Election 2019 Candidates Listening Session: Focus on the Future

 

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“Choose forward.” “Not left. Not right. Forward together.”  “In it for you.” “It’s time for you to get ahead.”

Looking carefully at the slogans of the four main political parties in English Canada, it’s clear that this October’s election is about the future. Thankfully campaigns are about more than slogans. In my experience they’re about three things. First, listening. Second – based on what you hear – creating a shared vision for the future. And third, getting people who support that vision to go to the polls on election day and check your name.

But it begins with listening. This is why the City of Victoria has worked with some of its partners in delivering prosperity – the Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Victoria Business Association, Destination Greater Victoria, and the Greater Victoria Harbour – to host a listening session for all candidates today from 5:30-7:30pm at the Victoria Conference Centre. This event is free and open to the public.

I won’t try to top Jack Knox’s insightful piece in yesterday’s Times Colonist. He does a good job outlining the purpose of our event: “Candidates will each get a couple of minutes to speak at the end of the forum, but the real idea is for the would-be members of Parliament to listen, not talk.”

As mayor I don’t endorse candidates or even quietly campaign for any party. What I will be campaigning for in this election is for the future of our city and our region. I’ll be highlighting priorities shared by our residents and business community about how to create good jobs, good homes and a sustainable community. These priorities – affordable housing, childcare, transportation, climate change, reconciliation and the labour shortage – will be laid before the candidates tonight. They are key to ensuring an inclusive, affordable and prosperous future for our city and for our region.

Please take the time to read through the details. There’s great background information here put together by the partners hosting tonight’s event as well as clear recommendations for the candidates.

Affordable Housing
Greater Victoria has a shortage of affordable housing – for both rental housing and
home ownership. This is an issue that affects Greater Victorians’ ability to find a place to live, as well as the continued growth of the regional economy. The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $1,406.00, with rent increases outpacing wage increases. The Greater Victoria vacancy rate is 1.2%, which means many families are struggling to find adequate housing.

Greater Victoria has one of the highest benchmark prices for home sales in Canada. As of April 2019, the benchmark price for a home sale was $690,000. Rental housing and home ownership are out of reach for many residents.

The City of Victoria and Capital Regional District (CRD) are tackling the affordable housing crisis. Some of the initiatives are partnerships with other levels of government. For example, the CRD, Province and federal government are funding the Regional Housing First Program, which provides housing to those experiencing homelessness and are ready to live independently with ongoing supports as well as for working people.

Recommendations for candidates:

  • Continue to implement the National Housing Strategy. The budget for this program could be expanded in order to encourage partnerships with local governments and non-profit housing providers.
  • Create tax incentives to encourage private sector investment in the construction and operation of purpose-built rental housing stock.
  • Expand the support of culturally appropriate indigenous housing options.
  • Accelerate funding for the 2017 National Strategy to End Homelessness from a 10-year roll-out to a 5-year roll-out. This strategy should continue to adopt a “housing-first approach” and offer support to those that need it. Efforts must include work to
    destigmatize mental health and addictions, as well as better integrate prevention,
    treatment and recovery options.

Child Care
The 2016 Canada Census data reveals a gap between Greater Victoria’s regional population of children and number of child care spaces. The most acute gap is for infants and toddlers where there is roughly one licensed child care space for every eight children. This gap is also likely to expand. Between 2011 and 2016 Greater Victoria’s population of 25 to 39 year-olds grew by 9%, while the population of children under 11 also grew at the same rate. According to the Province of BC, there are licensed child care spaces for 18% of children aged 0-12 in the province.

A deficiency of affordable, high-quality child care spaces in Greater Victoria is having a direct impact on employers and workers. Workers are reducing their hours and modifying their shifts to compensate for the lack of child care. This is adding to the shortage of labour at a time when Greater have the lowest unemployment rate in the country.

A shortage of early childhood educators contributes (ECEs) to the lack of licensed spaces. Child care operators can only offer as many spaces as they can staff. According to Child Care Resource Centre BC, average wages for ECEs as of April, 2018, are $14.00 for a worker to $26.00 for a manager. In a labour market where there are opportunities for higher wages with similar education and experience, it is difficult to attract people to careers as ECEs.

The Province is investing a billion dollars from 2018 to 2020 in wage enhancements for workers, and fee reductions for parents, including a pilot project for $10 a day child care, and capital investments. The federal contribution to child care in BC is only $153 million over the same three years – 15% as much.

Recommendations for candidates:

  • The federal Government should enable working parents to contribute to
    Greater Victoria’s regional economy by matching the level of investment in child care being made by the BC government.

