At the end of February I delivered my third State of the City address. It was a little over two years ago that I took the Oath of Office as Winnipeg’s 43rd mayor, and I firmly believe City Hall is on a better track today than it was two years ago.
We have made significant progress toward making City Hall more open, more accessible, and we are building our city for the future by investing in key infrastructure we will need as our city grows to one million people strong.
Recently, Council approved the City of Winnipeg’s first integrity commissioner, the City’s first Open Government Policy, and a motion calling on the province to commit to a public inquiry. These were all things that had been talked about for years, and this Council voted to get them done.
We opened Winnipeg’s first Transportation Management Centre; the Waverley Underpass, a project talked about for years, is now in the early stages of construction; and rapid transit continues to move forward with construction of the second phase of the Southwest Rapid Transitway, well underway and well under budget.
Over the next 25 years, Winnipeg’s population is expected to chart strong and steady increases. Winnipeg’s Census Metropolitan Area population is expected to exceed one million people by 2035. We need to figure out a way to pay the cost of growth that is fair and equitable to taxpayers, and without mortgaging the financial future of our city and our next generation. That’s why Council voted in support of impact fees to help finance the cost of new and expanded infrastructure.
As our city’s population grows, we need to find ways to further support our businesses and grow our economy. Since this Council took office, we have reduced the business tax rate from 5.7 percent to 5.25 percent, and we have increased the Business Tax exemption threshold, eliminating the business tax for almost one-half of Winnipeg businesses.
Working with the Public Service and the Winnipeg Chamber, I was thrilled to announce our first joint initiative – a Permit Logistics Desk at the Winnipeg Chamber. Chamber staff working at the Logistics Desk will have complete access to all city permit services so that they can work with businesses as well as City staff to quickly identify issues and ultimately streamline the permit process.
Winnipeg has always been, and continues to be, a trading city. Annually, Manitoba conducts over $26 billion in trade with the U.S, and it’s been estimated that almost 250,000 jobs are tied to trade.
In my ongoing discussions with U.S Consul Chris Gunning, I have reviewed with him the critical nature of Canada-U.S trade. I have raised this issue with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, with my mayoral counterparts, directly with the Prime Minister, and we are working on how we, as big city mayors, can support our local businesses as well as our Provincial and Federal counterparts on trade.
As our city grows, we also need to examine ways technology and innovation can drive change, reduce cost, and make information more open and accessible. I was thrilled to welcome Mr. Michael Legary to the City of Winnipeg as Chief Innovation Officer where he can support our CAO and the entire public service in making City Hall work better for business and taxpayers.
Fixing Winnipeg’s roads continues to be the number one concern for many Winnipeggers. In February, I was joined by Minister Jim Carr and Minister Scott Fielding to announce an investment of $60 million into local street renewal across Winnipeg. This $60 million is part of a record level of investment of $105 million into local and regional roads across Winnipeg.
Winnipeggers also continue to express the need for ride-sharing services like Uber. For me, it’s not a matter of “if” these services are introduced, but when and how. I am committed to working with the province and the provincial Taxicab Board to move this forward.
Today, more people are living downtown than ever before, and over 80% of downtown businesses indicate they are confident in the current and future direction of our downtown. In February I was pleased to announce that we received letters of support from key property owners to work together to plan the opening of Portage and Main as one component of a larger vision to reconnect all four quadrants of downtown.
I declared last year as the Year of Reconciliation for Winnipeg. As a city, we need to continue our journey to reconciliation. My challenge for all Winnipeggers is to continue recovering your piece of the Canadian story of peace and partnership that began with the treaties.
The Canadian story is also one of multiculturalism. Over the coming years, immigration will continue to be the largest single contributor to population growth in Winnipeg, and it’s essential that as a community we continue to welcome new people to our city, and recognize strength in our diversity.
We have a lot of work ahead of us this year. I know each of you will do your part, and so will I.
Thank you, merci, and miigwetch for the opportunity to serve as your Mayor.