Regional Municipality of Durham

02/09/2024 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 02/09/2024 13:47

Joint Chamber/Board of Trade Regional Chair address 2024

On February 8, 2024, Regional Chair and CEO John Henry spoke at the 2024 Annual Regional Chair Luncheon for the Ajax-Pickering Board of Trade, Clarington Board of Trade, Greater Oshawa Chamber of Commerceand Whitby Chamber of Commerce.

Good morning, everyone.

It's great to be here with you for this annual event. I truly enjoy being able share our successes (and our challenges) with you all, in person.

Thank you to the Ajax/Pickering Board of Trade, the Clarington Board of Trade, the Greater Oshawa Chamber of Commerce, and the Whitby Chamber of Commerce for providing an opportunity to share an update, meet some great people and for making this event possible.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank:

Mayor Shaun Collier from Ajax, who will continue to serve as the Chair of the Durham Regional Police Services Board - congratulations on your re-election and thank you for the value you bring to this position.

Mayor Adrian Foster from Clarington, member of the Regional Health & Social Services Committee and Chair of the Canadian Association of Nuclear Host Communities, who is helping build trust and facilitate communication between regulators and host communities.

Mayor Dan Carter from Oshawa, Past Chair of the Durham Region Non-Profit Housing Corporation, who continues to champion supportive and transitional housing projects AND who is celebrating Oshawa's 100th anniversary this year. Congratulations on this milestone.

Mayor Kevin Ashe from Pickering, Chair of the Finance and Administration Committee, and a great supporter of Ontario Power Generation's refurbishment plans at the Pickering nuclear generating station, which just last week, received support from the Ontario government.

The refurbishment of units 5 to 8 would create thousands of new jobs in Pickering and across the province; and generate at least another 30 years of safe, reliable and clean electricity.

We've seen world-class performance at Darlington with successful refurbishments, and I am confident that Pickering will be another shining example of the highly skilled work happening in Durham to keep us at the forefront of nuclear innovation.

Mayor Elizabeth Roy from Whitby, Chair of Health and Social Services Committee, who has advocated for supportive housing programs, including 1635 Dundas Street East, Durham's first family shelter on Colborne Street and the new warming centre at Regional headquarters in Whitby.

This is a milestone year for Durham Region as we are celebrating our golden anniversary - happy 50th birthday to the Region! Stay tuned for community events throughout the year to commemorate this milestone.

A lot of great things have happened in Durham Region over the past half-century. But how did we get to where we are today?

Substantial population growth resulting from the post-World War 2 baby boom in the 1960s drew attention to the growing need for critical infrastructure like expanded water and sewer facilities, roads and public transportation systems.

On January 1, 1974, Durham Region became the largest jurisdiction in the GTHA, with an area of just over 2,500 square kilometres.

What started as a merger of 21 local municipalities from various counties has transformed into a region driven by innovation, creativity, skills and education.

And since our inception, it's been 50 years of growth, service excellence and collaboration.

Our population has soared from 247,000 to 745,000 residents.

We've developed critical infrastructure like roads, water and waste to create healthy, complete and sustainable communities.

We've invested in critical services like policing paramedics, and transit to ensure the safety and well-being of our residents.

Today, Region of Durham Paramedic Services continues to expand services and enhance programs like Community Paramedics and Primary Care Outreach to assist the Region's unhoused population.

The Durham Regional Police Service continues to have one of the top clearance rates when it comes to the number of crimes solved each year.

And just last week, Regional Council approved the creation of a region-wide Family Physician Recruitment Strategy to help attract and retain family medicine trainees and family physicians to Durham.

This strategy will help address the shortage of family physicians in Durham Region; bridging a substantial gap in primary care access for our residents.

And we've made investments in transit networks to build more connected communities.

Durham Region Transit formed in 2006. Today, it is one of Ontario's largest regional systems, offering one of the most innovative suites of services. And last year, we saw record-breaking ridership levels.

During this time of ridership growth, Durham Region Transit must reallocate service to support the highest ridership demand. Our Council-approved a 10-year Service and Financing Strategy which will increase much needed transit service in the Region by 127 per cent.

I would like to take a moment to recognize the resiliency and adaptability of the Durham Region Transit team.

In the early morning of August 16, a three-alarm fire caused damage to a large section of the Oshawa Raleigh transit depot, destroying 19 buses. Thanks to the quick action of DRT employees, DRPS and the City of Oshawa Fire Services, no one was harmed.

Durham Region Transit teams worked through uncertainty. They were flexible, continued to support customers, and found innovative solutions.

The return to regular service following the fire was outstanding.