Transportation
Greater Victoria has traffic congestion issues caused by several factors, including
a reliance on automobile traffic and geographic constraints related to its location on an island. Greater Victoria’s population is forecasted to grow, resulting in increased emissions from vehicles idling in traffic unless further investments are made.

The Province of BC is committed to transitioning to electric vehicles for private and commercial use. Greater Victoria can take the lead in spearheading this transformation. The federal government can also play a role reducing emissions in Greater Victoria by continuing to fund projects such as the Public Transit Infrastructure Fund, as well as incentives for businesses and individuals to make the transition to alternative forms of transportation.

Greater Victoria is also positioning itself to develop a smart cities and civic technologies cluster, focusing on areas that align with local academic/research priorities, Province of BC priorities (through the Ministry of Jobs, Trade and Technology’s Innovation Framework), and the Federal Government (through the priorities of Western Economic Diversification Canada and Canada’s Digital Supercluster).

Examples of these technologies could include (but not limited to): Internet of Things (sensors and data management), various application of Artificial Intelligence within
infrastructure to aid decision-making and responsiveness, Blockchain applications to address data security and land management, citizen participatory and response applications (smart wayfinding, technologies that aid citizens with special needs or with aging in place, and emergency response).

The majority of infrastructure management responsibility falls on municipal and First Nations governments. However, they lack the resources to go beyond basic maintenance and upkeep, and rarely move into deploying technological solutions that make infrastructure management more effective and responsive. Infrastructure Canada currently does not have any programs that aid in the capacity-building of modern infrastructure management solutions.

Recommendations for candidates:

  • Through the Standards Council of Canada, align manufacturers of electric vehicles on a common electric charging technology
  • Provide incentives for the electrification of commercial fleets including ferries, buses, trucks and couriers
  • Expand the number of electric vehicles charging stations in Greater Victoria and across Vancouver Island
  • Work with municipalities and First Nations in Greater Victoria to support a civic
    technology cluster strategy that will develop a best practice model of how municipalities and First Nations can better test, purchase and deploy new technologies

Climate Change
In October 2018 the scientists of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report giving the global community until 2030 to significantly reduce carbon pollution and to become carbon free by 2050. Cities account for 70% of greenhouse gas emissions globally. And by 2050, well over half of the world’s population will live in cities. In April 2019, Environment and Climate Change Canada released a scientific report that shows Canada is warming at twice the global average.

Cities in Canada are already starting to feel the effects of climate change and facing the fiscal consequences. Here in Victoria we are seeing more severe winter storms and hotter, drier summers. Seventy percent of public street trees that have been removed in the past few years have been removed because of disease and stress due to climate change.

Our Inner Harbour, a central feature of our downtown, is the point of arrival for many tourists and a source of pride for our residents. For this business and tourism district, higher sea-levels, especially when combined with storm-surge events, will mean huge economic cost.  It has been estimated that one metre of sea level rise in combination with a storm surge would result potential business disruption losses of Cdn $415,557 per day (based on annual averages).

Climate change mitigation and adaptation costs to cities are only expected to escalate in the coming decades across the country.

Despite the increased risks and costs that cities are already feeling and will continue to face, cities in Canada have had essentially the same funding formula since 1867. Cities receive approximately 8 cents of every tax dollar and the only means of revenue raising that cities have are property taxes, utility fees, and parking revenue. With the downloading of services to cities from senior levels of government over the past 150 years without any devolution of revenue-raising capacity, or predictable means of funding, cities are already pushed to the limit of their fiscal capacity. Mitigating and adapting to climate change has the potential to further tax cities fiscally with no way to offset these costs other than through property taxes

Recommendations for candidates:

  • Take an integrated, whole-of-government and multi-level government approach to climate action based on effective partnership between different levels of government and across sector silos
  • Develop a new fiscal formula that will enable cities to both mitigate and adapt to a changing climate
  • Formula should include predictable sources of funding tied to clear outcomes and / or a permanent increase of gas tax funding
  • Require cities to have climate action plans that detail how a local government will help the federal government to meet its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) agreed to through the Paris Agreement and provide funding to develop these plans
  • Encourage provincial governments to give cities more authority to deal with climate change including but not limited to making loans to business owners and homeowners for retrofits and collecting repayment through savings on utility bills; the potential to incentivize reduction in carbon pollution through business licence fees, the potential to explore congestion pricing; other powers that give local governments the ability to mitigate climate change that fit into the current sphere of influence – but not currently sphere of authority – of cities.


