Regional Chair Alan Caslin presented his 2016 State of the Region Address at the Scotiabank Convention Centre on April 12, 2016. You can watch the video above or read the transcript below.
Good afternoon - I'd like to welcome each one of you to this year's State of the Region Luncheon.
Special thanks to Mishka and the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce, and all of Niagara's Chambers of Commerce for supporting today's event.
Today more than ever we are aligned.
A few weeks ago I joined our Southern Tier Mayors at their annual luncheon in Port Colborne.
The Mayors all spoke of a renewed sense of alignment among Niagara's municipalities and the Region.
I echo that position here today.
Our region is aligned, we are focused, and we are working for you.
Alignment can only occur by listening, by working together, and putting aside parochialism.
I've seen this occur many times over the past year, and will continue to encourage our local elected officials to continue striving for alignment.
More than ever before our Council, Mayors, our towns and cities, and our federal and provincial representatives are aligned in pushing forward on projects that are in the best interest of all of Niagara.
This benefits us, it benefits residents, and it benefits you - community leaders and business owners.
We are also taking a proactive approach.
Our Council is not waiting on the bench for a chance to get in the game.
Over the past year and going forward, our Council has been proactive in the pursuit of new funding, new investment, and increased growth.
For example, when we heard that Porter wouldn't be permitted to keep flying jets to the Toronto Island airport, we visited Porter to highlight opportunities available at the Niagara District Airport.
When we heard that GE Power and Water planned to stop manufacturing gas engines in Waukesha, Wisconsin and planned to open a new facility to build engines in Canada, the Region was on the phone immediately.
Mayors Diodati, Sendzik and I met with Elyse Allan, President and CEO of GE Canada to highlight the very attractive transportation, market access, and incentives that make Niagara a great place to do business.
We know that Niagara remains an excellent site for GE's relocation.
As you can see, rather than 'hoping for better', our proactive approach means that we are capitalizing on opportunities.
As you know our key priority as a Council has been our proposal to have two-way all-day GO Train service from Toronto to Niagara Falls.
Without a doubt, I'm very excited that our advocacy to the Minister of Transportation and the Premier has paid off.
Let's face it, for the first time ever, Niagara GO has been mentioned in the recently tabled 2016 Provincial Budget.
The budget highlighted only four GO projects across the province. As a Region we are excited to be one of them.
Two weeks ago we heard Infrastructure Minister Brad Duguid speak here in Niagara to confirm the Province's commitment for a daily train service to Niagara Falls.
Of course, we know that projects like a GO Train require us to do our part, and we recognize there is local work to do.
For that reason, the Region's three largest municipalities have been working hard developing a plan for inter-municipal transit in Niagara.
Why is inter-municipal transit a priority?
Inter-municipal transit is a priority because it moves people to work, to school and to health services.
It supports GO Rail Service in Niagara.
It facilitates economic development.
It contributes to a high quality of life for Niagara residents.
And it supports sustainable development.
Inter-municipal transit will be related to other critical transportation initiatives, including Niagara's Transportation Master Plan.
This plan is a comprehensive strategic planning document that will define the policies, programs and infrastructure improvements needed to address Niagara's transportation needs now through to 2041.
To carry out Regional Council's direction, a three part work-plan was developed in January 2016.
The three key components of the work plan are:
1. We will determine options for inter-municipal transit beyond the current pilot.
The working group is currently procuring external services to assist in developing options that are integrated within Niagara and across the GTHA.
This work is different from past efforts because it employs a system-wide approach that encompasses the resources of all municipalities which operate transit services in Niagara.
We are beyond just talk on this issue. This past week the nter-municipal transit working group, awarded an RFP to Dillon Consulting's team.
This team includes top names in the industry, including a former senior GO Transit official, to help us determine the best options for the future of our collective integrated system.
More than establishing routes that can connect cities, it is about utilizing the fullest potential of all transit systems involved.
Council outlined a 20-month work plan to come back with a solution to this transit challenge.
It is anticipated that options will be put forward by the working group for consideration by year's end.