For over 30 years, we have talked about the GO Train East expansion. We are proud to tell you there has also been great progress on the GO Lakeshore East Extension to Bowmanville, which will expand rapid transit across Durham Region and beyond.

The province has issued a Notice to Proceed with the project and Bill 131: Transportation for the Future Act, 2023 enables new tools to get stations built along the extension.

GO Stations that spur transit-oriented communities will help meet the needs of our growing region, bringing new development-particularly housing opportunities-creating jobs and playing a key role in investment attraction.

Like many organizations that have been established for as long as we have, we have built transformation into our DNA. We have been successful because of our commitment to innovation.

We are now globally recognized for our leading-edge practices. We are acknowledged for using technology to improve the lives of our citizens.

To bridge a gap, the Region started an ambitious project to lay backbone fibre across Durham. And last year, Durham OneNet Inc, hit a 50 per cent complete milestone on its path to lay hundreds of kilometres of fiber to connect residents and businesses to high-speed Internet in underserved rural areas in Durham.

Durham One Net is another success story. It is an independent Municipal Services Corporation, wholly owned by the Regional Municipality of Durham.

These are all exciting achievements, but what matters the most to me is that we continue to be known as a place with a great quality of life.

Why are we recognized for our great quality of life? Because our residents can live, work, play and grow within their communities.

The important work that Durham's local chambers of commerce and boards of trade do for our business community, is helping us achieve that vision.

You're preserving and supporting the vibrant communities that make Durham such a great place; and fueling Durham Region's economy by representing the voices of thousands of local businesses.

Our love for local shines bright in Durham's communities. And companies (big and small) are seeing why Durham is a great place to invest in.

In Pickering, the construction of Wonderbrand's new campus in the Pickering Innovation Corridor is underway and will bring the largest food manufacturing campus in the GTA to Pickering, along with thousands of jobs.

The Pickering Casino Resort opened and is facilitating a first-of-its kind revenue sharing model in Ontario. Its gaming revenues are being reinvested into the community to support local programs, initiatives and infrastructure. And they've seen tremendous tourism and economic spinoffs.

In Ajax, we're seeing more diversity in local food options than ever. A great example of this is the recent opening of Asian grocer, Bestco Fresh Foods.

In this bicycle friendly community, you'll also find a leading-edge example of sustainable agriculture and urban farming.

The Barrett Centre for Sustainable Urban Agriculture, which is an initiative of the Durham College Centre For Food, is a vibrant, active farm that's helping address food insecurity in our communities and provide access to safe, fresh food.

In Whitby, a female-led, Black-owned local business made headlines when one of her products got the seal of approval from a global icon.

Kenesha Lewis and her One More Cocoa gourmet hot chocolate made the Oprah Winfrey holiday list of "Oprah's Favourite Things."

She was the only Canadian business to make the list - what an incredible achievement for this local business owner.

On the lakefront, Town Brewery opened up a craft brewery pop-up called the Pumphouse, which had residents and visitors flocking to the waterfront to enjoy drinks and a beautiful view.

Whitby also welcomed Global First Power to their first physical office location. This Canadian company is in the business of developing and deploying small modular reactor technology.

And what better place to put down their roots than the Clean Energy Capital of Canada? Their mission is to drive clean energy for the future…something we know a thing or two about!

In Oshawa, we celebrated exciting investment announcements, including Lactalis Canada coming to the Northwood Business Park.

And as Oshawa's downtown revitalization continues, we are breathing new life into its historic spaces. The grand opening of Bond Street Event centre is a shining example of this.

The newly renovated event venue (that has hosted artists like Diana Ross and the Supremes and Sum 41) features a café, bar and performances spaces that will create new history in downtown Oshawa.

The grand opening of the Trent University Durham GTA Advanced Learning Centre reminds us of the important role that post-secondary institutions play in our region's innovation ecosystem.

The new campus offers a supportive and inclusive environment, modern facilities and a community of scholars that will foster academic excellence and cultural change.

Oshawa is a city that was built on industry and entrepreneurship. As it continues to grow, there is so much to be proud of.

Clarington is adding to its reputation for motorsports with one of the longest indoor electric go-karting experiences in North America coming to Bowmanville.

Volt Raceway will bring speed enthusiasts of all ages and skill levels to Durham Region; create new local jobs; and will certainly bring out the kid in all of us.

Clarington was also the host of a high-impact event called Access IO at Ontario Power Generation. The event focused on sourcing technologies for the future of energy, bringing 17 startups together with angel investors, venture capital industries and the energy sector.

And the world is watching the Small Modular Reactor development at Darlington, via development of not one, but four Small Modular Reactors.

