Last night, the new Guelph city council gathered around the horseshoe and took their oath of offices, pledging to King Charles III that they will be the best council possible and make smart decisions. Newly re-minted Mayor Cam Guthrie then outlined some of the challenges that this new council will be facing including, but not limited to, division and surprises. Here’s the full text of the Mayor’s opening address…
Thank you so much for coming tonight. Especially, I want to thank our executive team, all the staff and the clerk’s office that prepped for this for this evening, and especially our frontline emergency workers that were here with us today, and many other staff that have been a part of putting this together, I really, really appreciate this work on behalf of council, we know the work that goes into these events, so thank you very, very much for what you’ve done.
Today, we formally take our first steps as a new council for the City of Guelph, and I’d like to congratulate each member of council on well-run elections that have landed you in the very seats you’re sitting in tonight. You have many people to thank for putting you in this position, I’m sure family and friends and volunteers and more. So I just want to say, very authentically, well done to each and every one of you.
And speaking of thanks, this is my opportunity to publicly thank those who have given me a strong mandate for a third time to continue as the mayor of Guelph. My friends, many volunteers, many who are here tonight, alongside my parents, my mother-in-law, my sister and brother-in-law, and of course my kids, Anakin and Adelaide, and my amazing wife, Rachel, who was stood by me through so much over these years, both as a city councilor, and as the mayor. I could not do what I do without you.
And just so everyone knows, I was told more often this time during the election, that people were only voting for me, because they know all along is Rachel who is calling the shots. They only like what she’s done with the city, and they are not wrong.
To the citizens and businesses of this city: This council will be available, transparent and engaging on the issues that come before us. While the 13 of us bring new ideas to the table, we know that we don’t own all of the ideas. Our citizens, and actually our businesses and stakeholders, they too can offer us new ways of making our city better. When you approach us in a respectful way, we will be ready to work alongside each of you.
We have five new councillors, five new voices, five fresh perspectives on this council now, and to each of you five, I want to thank you very much for putting your name forward on the ballot, and for choosing to serve the city through elected office. I look forward to working hard on many issues and deliver positive outcomes for everyone. And those issues are not too far ahead of us. They’ve already arrived on our desks and in our inboxes, so buckle up. It’s going to be a great time, but a busy time.
And for those returning working alongside you, in many instances resulted in excellent outcomes and decisions decisions for our city. Just to highlight a few: Our credit rating is now at a AAA rating, which positions us on a much healthier fiscal foundation, in which to wade through these uncertain times ahead of us; we finally did a complete third party service rationalization review of city hall that looked inward as we try to find more efficient and effective ways of delivering our services to the citizens; we continue to turn underperforming assets into performing assets such as the Farmers Market as an example; supportive Housing is finally happening in our city; master plans for transportation, wastewater, and more have been finished; setting our goals for environmental initiatives; and making ourselves committed to do whatever we can to eliminate racism and become an even better city for accessibility by embracing diversity and inclusion in all that we do.
These are things that we should be proud of, and we accomplished these, and many more, throughout a global pandemic. So we eight, those returning this term, must also buckle up for what lies ahead.
As we continue working on these issues of the past term, we collectively know that certain issues are rising to the top at present, in no particular order: Housing safety, affordability, and the growing social services crisis.
I was interviewed lately by the media and was asked if I thought the councillors elected would be councillors that I could work with on these issues, pointing to some in the community that believe that maybe I would have a difficult time with my vision or my platform. I answered firmly that I believe we will address these issues because they’re not my issues to begin with. They are our community’s issues.
Every single successful candidate talked about housing, and acknowledged that we need to do better when it comes to creating more units within our city. Every single one around this horseshoe, they all address the safety. They all addressed affordability, and social services during this campaign. The 13 of us are not starting to make at odds with each other to move the dial on these issues whatsoever, in fact, we have a common foundation to start discussing, and sharing ideas to tackle these issues for all.
Over this past weekend, we had our first two full days of council orientation. To the citizens of Guelph, let me tell you, you have elected a team of caring and thoughtful people to this place. I was so impressed with the relationships built, renewed and restored over this weekend.
Now, one area I want to highlight that I took away from this weekend was our learnings around creating better governance and our commitment to becoming a more mature decision body. Now, I believe that can only be accomplished by three things: The first one is effective meetings, the second is efficient use of our time, and the third is trust. Trust between us and between staff, with no surprises and no “gotcha” moments. In my one on one talks with each new councillor to date, I have been encouraged by indications that we need to become a team that embraces these points.
I want to encourage all of us, as we start to move into our meetings over the next few months, that if you find new ways or new ideas to make our time together more efficient, or more effective, as decision makers, then you bring them to my attention. I am committed to listening and exploring ways for us to govern better.
The next couple of years are going to be some of our greatest challenges. Coming out of the height of the pandemic and lockdowns, we now know that the affordability crisis is upon us and that a recession is more than likely. This will mean we must pull together to live within our means, and more accurately, we must make decisions here that help our citizens live within their means because it’s their money, not ours. We will be faced with spending decisions that will impact those paying for it, and we need to always remember that.
