In an annual appointment on the local winter calendar, Mayor Cam Guthrie delivered his fifth “State of the City” address for the Guelph Chamber of Commerce. For the 2020 speech, Guthrie touted the City’s record on addressing social issues and poverty, fiscal discipline and advocacy, and how Guelph is “Future Ready.”
The term “Future Ready” was used about eight times in the speech, as Guthrie heavily promoted the City of Guelph’s Strategic Plan for it’s vision, and the wide-ranging community consultation that was involved in creating it. “With this plan, Council and the Administration are both rowing in the same direction. We don’t have administrative priorities, and Council priorities – we have Guelph priorities,” Guthrie said.
Still, Guthrie had some priorities of his own. The first was a directive to the City and its associated boards to get a handle on operating fees. “As we work on getting things built, we still need to keep our eye on the ball when it comes to operational efficiencies and savings,” Guthrie said. “The City has established a Continuous Improvement Office to facilitate service reviews – and that’s an excellent start.”
Next, the mayor announced his intention to make transit free for Guelph’s young people who are high school-aged and under. “This will be a game-changer for families and for improving options for students to get to jobs, school, extra curricular activities and volunteer opportunities,” Guthrie said. “It will also introduce them to public transit sooner – and there is ample evidence that this leads to more transit use, well into adulthood.”
Guthrie’s third priority is to begin an initiative to make downtown Guelph car-free. The mayor said he’s inspired by European cities like Copenhagen or Ghent in Belgium, as well as the City of Toronto’s own experiences in shutting down streets to vehicular traffic, and would like to work towards a downtown core with little-to-no traffic.
“This vision is possible and I’m not afraid to champion it,” Guthrie said. “I’m not saying we should close our downtown streets to cars tomorrow. Perhaps we could look at doing it on a few weekends in August, in coordination with special events. We could build on this over a series of years.”
You can watch the whole speech in the video below:
Along with looking to the future, Guthrie spent much of the speech looking to the recent past. He reviewed the work done in the last year on initiatives coming out of his task force on homelessness, which began meeting shortly before last year’s State of the City. It was during that speech when Guthrie said that, as mayor, he had failed to adequately act on the issue as noted in the tweet below.
“My message last year around the homelessness issue was a message of urgency. This year, my message is one of hope,” Guthrie said. “We are working together. We are making progress. I believe if we keep at it, we can – and we will – end homelessness in our city.”
On the accomplishments of the task force, Guthrie noted that the Supported Recovery Room has offered 6,000 hours of support to 74 individuals, that the Welcoming Streets program has helped 118 people over the past eight months, and that the Addiction Court Support program has supported 41 people so far.
Along with that, Guthrie discussed the additional funding for the Guelph Police Service, and the City’s support for expanding and renovating the Guelph General Hospital. It’s a lot of money to go out the door, but Guthrie said it’s the price to pay for living in a rapidly growing city.
“A few have said that these types on investments are inconsistent with my longstanding commitment to keeping taxes as low as possible,” he said. “But these investments are critical for a growing city like ours and cannot be overlooked.”
“As we make strategic investments, I continue to focus on the financial well-being of our city,” Guthrie added.
You can read the original recap of the speech from Twitter below: