Holder's State of the City Address: Core entertainment district, more police, tough on unvaccinated
“Politics isn’t just what you believe, it’s what you prioritize.”
There was no big promise from Mayor Ed Holder, like in his three previous State of the City Addresses, but the wide-ranging speech set some idealistic goals for London in the coming months and years.
Usually held in front of more than 1,200 business leaders each January, for the second year in a row it was instead livestreamed to ticket holders because of pandemic restrictions on indoor gatherings.
“I described the state of our city last year as tired, anxious, weary, and frustrated. One year later, those descriptors still apply,” Holder told his online audience. “Although I’d also add caring, determined and resilient. Perhaps one more: exhausted.”
The mayor thanked the thousands of Londoners who have “done the right thing” during the pandemic, “even when it means enduring the slings and sneers from those who do otherwise.”
Regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, Holder made two requests of the provincial and federal governments -- to “get serious about the unvaccinated” and to “begin a national conversation about healthcare capacity.”
“It boils down to this: 90 per cent of our society, those who have done the right things, repeatedly, for over two years simply cannot be expected to continue doing the heavy lifting in perpetuity for 10 per cent who refuse to do the bare minimum,” Holder said.
A NEW ENTERTAINMENT DISTRICT
In November, London was declared the first UNESCO City of Music in Canada.
Holder believes a vibrant music and arts sector can offer an economic boost to the city’s recovery from the pandemic.
“I propose that we formally designate London’s core area as our defined entertainment district, and further strengthen the role music plays in the heart of London,” he said.
It would include streamlining municipal approvals for projects in the entertainment sector and identifying opportunities for investment in entertainment infrastructure.
The building boom underway in the downtown and Old East Village, however, is bringing more ears to neighbourhoods that could be impacted by his next proposal.
“We need to let the music play,” said Holder. “We will develop a new sound by-law for outdoor concerts and events.”
A TRAGIC YEAR
The mayor also addressed several tragedies that rocked the community in 2021.
He spoke about the toddler who fell from an apartment balcony in the Old East Village, the Girl Guide troop struck on Riverside Drive in December, and the attack that killed four members of the Afzaal family and orphaned nine-year-old Fayez in June.
“It was a terrorist attack,” he said. “A grotesque expression of hatred rooted in Islamophobia. It was without question, the darkest hour in London’s history.”
Holder described the creation of an Anti-Racism and Anti-Oppression Division at City Hall in the wake of that tragedy.
Pointing out that that anti-Semitism and anti-Indigenous discrimination are also prevalent in London, the mayor said, “2022 must be a year for action.”
2022 MUNICIPAL ELECTION
The mayor has told CTV News London that he will announce his decision about seeking re-election, or not, in April.
Nine months from Election Day, the State of the City Address (SOTC) didn’t tip Holder’s hand, but did cover his bases in the event he asks voters for a second term.
The speech touted progress on promises he made as a candidate in 2018 and several bold commitments in his previous three SOTC Addresses.
On his election promise to help address poverty and homelessness he told viewers of the livestream, “We have prioritized our most vulnerable, and this cause, like no other city council in London’s history.”
In 2019, Holder set a 60-day deadline for council to make a decision about constructing a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system.
On Tuesday, he highlighted completion of the first segment of the downtown route on King Street.
In 2020’s SOTC the mayor pledged to make London the first major city in Canada with a fully-electric bus fleet.
While it looks unlikely London will be first, council has approved $26 million to purchase 10 electric buses and seven chargers.
Last year, Holder said London would create 3,000 new affordable housing units in just five years.
Today, he cited several projects that recently broke ground including on the former South Street Hospital lands.
He has also put the challenge to local developers, “Let’s become the first city in Canada to achieve functional zero for chronic homelessness.”
Holder also addressed an issue sure to be asked of candidates on the campaign trail this fall: recent comments by the London Police Services Board about the need for more front-line police officers.
While not indicating how, the mayor said, “It has also become abundantly clear to me the need for more police officers.”
“Our London Police Service is one of the leanest police services in Ontario across almost every metric. For too long, we have asked them to do too much with too little.”
And about his earlier commitment on jobs Holder boasted, “Some thought I was over-promising after being elected when I said, by the end of this term, I wanted 13,000 additional Londoners working. Well, we’ve now exceeded that target nearly three times over.”
Holder concluded his 2022 SOTC Address with a line open for interpretation about his political future.
“It is my privilege to serve.”
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