State of the City Address 2023 - Mayor Josh Morgan

Miigwech. Bonjour. As-salaam 'alykum. Hola. Witam. Buongiorno. Nǐ hǎo. And, in all the languages Londoners acknowledge each other, good morning, and thank you all for joining us. Thank you to the London Chamber of Commerce for organizing this event, and thank you to RBC Place London for hosting.

On behalf of everybody here today, and all of those watching on live stream, let me say to Dan and Mary Lou Smoke: your participation, and your involvement with this event is so meaningful. Truth and Reconciliation is a deeply personal priority of mine, one shared by all members of Council and the City of London. We are committed to this work on both personal and systemic levels. As Mayor, I pledge to listen and learn from Indigenous communities, build relationships, and deliver results. From my heart, thank you for being with us today. 

This marks the 44th consecutive State of the City put on by the Chamber, although it’s the first time we’ve been able to assemble in-person since 2020. The fact this important tradition managed to continue, even throughout the pandemic, is a testament to Graham Henderson’s spirit of resilience and innovation — virtues I know are also shared by the Chamber’s Board of Directors, Chamber members, and volunteers. 

I also want to acknowledge members of London City Council. I am truly honoured to serve with each of you. Deputy Mayor Shawn Lewis, and Budget Chair Elizabeth Peloza. Your constituents know you as deeply committed Councillors in your respective Wards. In your new roles, all Londoners will benefit from your enthusiasm and dedication to public service. And, our city is better for it. 

Similarly, let me also recognize City of London workers, union executives and members, as well as our senior leadership team, led by City Manager Lynne Livingstone. The support and dedication you provide to this Council, and all members of this community, is truly phenomenal.

I’d invite all public servants in attendance today, elected and otherwise, to stand so that your contributions to our city can be acknowledged by fellow Londoners.  

Lastly, I also wanted to use this occasion to acknowledge my predecessor, Mayor Ed Holder. During a term marked by turbulent circumstances and tragedy beyond measure, Mayor Holder provided London with steady leadership, comfort, and calm. I am grateful for his service, and for his friendship. 

We’re gathered here at the start of a new year, a new term of Council, a new Mayor, and new opportunities. After having all aspects of our lives completely upended and dominated by COVID for the last three years, this really does feel like a fresh start. Our so-called ‘new normal’ has arrived.

Even still, we continue to grapple with another public health emergency. I’m speaking of the most pressing challenge facing our city today — homelessness, poverty, mental health and addictions. Like COVID before, this is an active public health emergency, a public health crisis. Unlike COVID at present, it is one we must never “learn to live with.” 

These are not challenges exclusive to London. People in cities throughout Ontario, across Canada, and around North America are dealing with the exact same issues. St.Thomas, Windsor, Kitchener-Waterloo, and Toronto. Halifax, Calgary, Saskatoon, and Vancouver. From Oakland, California to Tulsa, Oklahoma. 

These are no longer challenges restricted to London’s downtown or the broader core area. We see it firsthand in all areas of our city, and in every neighbourhood. By now, many of us have heard the statistics, and the figures. But, these aren’t numbers or percentages. These are sons and daughters; cousins; nieces, nephews, brothers, sisters. 

As I just said a moment ago, this is something that’s being experienced by literally every community, big and small, across North America. When it comes to our challenges, we are not different, and we are not remarkable. However, we must be remarkable, and we must be different in terms of our approach and our outcome.

That’s exactly what’s happening right now. 

Over the last few months, more than 200 Londoners, representing 60 different groups and organizations, have joined together as part of an effort that’s not only the first of its kind in our city, but anywhere in Canada. This is a truly historic, and unprecedented undertaking. The goal? Develop not only a “plan,” but a system — a re-envisioned health and homelessness system that meets people where they are at, addresses their most pressing needs, and sets a course for a continuum of supports that help people achieve greater stability in their lives. 

