December 4th, 2018 - Download full speech pdf
"Great things never came from comfort zones. Change nothing and nothing changes.
Your Honour, Pastor, Councilors, Staff members, Friends, and Citizens of Norfolk, I am deeply honoured to welcome all of you here today. Well this was truly a municipal election for the history books – despite the fact that they are arguably the ones that people should pay the most attention to since they affect our everyday lives most directly, getting people engaged in Municipal politics can often be challenging at best and so I think it speaks volumes of our community’s engagement when there was standing room only at every all Candidates night and when the Folkin Vote videos of those debates were watched more than 45,000 times. There is no denying that this election was proof of our community’s dissatisfaction with the status quo.
That said, we certainly continue to owe a debt of gratitude to former Mayor Luke for his 38 years of dedicated service on behalf of his community, to the others that have served and are leaving council, and to all of those that put their name forward in this past election. I say on behalf of the electorate, thank you for your time, effort, your contributions and love of Norfolk.
I also express this Council’s deep respect and gratitude to the multitude of volunteers spread across our County – they are the champions and lifeblood of our many smaller communities. It is a fact that we are living in an age of declining volunteerism, and so it is never more important for this council to ensure that our volunteers are always treated with the respect that they deserve, that they feel appreciated and empowered. Make no mistake, each and every one of Norfolk’s volunteers are a precious resource and we must ALL realize that a number of our services would not even be able to function without them. Rebuilding moral and culture where it has been lost, will be a priority of this Council.
Thank you to the people of Norfolk for getting involved, for voting and making your voices heard. It is because of your confidence and support that I have this important mandate before me. I am deeply humbled by the hope and trust you’ve placed in me today. Although I may not have grown up here, make no mistake, Norfolk County is home now. I have a burning ambition, and I believe these new Councilors before you do as well, to leverage our passions, to be the change you voted for, to challenge the current system with all of our might, and to put us on the map as one of the most admired and forward thinking Counties in this country.
It’s not going to be easy, and a recent article in the local Young and Free Press was spot on, community improvement plans and façade grants are not going to cut it, nor is our financial position going to make it any easier as the needs of this community must always continue to come before the wants. So councilors, I’m putting you on notice, that we are going to have to get creative and we are going to have to have the courage and strength of conviction to make bold decisions, even if they sometimes fly in the face of our own personal beliefs. Marijuana is a prime example and whether or not our councilors support it personally, whether or not they smoke it, a mere 5 days before this election, I hope they remember that pot did become legal, as legal is it is to drink alcohol. History has been made in this Country and now that a precedent has been set by a Country like Canada, legalization is set to take place in developed countries around the world. Yes, we have to make sure rules are in place to ensure that all can continue to enjoy their property without odour intrusion. We have a duty to work to ensure that everyone has an equal right to enjoy their own personal property, but it’s time we embrace this change in history and start taking full advantage of the opportunities before us, before others do. Norfolk County needs to stop being a follower and start being a leader.
Red Tape was also an overriding theme throughout this campaign. Government regulation at all levels has become excessive, we know this, and municipalities, as the closest form of government to our citizens, despite offering the greatest accessibility, is ripe with over-regulation. The argument that all of these regulations in Norfolk County are passed down from the province doesn’t hold water with me and it shouldn’t with you. Courts have held that Official Plans cannot be used to regulate land use because they are contrary to the intention of the Ontario legislature. Even municipal sign by-laws have been successfully challenged at the Supreme Court of Canada on the basis that they
violate our freedom of expression. And being told you cannot use your land or part thereof for a particular purpose is a form of government expropriation without compensation. If we are going to bring fundamental change to Norfolk, this new council is going to need to make a collective commitment to getting back to simpler times, when our government had far less intrusion on our daily lives, when we didn’t infringe on people’s personal rights.
To do that, our CAO is going to need to change the culture of this organization, and together with staff, we need to dig deep, start looking at problems from every angle, understanding as an organization every amount of regulation, every assessment we ask for, is a form of tax and it squeezes business margins and eventually if you squeeze
people’s margins so tight, their amazing projects no longer become worthwhile. We need a fundamental change to take place, one where we say “yes" – we need to abide by the “must do” rules of the province, we protect ourselves legally, but beyond that we need to start finding the reasons why people can do things, as opposed to looking for the reasons why they cannot. If people are given the freedom to innovate, the possibilities are limitless. Whether its chickens, marijuana or Hastings drive. Council, your job is to not accept the status quo before us just because someone tells you that you need to. Think outside the box and think of all of the possibilities yet to be explored. Think about the change you’ve promised your constituents you will deliver.
Financially, we have an enormous challenge ahead of us. Many things have come to light during this campaign and it’s clear that Norfolk County has had a spending problem over the past four years. I assure you that this Council will be more forceful in its oversight: of spending, of budget overruns, of our legacy fund, of our depleted reserves, and of our growing infrastructure deficit. We will expect regular financial reporting to Council so that as of 2019 onward, both staff and Council will share a collective responsibility of continuously monitoring our fiscal position. Without it, there is no accountability. The technology is there for continuous financial reporting, it has been for some time. I believe I can speak for this entire council when I say that we are committed to ensuring accountability and getting Norfolk back on track financially; to reducing our expenses, to utilizing in-house staff instead of outside consultants, to listening and empowering our frontline staff so that they can improve efficiencies and deliver better service, and finally to look at the overall organizational structure of the corporation so that we can become more efficient and effective. Budget deliberations are huge, and while we’ve been told we have a revenue problem and not an expense problem here in Norfolk, respectfully I disagree – simply raising taxes is the easy way out. In the most simplistic of terms, if you have a widget and that widget is not selling as well as it could be, raising its price is not going to solve your problems. It is essential that we learn to fine the balance today’s services and tomorrow’s needs. You will see a motion by Council on your agenda to delay the budget deliberations this year, this is because we are acutely aware of the importance of the task before us, and the need as newcomers, to take the time to properly familiarize ourselves with Norfolk’s financial position and priorities.
I want to give everyone my full assurance that I will work with Council and staff to achieve the objectives that were stated during the campaign. I also believe that staff will work with Council to achieve the same, but that said, while I’m not looking for confrontation, I would like to be clear today that I am more than willing to face it head on if it comes. The law says that I am the CEO and head of council and I intend to act in that fashion but none of this can be accomplished by one person, and it is going to take us all working together to create meaningful change. I am confident that when these councilors come to the table, they will do what is best for Norfolk. Roger Geysens, Ian Rabbitts, Mike Columbus, Amy Martin, Chris Van Paassen, Kim Huffman, Tom Masschaele, Ryan Taylor: I followed each of you throughout your campaigns and I am so excited to work with each and every one of you. I have confidence that while they may vocalize and advocate for their ward, ultimately they will leave their personal opinions at the door and do what is best for all of the citizens of Norfolk. We will endeavour to fiercely protect the identities of our small villages, hamlets and towns, but wardism, I believe will be no longer.
And finally, I want to say a huge thank you to my campaign team, the little team that could, without them I most certainly would not be here today, to my mother and father and grandfather who is here at the age of 97 and still drinking beer. Thank you for always supporting me and continuously putting up with my many crazy ideas (although if I do say so myself, I come by it honestly).
I am tremendously excited to see what this new council can do and I know you are too!"
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