2. We will continue to make the existing pilot the best it can be, including ensuring better services for Brock University and Niagara College.
Earlier this year, myself and many Regional Councillors met with students from Brock University Students' Union and Niagara College to understand their needs when it comes to inter-municipal transit.
Travelling on the local systems gave us a clear understanding of students needs and will help shape a system that works for residents and students alike.
3. We will participate in uncovering new, leading edge technologies and service delivery arrangements.
The group is investigating new options that will allow for easier fare payment and system-wide trip planning, as well as how transit can be delivered in places more efficiently than traditional buses.
I applaud the federal Government's recent budget which outlined investments in infrastructure of $120 billion over the next decade.
$11.9 billion over five years was allocated for modern and reliable public transit.
$3.4 billion is available through a new Public Transit Infrastructure Fund to provide up to 50 per cent of eligible costs for projects.
I look forward to working with our local Members of Parliament to ensure that our inter-municipal project is eligible, and well considered when these funds are made available.
In 2015 Council voted for a zero per cent budget increase in 2016 and our 2017 plan is already coming together.
This year we are planning a robust dialogue with community organizations and businesses to get your input.
This year, thanks to the hard work of Budget Chair David Barrick and Vice-Chair April Jeffs and our Council, residents will see a zero per cent budget increase on the Regional portion of their property tax bill in 2016.
The 2016 operating budget maintains programs and services and provides funding for investments in new areas that will support economic prosperity, including:
Regional Council also approved the 2016 capital budget of $165 million to support significant infrastructure projects, including:
The 2015 / 2016 Budget Chair and Vice-Chair were recently re-elected for the next two years, and I am confident they will put their minds to ways to strategically invest in our Region while ensuring we continue to be mindful of where the money comes from.
In 2015, Council decided to examine Regional projects using Value for Money Audits, to provide certainty to elected officials and to the public that your dollars were spent responsibly.
These audits are used to find efficiencies, ensure fairness, and provide transparency.
We are looking to make sure we've done things right.
That we have followed the process and done things fairly.
That funds have not been squandered or misappropriated and that we are always looking for ways to improve.
In 2015, Council approved Value for Money Audits audits on:
As part of the audit process, we reviewed opportunities for improvement which can include consideration of alternative service delivery methods.
Niagara Region is embracing Alternative Service Delivery as new model for operating assets and services.
Alternative Service Delivery looks at alternative ways to obtain critical infrastructure assets or deliver services other than the traditional method of building, owning and operating.
From a capital or asset perspective, the traditional method for the Region is to build an asset under the Design Bid Build approach.
Alternative methods would include:
In addition to these, other methods may include formal partnerships or co-developments to acquire an asset.
From a service perspective, alternative arrangements could include items such as an outsource arrangement, a concession arrangement, or another form of a commercial arrangement (i.e. joint venture, partnership, corporate entity).
Under Council's strategic priorities, $1 billion in corporate assets have been identified for potential Alternative Service Delivery reviews.
During the priority-setting process, Council identified long-term care home redevelopment and social housing as priority candidates for comprehensive review for applicability of Alternative Service Delivery.
This year Regional Council took the bold step of offering up $25,000 in funds to match funds raised by Niagara residents to support Syrian refugees coming to the Niagara region.
Significant support of Council for a motion to assist those who were affected by the violence in Syria.
I am also pleased that Niagara residents stepped up to the plate and surpassed that amount.
Overall, this is a great indication that Niagara is a welcoming and compassionate community that is willing to support those who need a hand up.
The future for youth in Niagara is critical to our ongoing success.
We need to attract and retain the top talent graduating from our post-secondary institutions.
One of the priorities in our Strategic Plan is to develop a Joint Strategy on Youth Retention Developed with Post-Secondary Institutions.
Currently, there are three parts to the plan:
1. Development, distribution and analysis of youth retention and attraction engagement efforts targeted to post-secondary school students; working young adults and employers.
To do this we:
2. The second area of focus was planning a one-day forum to bring together key stakeholders and organizations, and the community who are interested in youth retention in Niagara.