For the first time in London’s history, we have everyone coming to the table at the same time wanting to help, and committing to action. I’m talking about members of the business community and the development community; representatives from our world-class hospitals, along with community health, social service agencies, emergency services, outreach workers, and charities — all banding together. This group believes, and I believe – in my position as Mayor – that, in no uncertain terms, housing is healthcare. Housing is a fundamental human right. 

What’s being developed will be anchored by those principles, and centered around people: marginalized Londoners in need of supports, but also the many Londoners who provide those supports. These frontline workers, those who have dedicated their lives to this work, they are London’s everyday heroes. We honour you. And, we are honoured to work with you. 

As we build this system together, we are tearing down silos, and focusing on what can be built rather than what is broken. This is not a ‘panel,’ or yet another ‘task-force.’ Instead, this represents the end of temporary emergency response programs. We are building a permanent and sustainable system.

Only a few years ago, many would simply ask “how are you going to fix this?” Now, the question is “how are we going to fix this?” Instead of asking “how come you can’t solve this?,” the community is asking “how can we help?” 

Answers to those questions are being finalized as we speak. Details on what exactly this looks like, including immediate action items, will be shared publicly next month. However, in the absence of those details, I do have a significant announcement to share with you today in relation to this work.

A London family, wishing to remain anonymous, has stepped up in an extraordinary way. I have the great pleasure of announcing to you this morning that this family, in support of our community plan and to ensure its rapid deployment, is donating $25-million dollars. That’s right, $25-million dollars!

That represents the single largest gift of this nature in our city’s history – but it goes even further. If we’re able to generate an additional $5-million dollars, through community donations, the donors will match that amount dollar for dollar. All told, that adds up to $35-million dollars.

So, today we’re asking for your help. Our city needs you to step up. This morning, I have the great privilege of announcing the launch of The Health and Homelessness Fund For Change. The fund is housed at the London Community Foundation. The website is www.fundforchange.ca. It is live. Reach out to them. Your donation will be doubled by this wonderful family, doubling your impact. 

Whatever your circumstances, we need you to dig deep. What can you do, as a Londoner, or as a family? What could your business contribute? How can you mobilize your team or your network? I need your help. London, it’s time for us to lead. 

On behalf of all Londoners, to the anonymous donor family, words fail to express our gratitude. Instead, we will demonstrate the depth of our appreciation by virtue of the actions we will take. 

This donation is significant, both in dollars and the impact it will have, but it’s more than that. It’s a testament to the belief in the process, and a validation of the work that’s being done. Many of those involved in this effort have been there for years or decades, and some have come to it new, but all share the same commitment.

I want you to know that commitment will be shared by London City Council. We have demonstrated our willingness to make historic and unprecedented investments in the past. We will be there to support its implementation going forward, and we will also be your strongest possible advocates beyond our borders.

The funding announced here today is, by no means, the final cost. A plan, or rather a system of this nature, requires ongoing funding and support. 

While it’s true this is a housing issue - it is also a mental health and addictions issue. Unless, or until that is prioritized, supported, and properly funded, we cannot achieve the outcomes we’re determined to deliver. Housing provides an opportunity to heal. However, it does not, on its own, solve complex mental health and addictions issues. It also does not – on its own - address poverty, food security, or skills-training. 

We are in desperate need of these wrap around services and supports. Municipalities do not have the expertise, the capacity, nor the resources to address these increasingly complex health care issues that can lead to homelessness or extend chronic homelessness. We’ve developed great partnerships with the Federal and Provincial Governments, especially over the last several years, and we’ll be looking to do so in even more meaningful ways here. For the first time ever, we’ll be making these asks with one voice, and with significant funds already raised.

At the same time, if this challenge is solved by London alone, to the exclusion of all other communities, our success will be short-lived, and not fully realized. Instead, a solution – a system – must be available to all municipalities. London has the expertise, and the necessary compassion to design that system. 

