The city we love must be everyone’s city
Let me start by saying what an honour and privilege it is to be your new mayor of Burlington.
I’m standing here tonight because the people of this city asked for change. You asked for change.
I’m here to tell you: We heard you! We are listening!
We are going to work together to bring the change you have asked for: as a council, with the 1,580 staff who directly deliver services to our community, and with you, the people of Burlington.
We have our work cut out for us. First, we are going to put residents first. Our role is to make decisions that serve you. We need to put your priorities first, like improving traffic flow, and increasing parks and community amenities.
We need to ensure our budgets are focused on your priorities, and held in check: tax increases in the last two years were over four per cent, which is well beyond inflation. We can do better.
We need to listen to you and ensure your vision for our future is reflected in our decisions.
Most important, we need to repair and restore trust between citizens and City Hall.
That starts with respect.
Simon Sinek, author of “Start with Why,” said: “The role of a leader is not to come up with all the great ideas. The role of a leader is to create an environment in which great ideas can happen.”
My role as head of council is to create that environment in which great ideas happen.
That environment starts with respect. Respect for residents and the ideas you share with us; respect among councillors — so you can trust we are working together for your best interest; respect for our city staff who implement the decisions of council.
I had the honour to meet the Collins family recently and their story sums up what respect is all about.
Mom Jessica was walking with Summer, Kennedy and Max to the voting station which was in their school. She had her voter ID card. Daughter Kennedy, 6, asked what it was, and when her mom told her she said “Can we vote for the girl?”
Jessica said: “We don’t vote for people because they are a girl or a boy, we vote for them because they have the best ideas.”
So daughter Summer, 4, said “I have a good idea.” And this was her idea: “Don’t kick people.”
I think that’s as good a place as any to start on respect.
Second, we are going to make sure Burlington is everyone’s city.
We must make sure everyone is included in the life of our city. We will not leave anyone out, and we won’t leave anyone behind.
Inclusion is about affordable housing — we want people of all incomes to be able to live in Burlington, our youth, our families, and our seniors.
Inclusion is about attracting businesses and jobs to Burlington — we want people to live and work in the same community. We must stop the brain drain to other communities, and the congestion and time-sucking commutes that go with it.
Inclusion is about fixing our transit system.
One of my most valued mentors was the late John Boich, who had a long career in public education.
John was a huge advocate of transit because he knew transit was more than a ride to a place, it was about inclusion. If you can’t get to a park, or community centre, or even city hall, in a reasonable time at reasonable cost you can’t fully participate.
John didn’t need to take transit himself, he didn’t need affordable housing, but he used his position of influence to advocate for others.
Third, we are going to protect the city we love.
We live in a great city because of the actions and efforts of the people who came before us. We need to protect what they fought for, while we plan for our future.
We will take on the issue of overdevelopment and ensure we are focused on reasonable growth going forward. Council and the community are not against development; we will focus on putting the right development in the right place.
We will listen to residents and reflect your input in our decisions.
The first step is to get our Official Plan back from the region before approval Dec. 8, and push the reset button on the downtown plan.
We will have some good news very soon on how to do that so stay tuned!
Protecting the city we love means we need to flood proof our community — flooding is the biggest threat to municipalities because of severe weather.
Protecting the city we love means protecting our rural area and working with farm families to ensure a sustainable agricultural economy.
We will fight any effort to open the greenbelt to development.
We will fight any renewed effort to put a highway through our farmland.
Protecting the city we love means protecting our tree canopy and adding to it.
Mary Munro knew about trees. She was Burlington’s first female mayor, from 1977-78.
In Mary’s day, there was a plan to tear down the massive trees on Lakeshore Road to expand it for a highway. Mary was elected on a platform to Save the Lakeshore. Those trees do more than make the street beautiful — they provide shade, clean our air, and absorb storm water before it gets into the storm sewers or someone’s basement.
We can honour the gift she helped to give us by doing our part to protect trees and plant more.
Mary was also a fighter who spoke her mind, and never backed down, especially on development.
That leads me to the final theme: We as a council are going to honour our commitments to you because we have the power.
I heard during this campaign — nothing can be done about development, the province holds all the cards, the new Official Plan can’t be changed.
The good news is: We are not powerless! This election, and the change it brought, is about our city choosing our destiny together, not a few people deciding for us.
I want to leave you with one final story to illustrate what dedication and passion can achieve, against all odds.
It’s about the invention of air travel in 1903.
One of the best known people in the field was Samuel Pierpont Langley. He had funding — $50,000 from the War Department — a massive sum of money in the late 1800s, he had friends of influence including Alexander Graham Bell and Andrew Carnegie, and he had a dream team of pilots, engineers and scientists.
But none of us know his name. Because he didn’t invent air travel. The Wright Brothers did. Orville and Wilbur Wright didn’t have money, friends in high places, or even a college degree.
What they had was passion and resilience. They inspired others in the community to join them. They kept going in spite of failure.
We must have courage, because there will be challenges ahead.
I have a poster in my office with a quote from Teddy Roosevelt, former United States president. I was born in the U.S. and I have a soft spot for Teddy, who in 1901 created the U.S. National Forest System, which established 150 national forests and five national parks, including expanding the size of Yosemite National Park where my father served as a park ranger before we moved back to Canada. My playmates were black bears and grizzlies, which prepared me perfectly for politics.
Teddy said: “It is not the critic who counts, nor the one who points out how the strong stumble or could have done better. The credit belongs to the one who is actually in the arena, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming. Spend yourself in a worthy cause; at best you’ll know the triumph of high achievement, at worst, if you fail, you fail while daring greatly.”
Each of you, my colleagues, have entered a new arena, and I know you will strive valiantly, for a worthy cause.
That is nothing less than doing what is best for our people, our community.
And we need all of you, our staff, and our residents, with us. We need your ideas and passion. We need you to hold us to account to honour the trust you have placed in us.
Now, let’s get out there and do good things together!
Burlington Mayor Marianne Meed Ward enjoys applause after being sworn-in.