Mayor presents annual municipal update to PROBUS

The Saugeen Shores Men’s PROBUS club has continued to meet virtually despite COVID.

Brian French, who has been acting-President, was officially installed as President during April’s meeting on April 5th.

The club has also continued to host a wide variety of featured monthly speakers and April’s speaker was Mayor Luke Charbonneau, who brings a range of topics of interest to the club annually with his municipal update.

This year, the Mayor presented many major topics and projects that will have impacts on the community, including capital spending projects, waterfront revitalization, physician recruitment, community growth, infrastructure planning, development planning, reconciliation with First Nations, creating a regional energy hub, environmental impacts and many more.

“One of the major things we are hearing about during COVID is the condition of personal health and well-being, and it continues,” said the Mayor. “Being kept away from social interaction is difficult and organizations like PROBUS are more important than ever to be able to get together.”

He also pointed out the success that the community has had in its response to the pandemic.  “As we move to an endemic status, our focus is on economic recovery.  To support local business, we have made policy changes, such as the patio policy permitting restaurants to have sidewalk venues, and we have made that policy permanent.  There is a lot of resilience in the business community.  For instance, there have been 12 new businesses opened up, and our most important message for economic recovery is … continue to shop local and support local business.”

When it comes to relationship with the First Nations peoples, the Mayor said that, one of the things he is most proud of, in all his time on Council, is the settlement of the Land Claim with Saugeen Ojibway Nation (SON) in 2021, which was a decades long land dispute.

“It was a dispute between several lower and upper tier municipalities and the Federal government,” the Mayor said. “We have settled our portion (Saugeen Shores) with transfer of some land within the area of the land claim, as well as the concept of converting some of Summerside Park in Port Elgin into a new park that will put forward the concept of reconciliation. We have committed to an investment in that park and will be working with Saugeen Ojibway Nation during this year to come up with more information on what that will look like moving toward and dedication of that park as part of the step toward reconciliation.”

The Mayor added that the settlement is a huge step forward between the community and the Saugeen Ojibway Nation.  “It opens the door for us to have a more fruitful and productive relationship going forward.”

He added that one of the things that the open door has resulted in is the new Community Economic Development Initiative (CEDI) program.  “Between us (Saugeen Shores) and Saugeen First Nation, this is an economic development partnership that is supported by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the Council for the Advancement of Native Development Officers.  We applied for this program and we were one of eight successful partnerships across the country.  This will help us in the development of a stronger economic relationship between the town and Saugeen First Nation.”

The Mayor said that meetings are currently on-going and he sits on the committee that oversees the initiative and that will soon result in the first “joint council meeting” between the councils of Saugeen Shores and Saugeen First Nation.  “This has never happened and it will give us the opportunity to learn more about each other, become more connected and have a more productive relationship that will benefit both communities.”

“Another major accomplishment was the establishment of the Environmental Stewardship Ad Hoc Advisory Committee, whose mandate was to assess existing municipal environmental programs and recommend new achievable initiatives,” said the Mayor.  “A list of recommendations came forward and Council has begun to give direction to staff to move some of the items forward.”

As a result of the recommendations by the Ad Hoc Committee, the town is joining the Federation of Municipalities Partnership for Climate Protection which will help provide access to grants and resources to develop a climate action plan.  “There will also be a number of items that will be put into the 2023 budget for specific items, such as protecting and expanding the urban tree canopy, and we will be involved heavily in the Bruce County Waste Management Master Plan.  One of the things that Saugeen Shores will be advocating heavily for is an organic waste management system (green box) to improve our landfill capacity.”

The Mayor then turned to the “topic of the day” … community growth.

He pointed out that construction value and value of new residential units in Saugeen Shores had increased 84 per cent from 2020, with $154.8 million in construction and $134 million was in new residential units.