In spite of this momentum, this enthusiasm, and our shared sense of purpose, we need to be honest about what’s involved and what to expect. I cannot, in good conscience, pledge to return to this podium at the same time next year and tell you everything’s been fixed. No one can do that in the span of one year, but here’s what we can do. We can pledge that, in one year, things will be better. And they will continue to get better in the weeks, and months, and years that follow. 

Don’t mistake candor for complacency. The need for urgency could not be more clear. Where this effort is concerned, delays are not measured in days; they’re ultimately measured in deaths.

We continue to refer to this as a challenge, or a crisis. I actually think it’s something more profound. This isn’t a challenge – this is a calling. It speaks to who we are as human beings, and what we hope to become as a community. If you believe, as I do, that this is a calling - you should also believe this: Londoners are ready to meet the moment. London is ready to lead. 

While it’s true this is the most pressing issue facing our community today, it is not the only one. A lack of affordable housing, or housing affordability in general, is also a significant concern. At the same time, It also represents significant opportunity. 

According to Statistics Canada, London’s homeownership rate is currently the lowest in Ontario. Our rate is also well below the national average. It’s not just homeownership either. Rents in London grew at the fastest pace in the entire country over the last year. Including condos and other properties for rent, average rents in the city have risen 33.1 per cent.

This is a complex issue, and like any complex problem, there are multiple reasons as to why things are the way they are. However, perhaps the single biggest reason is the easiest to understand. It’s also the one we, as a municipality, can have the greatest influence in addressing. 

Put simply: this is a case of supply and demand. We’re the fastest growing city in Ontario, and our housing supply isn’t keeping pace. So, quite clearly, that pace needs to accelerate. But what’s even more obvious is this: we need to do things differently. We need to be willing to embrace new ideas, explore new partnerships, and develop new programs. 

There are things we can be doing, and actions we should be taking. 

For starters, we must actively explore options to convert unused commercial office space into residential units. Right now, we have over one million square feet of unused commercial office space in the core area alone. If owners are willing to explore partnerships with the municipality and other orders of government, we should be at the table. We’ve seen this work elsewhere in Canada. There’s no reason why it can’t work in London.

As of right now, in our downtown, a total of 11 towers are either under construction already, or in the proposal stage. Two others, recently completed, are filling up with tenants. All told, those thirteen towers represent 3,700 units. That’s progress, but in order to take that development to the next level, we must be willing to take a look at whether our existing incentive-based programs are properly incentivizing the types of development we’ve prioritized – especially in a high interest rate market. 

And, if they work in the downtown, why not deploy some of those same incentives to other parts of the city? In the spirit of thinking differently, and trying new things, we should be willing to explore similar programs to encourage high-density development in transit villages in the east, west, north, and south.

At the same time, similar incentives, specifically related to affordable housing, could also be pursued to assist with the creation of more below market-rate, and rent-geared-to-income units. This too could accelerate the progress we’ve already started to witness. 

Remember “The Roadmap to 3,000”? The previous Council’s pledge to create 3,000 new affordable housing units by 2026? Nearly 75% of that target is either already completed or in the works. A significant piece of that total is represented by the transformative Vision SoHo Alliance’s housing development on the old Victoria Hospital lands. Construction there will ramp up this spring, with phase one targeted for completion next year.

In a separate commitment, just last week, one of our standing committees recommended re-allocating $6.3-million dollars, allowing the city to take a leading role – and expediting the development of 900 units.

In addition to that, for the first time in half a century, we’re building new housing in the London and Middlesex Community Housing portfolio. Significant investments have also been made to repair and renovate more than 2,000 existing rent-geared-to-income housing units.

As I said, this is a complex problem with a multitude of potential solutions. You’ll remember, I campaigned on a pledge to enable 50,000 new homes in London over the next 10 years, including 10,000 in the core area.

There are solutions available. We have willing partners in the private sector, along with Federal and Provincial members of government. Together, we will work to ensure more Londoners have an opportunity to realize the dream of home ownership, and all Londoners - the dignity of secure housing.

