just with those who share their own views and opinions – but with those with different perspectives, different backgrounds and different priorities.
We will lead in raising the bar as elected representatives – we will move against the current political environment that is driving greater polarization, anger, hatred, and division rather than constructive disagreement. We will commit together to see those with whom we disagree not as enemies, but as neighbours, as fellow residents, and community members. We will commit to healthy democratic debate and exchange of ideas. Inevitably we will disagree, we will challenge each other’s ideas and perspectives, but throughout this term we will also value and respect one another to advance our vision and the health and vibrancy of our community. Here in this chamber, we will demonstrate what collaborative leadership looks like to our community and beyond, not just by what we do but by how we do it!
When I first became mayor eight years ago, I talked about a vision for Kingston as a leading, 21st century city, where new ideas and innovative partnerships would establish our city as a model for other communities across our country. A lot has changed since then. I can tell you that I’ve certainly grown as a person and leader, just as our community has grown and accomplished so much. The challenges and opportunities we face here today may be greater, but so too is our chance to lead.
Tonight, as we take in this moment, as we think about all the amazing ideas we have to make our city a better place, I am more convinced than ever that this is Kingston’s moment. It’s time to show the province and the country what we can do together. Once again thank you for entrusting me to lead our city. I look forward to working with you all in the months and years ahead.