By 2041, the projected population growth increase is 8,115 and new jobs projected to be 2,258.  “One of the reasons for the growth,” said Charbonneau, “is because we have the infrastructure in place to accommodate it.  My predecessors, going back a very long time, did some visionary work in terms of planning the infrastructure for growth.  From water infrastructure to sewer, we have a lot of the pieces in place already to accommodate the growth.  This is why people increasingly come here and why we represent so much of the growth in the county.”

“Saugeen Shores is the best place to live anywhere and people are going to come and we need to be ready for them,” said the Mayor.  “We also have to make growth work for us instead of it just happening … and it will happen. So, what are we going to do to make sure our community gets better?  That is what we are focusing on.”

The biggest issue facing Saugeen Shores and every community across Canada is housing.  “We have a housing crisis and we know it’s getting worse and we have to address it aggressively.”

According to the Mayor, there is a list of actions that the town has taken to advocate for more attainable housing, including establishing a housing financial reserve and changing the By-laws to allow higher density. “Density is attainability and the more densely we build, the lower the cost of the units and the more attainable they are for people to buy. The housing crisis is a function of a shortage of supply and it means that all our developments have to be more dense.  We have been pushing for this for several years and are now starting to have success.”

Charbonneau said that there are currently 700 apartment units in development and, by the end of the year, the number is expected to reach 1,000, which will more than double the number of rental units in Saugeen Shores.  “It’s that massive increase in supply that will start to make it possible for those who make minimum wage to live in our community, and we desperately need those people living in our community.”

He said that the town is continuing to work with developers for different styles of housing and organizations such as Habitat for Humanity.

“The town of Saugeen Shores takes this housing situation very seriously,” said the Major. “We recognize that it is a crisis and it’s going to take the kind of action that you would take in a crisis to resolve it. I’m hoping that in the next couple of years we’ll see the kind of developments we need to take a bite out of this issue.”

Moving on to positive issues, the Mayor pointed out that fundraising for Lamont Sports Park is moving forward, and also that plans for the new Aquatics Facility are ongoing.  “The town and YMCA are in collaboration and plans are in the works to hire a consultant to design the facility and designs are anticipated to be completed this year so that a decision can be made to begin construction in 2023.  The current plan is to open the doors on the new facility attached to the Plex in December, 2024.”

The reason for delay of the Aquatics centre has always been the lack of money.  “We now have the Legacy Fund in place,” he said, “and funds are now in place for part of the project up front and to pay for the borrowing costs without having to increase property taxes.  This is possible because of growth.”

When it comes to waterfront revitalization, the Mayor said that he had hoped the Cedar Crescent Village would have been further along to date but, because of the pandemic there were lots of delays in the regulatory review process.  “It’s a complex project when it comes to location that is of great significance to the entire community but I hope we are now close to getting approvals to get that project under construction. There will be more information coming out to the public as we get closer to getting the project under construction. It’s an exciting project.”

“From my perspective this has been going on for many years and we have spent a long time getting to this point of revitalizing the main beach,” he said, “Everyone will have issues with it (CCV), but we have to have a restaurant and marine store and we are at the point where we will have … the new rendering is quite beautiful.”

“We are into a period of more consistent growth and development.  The Council talks a lot about maintaining the character of the town but we cannot ‘not’ build housing and we have to have some larger developments as people have to have a place to live. We have to see developments happen.”

The new President Brian French thanked the Mayor for the update saying that the municipal update he presented was very comprehensive.

“Your presentation indicates that Council and staff have their fingers on the pulse of issues in regard to our community and that our municipality is being well managed.  Your wide range of topics will resonate differently with each of us but, what stood out to me, was that there are some accomplishments and actions that have been achieved rather than just talk. To mention a few – the pandemic recovery and support for shop local intiative and the lessening of patio restrictions; the affordable housing initiative; the Lamont Sports Park and aquatic recreation centre are in sight of fruition; the impressive physician recruitment numbers.  We thank you for what you do for our town and for your continued support of our club.”