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Challenging the big picture

Mayor Karen Farbridge certainly gets high marks for effective use of language and bold vision in her latest annual State of the City address, even if one doesn’t agree with everything she says. The first female mayor in the city’s history, she’s now halfway through her third term as Guelph’s leader. And judging by this speech, she’s nowhere close to running out of steam after nine years as mayor.
All newly elected or re-elected mayors are expected to lay out their vision in an inaugural speech before city council at the start of their new term. Farbridge does this, but she has gone a step beyond it with her annual State of the City addresses to the Guelph Chamber of Commerce. She presents a big-picture view of things in front of Guelph’s main business organization, and then she takes questions from the audience.
The big picture is something easily lost in the daily hurly-burly world of municipal politics. So this annual speech is a valuable opportunity to get a read on current thinking of the city’s leader.
And what is the message from Farbridge this year?
“I cannot put it more simply than this,” she says in one key paragraph. “Local government in Ontario was not built to respond to the current pace of change or the challenges of a modern urban centre in the 21st century. Incremental changes to the way we do business simply will not be sufficient to meet the complexity of issues we face, escalating demands for service, new mandates without money and the speed of technological change.”
She makes it clear she has little patience for, as she colourfully describes it, looking at local government as “just a vending machine – telling voters what they want to hear and dispensing services.”
People who think municipal governments should stick to the basics, such as building roads, fixing potholes and collecting the trash, might not like Farbridge’s talk of transforming how Guelph does business as a local government.
However, Farbridge is also trying to appeal to the many people for whom the size of the annual property tax increase is the most important thing coming from city hall. The part of her speech about closing the gap between tax hikes and the inflation rate should interest everyone.
All in all, it’s thought-provoking stuff.

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