We’ve talked about the unprecedented nature of our efforts on homelessness, mental health and addictions, and housing affordability. There’s a similarly transformational, once in a generation process underway on the future of transportation in our city. It’s called The Mobility Master Plan, and it’s something I don’t think is talked about enough, or properly understood.

This plan will determine how London prioritizes all modes of transportation for the next 25 years, in addition to mobility infrastructure, programs, and policies.

This affects literally everyone. It includes how we move through the city and access everyday needs, how we travel to work, and how we get home. This is a plan that will consider our growing population, our community’s climate change goals, and transportation equity which affects Londoners’ economic and social opportunities. The plan will also reinforce London’s role as a mobility hub for the entire region.

For my part, I believe in the need for new turning lanes at strategic locations on major arterial roads to improve traffic flow, along with an expansion of the Intelligent Traffic Signal program to additional intersections to lessen congestion. I’m also on record as supporting the development of new North-South, and East-West protected cycling lane corridors, as well as the development of higher-order transit options to support our ambitious new housing targets. I’ve also pledged to do all I can to ensure the provincial and federal governments hold firm to commitments and timelines to improve GO and Via Rail transportation services to and from London.

Those are my priorities, but what we really need are yours. Public engagement and feedback are critical for this initiative. We’ve heard from thousands of Londoners so far at events, webinars, and through surveys, but we need more. These conversations will continue over the coming months, and your input can make this plan better.

In the meantime, and separate from the Mobility Master Plan, several enhancements to public transit are already in the works for the coming year. As just a few examples, I’m pleased to announce the LTC has plans in place to increase the frequency of 17 routes, in addition to a new express route connecting White Oaks Mall and Fanshawe College. There will also be new service to Industrial areas north of Oxford via Clarke, Huron and Robin's Hill Road.

I’m also proud to announce this morning plans for the launch of what’s known as ‘Alternative Service Delivery,’ operating between Argyle Mall and Innovation Park. These trips would be booked by way of an app with riders being picked up from Argyle and taken to a destination of their choice within the Innovation Park Industrial Area.

The LTC anticipates this service will be up and running by this fall.

In the same way our rapidly expanding population has necessitated much needed investments in public transit and housing, it’s well past time to provide our London Police Service with additional resources. I am in full support of the London Police Services Board’s request to hire 52 new front-line officers.

For many years, it was almost a point of pride that across almost every metric our Police Service was one of the leanest in Ontario. That simply cannot continue. Not if we want to reduce rapidly expanding response times, stop human trafficking, and end the exploitation of children.

This is also about living up to our commitment to create a safe London for women and girls. Ours was the first municipality anywhere in Canada to make this a clear and focused commitment as part of our last Strategic Plan, and it's one I support renewing in our latest four-year plan. Organizations like Anova, London Abused Women’s Centre, Atlohsa, Changing Ways, and Muslim Resource Centre; they do incredible, life-saving work. However, they cannot do this work alone. They require properly resourced services, including the Police Service. We owe it to them as we do all Londoners.

While it’s true there are challenges associated with a growing city, there are also immense benefits. Yes, our population is increasing faster than almost anywhere else in Canada. At the same time, our economy is rapidly expanding as well. Over the last four years, net employment in London has increased by 41,000 jobs. According to Stats Canada, on a per capita basis, that’s more than any medium to large sized city in all of Canada. It's twice as much as Toronto, three times greater than Kitchener-Waterloo, and almost seven times that of Hamilton.

Four years ago, when I was door knocking, I heard from countless families who told me their kids had to leave London to find jobs. Four years later, that is no longer the case. 

Even when you look at the last year alone, and at the downtown specifically, while 20 businesses closed, 52 new ones opened and 3 expanded. In Old East Village, 10 new businesses opened. Throughout the city, over the course of this year, that momentum will only accelerate. 

Growth in our tech-sector continued with companies like TrackUnit coming to the downtown and several expansions at other leading London firms. Film London attracted a number of exciting film and television productions that created buzz in the community, including an Apple TV show and the Amazing Race Canada.

