On Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023, local dignitaries were on hand at the Holiday Inn Kingston Waterfront for the annual State of the City address. The event, organized by the Greater Kingston Chamber of Commerce, featured speeches from Mayor of Kingston Bryan Paterson, Member of Parliament (MP) Mark Gerretsen, and Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) Ted Hsu.
Throughout the various speeches at the early morning breakfast, a few different topics emerged as popular issues, with housing, immigration, and the need for collaboration between all levels of government all being raised a number of times. In his address to attendees, Mayor Paterson indicated that housing was a top priority for Kingston’s new City Council, as members continue the work of the previous Council on building a wide range of options throughout the city.
“We are going to be focusing a lot this year, and in the next few years, on facilitating housing construction,” said Paterson. “[I’m] very proud that over the last few years, we’ve been able to double the amount of new housing units that are constructed on an annual basis. There’s no doubt in my mind, we’re going to have to keep up that pace over the coming years.”
Paterson also stressed the need for “attainable” housing options, ensuring that home ownership is a realistic goal for Kingston’s diverse population. “Whether it’s more townhouses or duplexes, secondary suites, rental housing, condominiums… being able to find ways to get as many new first-time homebuyers into the housing market here in Kingston [as possible is a top priority].”
The Mayor also said the City must work to find “innovative” solutions to the current housing crisis. “Given the scale of the challenge in front of us, we’re also going to have to think outside the box to really explore innovative types of housing. I think there’s a leadership role for Kingston in doing this, whether it’s looking at tiny homes, modular homes, [or] 3-D printed homes.”
While home ownership and the rental market remain key priorities for the City, Paterson also noted the need for additional options to better support Kingston’s vulnerable unhoused population. “[Even while] we’re building as much market housing as we can, we know [there’s] a growing number of people who simply cannot afford even market rent. So, that’s where subsidized housing… comes into play. That will continue to be a big priority for our City, helping to build as many affordable housing units as possible.”
Paterson mentioned the City is currently working on the “largest affordable housing project” in its history at 1316-1318 Princess Street, which will bring over 130 affordable units to Kingston, with work expected to be complete sometime in 2024.
Despite a commitment from the City to provide affordable and supportive housing options, the Mayor put out a call to both the provincial and federal governments to further assist Kingston’s unhoused community. “What we really need is funding from upper levels of government, particularly from the provincial government, to be able to fund agencies that can come in and provide the staff needed to make supportive housing work.”
While issues related to housing certainly dominated Paterson’s address, the Mayor also highlighted several other important topics, such as economic development. “One of the other issues I have raised is… plans to expand new spaces and land for companies that want to expand here in Kingston [or] that want to locate here as well.”
“I think all options need to be on the table,” Paterson continued. “That’s unlocking existing industrial land in the city, expanding the urban boundary where needed, looking at innovative solutions such as rural business parks… In eight years as Mayor, I’ve never seen what I am seeing now, which is a long lineup of great companies that want to set up shop in Kingston.”
Considering Kingston is expected to see significant growth in the years ahead, the Mayor also took time to address the City of Kingston’s ongoing commitment to environmental sustainability. “As we’re continuing to build up the city, we want to continue to lead on sustainability. That obviously involves an embrace of electrification… [and] helping to facilitate new and innovative types of electricity use. I will be advocating for more electricity for our city and our region. There is simply not enough electricity to be able to meet the growing demands for new housing and new businesses, let alone our stated goal of converting to electric vehicles.”
Attendees also had the opportunity to hear from Kingston and the Islands MP Mark Gerretsen, who spoke about the ways the federal government has supported the City on key projects, such as the construction of affordable housing units at 1316-1318 Princess Street. “This was supported through grants and supports from the Canada Mortgage Housing Corporation, as just one of the projects in the Kingston area that the federal government has been invested in.”
Gerretsen also reflected on the important role all three levels of government played in making the recently opened Waaban Crossing a reality. “This would never have been successful had there not been the partnership between the provincial, federal, and municipal governments, that aligned perfectly to see the vision and the need for this project and to invest in it.”
The MP also remarked on last summer’s announcement that Umicore will be constructing a battery materials production plant in Loyalist Township. Gerretsen said the factory will be a “game changer” for the region, “not just in the direct jobs and the high-skilled jobs that end up here, but the spin-off jobs that are going to resonate throughout our community and the surrounding area.”
Lastly, Kingston and the Islands MPP Ted Hsu took to the stage, updating Chamber members on his work as an opposition MPP. Since last June’s provincial election, Hsu said he’s developed relationships with members of the government, while also advocating on issues impacting the Kingston region. “That’s the sort of thing I’ve been doing, making sure I have good connections to the government for the next few years, while they’re still in power… It’s important to have good relationships with all the ministers.”
In recent months, the rookie MPP has worked with Graydon Smith, Minister of Natural Resources, to get permission for certain Wolfe Island residents to insulate their water intake pipes with straw bales in order to prevent the pipes from freezing. Typically, such insulation would require special permits, which often take a significant amount of time to obtain.
Hsu has also been in contact with several different ministries regarding the ongoing service disruptions that have impacted the Wolfe Island Ferry. “I’ve been talking directly with Minister [of Transportation] Caroline Mulroney… she knows the problem. And I’ve been talking with Minister [of Labour] Monte McNaughton… about approving funding to train more people to work on the ferries.” The MPP said he expects a funding announcement from Minister McNaughton’s office in the coming weeks.
Tuesday morning’s State of the City marked the first time the event has been run at full capacity since 2019. After a limited and physically-distanced version was held in 2020, the 2021 and 2022 editions were held virtually. Aside from speeches from local politicians, members of the Chamber of Commerce were also on hand to elect a new board of directors; Nancy Cardinal, co-owner of DigiGraphics, was sworn in as board chair.