The U35 forum was held in November and engaged over 140 stakeholders with many business leaders and Niagara youth in attendance
The key themes indicated by forum participants were identified as "selling Niagara" and "jobs".
The working group determined the goal was to "Connect Youth with Industry and Industry with Youth". This will be accomplished via a two-pronged approach:
3. The third area of focus is investigating the potential for a rotational apprenticeship / internship program in partnership with municipal and private sector partners.
Niagara Region is proposing a partnership with public and private business leaders to develop an Engineer-in-Training Program.
This program will be an internship program that addresses gaps in the labour ready workforce, provides mentorship to young people, and supports graduate readiness for career entry.
Consultations with potential partners to design and participate in the program are currently underway.
Building our Region's capacity for internships and co-ops is an important aspect of retaining our youth.
It is something you can participate in by creating those opportunities in your businesses and workplaces.
Our Economic Development team has been working closely with provincial and federal Economic Development partners on a Foreign Trade Zone Point application.
Thanks to the Region's Director of Economic Development Bob Seguin and his team for taking leadership on this project.
Such a designation will be valuable to the Niagara economy and complements the outreach we have undertaken meeting with stakeholders and businesses from Colombia, Peru, China, and Costa Rica this year.
We also worked with partners in Hamilton on the Pan Am Investment Playbook to foster and build business partnerships with Latin American nations.
An Foreign Trade Zone designation will enable us to build on these efforts by providing a single access window to offer:
We are working closely with our Federal partners on approval of this designation.
In February Niagara Regional Council put its support behind a bid to host the 2021 Canada Summer Games.
Council committed $85,000 to have Niagara Sport Commission develop a formal bid proposal for the two-week competition.
On our Council, Tim Rigby who moved the motion, and Henry D'Angela, Chair of the Commission, have both been strong proponents for this exciting opportunity.
Holding this event in Niagara could draw 5000 athletes and up to 25,000 visitors to our region.
I would like to acknowledge the list of citizens who have agreed to sit on the Canada Games Bid Committee:
This is a strong talented team that has the necessary expertise for Niagara to lead in the bid process.
I'm looking forward to putting forward a strong bid that showcases the Niagara region.
As we look forward to another year of growth and building on the successes of 2015, there is an important player on the Region's team that I would like to acknowledge.
On April 25th we say goodbye to our Director of Economic Development Bob Seguin who will be retiring at that time. Bob would you join me here on stage.
Bob has been with us for two years and has been a key player in the senior leadership team at the Region.
Bob's personal network has been invaluable in the work we are doing to drive growth and economic development across Niagara.
When it comes to opportunities for reaching out to the business community, Bob has been my go-to person.
While Bob may be retiring soon, I know that his efforts on our behalf will have a lasting impact both for the Region and for Niagara.
On behalf of Regional Council, I'd like to sincerely thank Bob for his work to drive economic prosperity in Niagara.
And, as Niagara's business community, will you please join me in congratulating Bob for a job well done.
In addition, it is my privilege to highlight an announcement made in March that David Oakes has been selected as the Region's new Director of Economic Development.
David has a long history of supporting small businesses in Niagara.
David has more than 16 years of municipal management experience and played a key role in establishing nGen, the Niagara Industrial Association and the Niagara Development Corridor Partnership.
David comes to the Region from the City of St. Catharines where he has held a number of roles, including most recently as Director of Recreation and Community Services.
Before I conclude, I'd invite you to hear a few words from David on his vision and ideas for building on Bob's work for Economic Development across our region.
Our region has a clear vision.
We are increasingly aligned with our federal and provincial partners and our municipal colleagues.
We are focused on proactively and shamelessly capitalizing on opportunities that benefit our entire region.
We know that with housing prices in Hamilton rising, and builders clamouring for space in Grimsby and West Lincoln, that the growth potential in Niagara is immense and ongoing.
We are dedicated to working for you - keeping your costs down, providing outstanding service, and ensuring that businesses and job-creators have the tools and an environment to build our local economy.