Production is underway at the brand-new Maple Leaf Foods facility with several hundred additional employees expected to be hired over the course of this year. WSIB will relocate to London later this year, and as many as 150 new jobs will be added when Bosco & Roxy’s starts production in the coming months at its new pet food manufacturing plant. Beyond that, construction is ramping up at the future home of Canada’s first Hard Rock Hotel, located at 100 Kellogg Lane, and several hundred construction jobs will be generated as work accelerates at the future site of Medicom, the first facility to manufacture nitrile gloves outside Asia. London, Ontario will be critical to Canada and North America’s move to PPE independence.

As a leader in southwestern Ontario, we will also continue collaborating with neighbouring communities to develop the infrastructure, workforce capacity, and business climate needed to attract even more new investments. By working together — as a regional powerhouse — I am extremely confident we will be able to achieve significant wins this year.

In the short-term, and for the time being, we know London families are dealing with surging inflation, the likes of which we haven’t seen in almost 40 years. As a municipality, we have no control over the primary drivers of inflation. However, we can play an active role absorbing inflationary pressures to ensure Londoners are sheltered from their full brunt. That’s exactly what we’ve done. We are not dramatically increasing user fees, bus fares, or costs of other public programs.

An independent third-party analysis shows that when compared to 27 other Ontario municipalities with populations of at least 100,000, residential property taxes in London are third lowest; commercial property taxes are second lowest, and our industrial property taxes are fourth lowest. And don’t worry, I’m committed to keeping us there.

We also have a Tourism sector that’s roaring back to life after proving itself to be among the most innovative and resilient anywhere in Canada during the pandemic.

In addition to the return of live sports, and entertainment, London hosted the CMA Ontario Awards last summer, and our first ever Vanier Cup last fall. This March, we’ll welcome the Tim Hortons Brier to Budweiser Gardens along with the infamous “Brier Patch” taking place nightly at RBC Place.

Our sports, culture and entertainment tourism sector is vitally important to not only our quality of life, and overall enjoyment of this city, it’s also a substantial economic driver. I believe so much in what we’re doing in this area, and what’s still to come, that I made it a priority to join the board at Tourism London shortly after being sworn-in as Mayor. I will be working with fellow board members to attract more events, and more visitors to London than ever before.

Of course, it certainly helps when we can tell people that London, Ontario is Canada’s only UNESCO-designated City of Music. After receiving that designation just over a year ago, we’ve only just started tapping into its full potential. We marked the return of Sunfest, Rock The Park, and Home County Music & Arts Festival, not to mention an incredible amount of live music performances across London including Dundas Place, Covent Garden Market, 100 Kellogg Lane, Fanshawe Center for Digital Performing Arts, and Storybook Gardens, among others.

We’ve also recently secured federal funding to pilot a London Music Accelerator, and the City of Music Expo and Conference in London is coming at the end of March. I’m also proud to announce that early next year, in a North American first, representatives from 58 cities around the world will be converging on London as we host the 2024 UNESCO Cities of Music Meetings.

It’s safe to say many of those visitors will be arriving to our city by way of London International Airport which itself has soared back to life. The airport is now offering the same number of destinations it did prior to the pandemic with more to come this year, both international and domestic. That’s a credit to the amazing work being done by Airport President and Chief Executive Scott McFadzean and his team.

Meanwhile, London remains one of the most desirable cities in all of Canada when it comes to post-secondary education. Enrollment at Western, Brescia, Huron, and King’s combined is up by 4,500 students over the last four years, while enrollment is also up at Fanshawe College. That includes a remarkable 67% increase in international students.

Both Western and Fanshawe are working with The City on nearly a dozen climate change research and knowledge transfer projects, including one meant to support municipalities in monitoring, and achieving their greenhouse gas mitigation goals.

We are working hard to tackle climate change at the local level. Less than a year after Council voted unanimously in support of adopting a Climate Emergency Action Plan, we’re already seeing signs of progress – with more to come.