Speaking of spending, I believe this is a good time to highlight something for our community, in this, my inaugural speech for the 2022-26 term that our city needs to understand and potentially brace for.
Not even 24 hours after the municipal election, the provincial government tabled new legislation intended to help with housing. Now, I won’t go into each detail here, but I wanted everyone to hear it as plainly as possible from me first: Cities are creatures of the Province. What they impose on us, what they force upon cities, must be adhered to. In many cases, they must also be paid for, and it can often be referred to as downloading.
In this case, there may be massive requirements and resources forced upon us that will require more money being spent on the hopes of creating more housing. But sometimes it’s not new legislation or new regulations that spur on new spending requirements from cities such as ours. It’s a lack of funding on existing issues that can cause our cities, and our very own citizens, to face extreme difficulties in urgent decisions. On this point, I’m specifically referencing the mental health addictions and homelessness crisis in our cities.
When the proper funding isn’t provided, we are left with choices to either ignore the problem, which can make things worse, or to start funding sectors and initiatives that are supposed to be funded from upper levels of government so they don’t get worse in our community.
Now I’ve asked new councillors to buckle up, I’ve asked our existing eight – me included – to buckle up, and that’s why I’m asking the citizens involved to buckle up as well.
But don’t get me wrong, I’ve always believed that we should look inwards, first finding the funds required or reallocating what’s needed from one place to another, but in all we do financially we cannot undercut our city infrastructure or investments to appease some with a few dollars of savings now that will end up costing taxpayers, or at the cost of our own citizens well being, down the road. Overall, we must be a council that does commit to affordability, but balances affordability with providing value, positive outcomes and results for our community.
When it comes to safety, we are on the right track. But this is a big issue that will need more resources and investments. Each of us sitting here today knows full well that almost 50 per cent of the doors that we knocked on had a Ring doorbell. They had cameras on their doors and security systems, and there is a reason for that.
Safety isn’t just affecting our homes or businesses, but in our downtown core as well. We have a thriving and wonderful downtown, it is a fantastic place to be, but we must do better, and we will do better. I’m so thankful that council approved the mayor’s task force for the new Downtown Advisory Committee, which has both Councillor Goller and Klassen as members. We’re ready to find solutions to helping those in need, helping business owners thrive, and giving good reasons why customers and tourists tell others that our downtown core is a fantastic place to be.
This council will also have the privilege to set our first four-year strategic plan aligned with the four-year multi-year budget. This means that while we should commit to working hard on the upcoming budget, it’s really the strategic plan that will set the course for us for the next four years, and it is through that process that we will determine much of the pace in which we move on capital projects for our community. Do we keep the pedal to the metal? Do we back off the pedal a little bit? Do we set the cruise control? We’ll need to pull together, and we’ll need to listen to each other and the community as we figure this out.
And to our phenomenal staff, we cannot get things done, implement new ideas or get to positive results, without the heavy lifting of our staff. We will rely on your partnership, your advice and your collaboration. Keep us informed, don’t surprise us, and feel free to let us know if we’re deviating out of our lane about what we want and accidentally swerving into the lane of how and micromanaging and nudge the mayor when he talks too much.
As we declare and sign our oath of office, making you a councillor and me a mayor, let us take a moment to reflect on the great privilege we’ve been given to create positive change for our city. Leadership comes with obligations and responsibilities to each other, and others. Guelphites expect us to show up, to work hard, and demonstrate respect for all. Our actions, and our votes will define the next four years.
We can, and we must, stop rhetoric and instead reach together for results. I’m tired of polarization, and guess who else is? All of you, staff and the citizens in our city. The citizens put an X beside our names to get to work and show others when we can do it in Guelph: By talking, by compromising with respectful dialogue, and choosing to trust each other as the starting point.
Let us choose today to not only do that for ourselves, but also with any outside influences or voices that want to pull us apart and to tear us down. We say “no” to that. Today, as your mayor, I’m committing to have your back and I’m asking you to have mine. Let them know that this council, Team Guelph, stands together and will not be divided because we will never lead if we are divided.
Now look, disagreement is unavoidable, I get that. This is true at work, or maybe in your own home, or for any member organization that might be here. In fact, disagreement will probably happen more than once in these very chairs we’re all sitting in, but division is different. Division is a choice. Our ongoing goal is to choose to not give in to division. We all want the same thing: A city that will thrive for all Guelphites regardless of background beliefs, or orientation.
So let’s get to it! Let’s build on the ideas presented during the election in each of our platforms, not just mine. Let’s never forget what we heard at the front steps of the homes we talked to, or from the people or businesses that we interacted with. And remember, there are voices, we perhaps did not hear from. Those experiencing homelessness, or potentially a new family, a refugee family or immigrant. Maybe they only arrived in Guelph on the day of our election, and we didn’t hear their voice, but we represent them too.
We can do all things together in collaboration with our professional staff, and we can ensure that when we hit the ‘Yes’ button, or the ‘No’ button, on each issue as we vote that we can look back over the next four years together, and individually and collectively say that we did the right thing. That we created a better future for those here now, and for the next generations that will call Guelph home. Thank you very much.