By Chris Jones/The Oshawa Express
If you ask Regional Chair John Henry, the future is bright for Durham Region.
Henry recently hosted his annual luncheon, where he touched on topics ranging from the closure of the General Motors plant to the Pickering Airport to the Lakeshore East GO Train extension.
“I’m excited. I feel like the first line of the Pointer Sisters’ song, ‘I’m so excited,’” exclaimed Henry to a packed house of close to 400 people at the Ajax Convention Centre.
Henry reflected on the addition of new senior staff, such as chief administrative officer Elaine Baxter-Trahair, and touched on what they have done since the new term began in December 2018.
However, while Henry reflected back on the highs of 2019, he also looked to the future of Durham in 2020 and beyond.
He noted the region is aiming to make Durham an “age-friendly community.”
“I turned 60 this year so that’s really important to me,” he quipped.
Council is also finalizing its new five-year strategic plan and budget in 2020, which will dictate the priorities of Durham Region.
To Henry, the strategic plan is the most important document for the regional municipality.
“[The strategic plan] is outside of this term of council. It’s about applying business practices – a one year vision, a five year vision, a 10 year vision, and our budget… will be under [a 2.5 per cent increase], it is a budget for the future,” said the regional chair.
He noted there plans for 20 new police officers to be hired within the 2020 budget, as well as 12 new paramedics, and new frontline service staff in all of the region’s nursing homes.
“Every job in this budget is at the pointy end of the stick,” said Henry. “The stick, the place where our staff touches the residents of Durham Region, is an exciting time because as we have growth, we also have the challenges of meeting the needs of our residents.”
Henry adds he is proud of the action the region is taking against climate change.
“On Jan. 29, regional council voted to declare a climate emergency, and accelerate our actions towards a low carbon climate resilient region,” said Henry.
He said regional council declaring climate change as an emergency isn’t just about “jumping on the bandwagon.”
“We’ve been working on climate change since 2009, developing climate forecasts, assessing risks, and setting targets,” he said. “In 2018, Durham Region’s climate change adaptation plan was recognized by the Canadian Federation of Municipalities as the best plan in Canada.”
He said municipalities across the country are now looking at the region’s plan, and using it as an influence to improve upon their efforts to fight climate change.
Henry also notes the Oshawa port now has a grain terminal, and last year, the harbour saw movement of 8,000 metric tonnes in grains, a figure he said is expected to increase to approximately 250,000 metric tonnes in 2020.
Henry pointed out this means there’s another $1.50 per bushel in every farmer’s pocket.
“Farmers are such amazing stewards of the lands, they take their profits and reinvest it in equipment and technology and how they grow food, and how they manage their livestock,” he said.
Henry touched on more topics, such as the introduction of electric buses by Durham Region Transit.
He said the region will also continue to push for the removal of tolls on Highways 412 and 418.
“It is not fair that the residents of Durham Region pay for connecting routes to the 407 and other municipalities across this province don’t. It is not fair that we are punished by having to pay tolls to use roads in our communities when the people who connect in other communities don’t,” the regional chair said.
He noted the opportunities found on employment lands along those corridors are “equally as important” to Durham in order to put young people to work.
For Henry, all of these opportunities and more point to a bright future for the Region of Durham.