Just recently, London topped a list of big Canadian cities ranked by environmental conditions in a study led by a Dalhousie University researcher. Based on the “environmental quality index” generated by researchers, London ranked first among the 30 largest cities across the country.

Compared to 2005, total greenhouse gas emissions from London have decreased by about 30 per cent, driven by a combination of cleaner electricity generation and improved energy efficiency. We’ve pledged to hit 55 per cent by 2030, and we’ll achieve net zero emissions no later than 2050. The implementation of our ambitious plan touches all areas of our community and our economy. And, similar to other complex challenges, it requires participation from everyone and every sector.

I think of Northern Commerce, a Chamber member, providing free e-bikes to all employees last year, or s2E Technologies recently breaking ground on an 84-unit, $55-million dollar net-zero community in River Bend called EVE Park, next to Sifton’s West Five – Ontario’s first net-zero, mixed-use community.

Where the City of London is concerned, after enduring a series of supply chain delays, we are anticipating the launch of London’s green bin program later this year, and the LTC is also set to order its first electric buses as we begin the transition to a fully electrified public transit fleet. Those initial 10 buses are anticipated to be on the roads by next year.

We can also look forward to the continued roll out of London’s rapid transit system, including the final phase of construction for the Downtown Loop this year. At the same time, construction will continue on the East London Link, while work gets underway in a matter of months on the Wellington Gateway.

Meanwhile, we’re optimistic about receiving approvals from the federal and provincial governments which, when paired with a contribution from the city, would represent a $40-million investment in active transportation, the largest ever made in London. This involves new and improved bike lanes, including along stretches of Wonderland and Adelaide, extending the Thames Valley Parkway, more pedestrian crossings, and additional bike parking.

Our commitment to our environment is real.

I’d like to close by saying this: the State of the City is ours to define. We will be defined by our commitment to conquer complex issues – and we will be defined by the work we do together. Whether it’s homelessness, mental health and addictions, housing affordability, or the environment -- the efforts we make in these areas for the next several months will chart London’s course for the next several decades.

If not us, who? And if not now, when?

As we look inward for those answers, we must look outward for solutions – and in ways like never before. Our circumstances compel us to embrace a new era of collaboration, not only among us as Londoners – but with neighbouring communities, outside partners, and other orders of government.

When we do this, it’s not a matter of simply ‘believing ’we can achieve great things; it’s more an exercise of reminding ourselves what’s already been accomplished when we commit to this type of collaboration.

Think of how we responded when visited by a once in a century pandemic. Our community mobilized like few others. We stuck together, we looked after each other, and we forged partnerships far and wide. These actions allowed us to emerge faster and stronger than most other Canadian cities.

Think of how we responded when visited by unspeakable hatred, a deadly terrorist attack that targeted a Muslim family, Our London Family; an act that traumatized an entire community. We mourned, but then we mobilized. So many small acts of kindness, and acts of humanity. We looked inward, and then outward - working with each other, and working with others beyond London to develop sweeping and systemic change. The result was a model for all Canadian communities on how to stamp out Islamophobia, racism, and bigotry in all of its forms.

The same challenge — the same calling— the same urgency exists now on homelessness, poverty, mental health, and addictions.

We don’t choose the times, the times choose us.

And, when it comes to choice, let us also remember this: marginalized Londoners who are suffering at this moment are not where they are due to bad choices, or frankly, any kind of choice. They are where they are due to a lack of choice. We have a choice. The people in this room have a choice. City Council, provincial and federal governments have a choice. You have a choice. All of us. We can make a choice to provide marginalized Londoners with a chance. That chance gives way to change, and with change — despair gives way to hope.

This is our calling.

If you don’t think Londoners are capable; if you don’t think Londoners have the will; and if you don’t think Londoners have the commitment, then stand down …. because the community we’re building for all Londoners is rising up. Thank you.

Last modified:Friday, November 24, 2023