This important work in the clean energy sector will enable us to continue to play a leadership role in the nuclear sector globally, and achieve our vision of Net Zero carbon emissions by 2050. It will turn Durham Region into the energy capital of the world.

But to decarbonize our waste and energy systems, we must continue to accelerate energy innovation through advancements in micro-grids, electric-vehicle infrastructure, geothermal energy, fuel cells and smart technology.

Durham's innovation community has been hard at work charging our future and changing the world.

The incredible laboratory and testing facilities at Durham's universities and colleges are attracting some of the most innovative and talented students in Canada.

And one of them is in the driver's seat of the future of global mobility.

Project Arrow-the first all-Canadian electric concept vehicle-was built at our very own Ontario Tech University.

In 2023, Project Arrow had a global media presence. It was showcased at events around the world, including Collision Conference in Toronto, CES in Las Vegas, and Conference of the Parting (COP) in Dubai.

Durham-built innovation is touring the world.

Ontario tech is now home to 11,000 students and is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year!

They were recently named Canada's Research University of the Year by Infosource Rankings - an outstanding accomplishment.

I'd like to congratulate Ontario Tech on this well-deserved accolade, and also recognize Durham College and Trent University for their Infosource Rankings distinctions. It's wonderful to see all three of Durham's post-secondaries being recognized for the incredible work they do.

All of these accomplishments are helping the Region achieve our long-term economic development vision: a talented workforce, vibrant downtowns, a reputation for business innovation, and a distinct creative identity.

When we invest in the region, we strengthen the communities we live in, for everyone. This includes supporting the Region's most vulnerable residents.

The past year put a spotlight on the urgent need for supportive and transitional housing, affordable housing (including rental housing) and homelessness supports.

I know these challenges impact your members and that the business community truly cares about doing what they can to get people in distress the help they need.

I have been invited to Chambers and Board of Trade Committee meetings on the very important topics of the homelessness, mental health and addictions crises. And I don't use the word crisis lightly - this rapid increase in people struggling is being seen right across Canada.

It's important that we keep talking about these challenges, providing Regional supports where we can, and also calling on senior levels of government to continue to come to the table too.

The Region allocated funds to support the development of multiple affordable and sustainable housing projects in Oshawa and Pickering this past year.

We opened a new warming centre location at Regional Headquarters as part of our existing Winter Warming Plan.

We purchased 1635 Dundas Street East in Whitby to expand homelessness supports across the region and meet our immediate need for more shelter space.

And when an unprecedented influx of refugees and asylum seekers arrived in Durham Region, we expanded services and activated emergency shelters to co-ordinate the settlement of newcomers to our communities.

We continue this critical work so that more of us have a safe place to call home.

Along with creating safer communities, we have a responsibility to manage growth, including supporting affordable housing and planning for major infrastructure on a regional basis.

We are working closely with our local municipalities to support the provincial housing target of 84,000 new housing units across Durham's lakeshore communities.

The Region's new Official Plan serves as the overarching integrated growth management document to guide future development to 2051.

Successful urban planning requires a vision. It's about shaping communities that balance growth with services, while protecting the environment for our residents.

We look forward to consulting with the province over the next year on growth, planning and the financial impacts of legislation like Bill 23 - More Homes Built Faster Act, 2022, which puts strain on municipal governments who are building critical infrastructure.

I'd like to take this opportunity to recognize the strong partnerships that Durham Region has with its eight local municipalities.

We have a productive track record of working together to serve our residents. Together, we provide the backbone of service delivery in a two-tier structure that ensures services are planned, funded and delivered in a cost-effective manner.

This co-operation and accountability enable us to maintain Durham's reputation as a community where equitable, high-quality services are available to everyone.

I am confident that the clearly defined regional and local roles, responsibilities and processes we have in place, continue to strengthen governance and service delivery in our communities.

I will continue to share the great things we're able to accomplish together with the province of Ontario at every opportunity.

I'd like to close by saying thank you for the opportunity to share some of our successes and priorities with you today.

While a lot has changed over the past five decades, one thing remains the same: we are committed to maintaining strong, responsive and sustainable services that best serve the needs of our residents and businesses.

The future looks bright for Durham Region, and we will continue to deliver service excellence through leadership, collaboration, innovation and environmental stewardship.

Thank you to Durham's local chambers of commerce and boards of trade for your joint advocacy in strengthening our neighbourhoods and our economy.

I'm looking forward to continuing this work throughout the rest of 2024 and beyond.

On a final note. If you could find the time to support your communities. Either by becoming a board member or joining a service club like Lions or Rotary.

And if you are looking to support a cause, could you give consideration to Feed the Need or any one of the hospices in Durham.

Thank you.