Reconciliation
There are nine indigenous nations residing in Greater Victoria. These indigenous nations have unique histories, cultures and economies.  There has been progress towards reconciliation and local indigenous nations have demonstrated a cultural and economic resurgence, but inequality, inadequate housing and social services, and limited economic development persist as obstacles to achieving full reconciliation.

Various levels of government have committed to reconciliation with indigenous nations. The provincial government has committed to a broad range of actions, program and recognition ceremonies. The Capital Regional District (CRD) has reinvigorated its Indigenous Relations Division – building relationships and proposing a governance structure that incorporates indigenous nations. The City of Victoria works with the Esquimalt and Songhees Peoples through the Witness Reconciliation Program, bringing together indigenous and non-indigenous representatives to bring forward ideas and propose actions for realizing reconciliation.

Recommendations for candidates:

  • Allocate funding targeted to affordable housing on indigenous lands.
  • Change federal legislation to enable greater economic autonomy for indigenous nations, including incentives for non-indigenous businesses to partner with indigenous nations, and changes to the criminal code to allow more indigenous-owned gaming establishments on indigenous lands.
  • Develop training on indigenous history and rights for all public servants, with an emphasis on local indigenous history relevant to each federal government staff location
  • Fully implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP)
  • Establish and support a national council for reconciliation. This would include local/regional indigenous elder advisors as an oversight body to reporting on federal government reconciliation progress.

Labour Shortage
As of April 2019, Greater Victoria had the lowest unemployment rate in Canada at 2.8 per cent. This is well below the national average of 5.9 per cent. A recent labour outlook study released by the Province shows there will be 903,000 job openings between 2018 and 2028 province wide, including the creation of 288,000 new jobs due to economic growth. The portion of these openings on Vancouver Island is 17 per cent, or 153,820 openings.

Recommendations for candidates:

  • Increase the number of immigrants selected for economic factors.
  • Ensure the immigration system is client-oriented and services are delivered as
    efficiently as possible. Coordination with provinces is important in delivering support programs.
  • Expand temporary foreign workers (TFW) programs to fill labour market gaps as a short term solution, but also with the objective that immigrants can utilize this program as a pathway to permanency
  • Improve foreign credential recognition, access to language training, settlement services and opportunities to gain meaningful work experience.
  • Greater Victoria has thousands of international students. By expanding work experience and co-op programs to include terms after graduation, there can be connection and integration into the regional workforce.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Open Letter to Victorians: Let’s Choose the Future Together

An Ocean Networks Canada (ONC) camera like this one (left) allows for real time monitoring of the seabed (right). ONC has cameras like this one deployed all over the west coast, sometimes in partnership with First Nations communities. See more of their incredible photos here.

As I’ve been reading the headlines and letters to the editor over the past few weeks, I’ve felt a bit worried about the conversations we’re having about our city. Many ping-pong table related debates. And of course the endless stream of letters for and against bike lanes.

All these headlines and letters have been swirling around me as I’ve been immersed in reading and workshops on the role of cities and city economies in the 21st century. I’ve been doing this because I believe everyone in Victoria deserves a good job, a good home, and a sustainable community and that the City has a role to play in making these things happen.

This fall, my office will be leading the development of Victoria’s second economic action plan. We’re making this plan in order to facilitate an environment in which Victoria is an attractive place to invest and to start and grow a business. We’re doing this because we want high-value jobs for Victorians in a global economy with a rapid pace of change, when automation is on the rise, and where there is ample economic opportunity and job-creation potential in responding to the climate crisis.

In 2015, we created the City’s first economic action plan, “Making Victoria: Unleashing Potential.” Almost all of the actions in that plan have been achieved. Successes include a decrease in retail vacancies downtown, an increase in the number of net new business licences, a low unemployment rate, and the amount of development underway.

Our second plan, “Victoria 3.0,” needs to be even more focused and more ambitious. We need to use our status as a capital city and position Victoria as a globally relevant and globally fluent small powerhouse. This will help us to create the jobs of the future and an inclusive, sustainable, and high-value economy for the long term.

An ambitious and focused economic action plan will achieve three key goals at the same time as the City continues to support economic development and job creation in general.

One, we’ll build on the strengths of UVIC’s Ocean Networks Canada and all the ocean and marine related businesses in our region and create a 22nd-century-oriented ocean science and marine economic cluster. Ocean science and technology is a key space where Victoria is well positioned to lead globally.

Second, we need to learn from other cities that have created ‘innovation districts’ (hubs of cross-sector collaboration, commercialization of new ideas and job creation) and establish one of our own that is global facing, anticipates and solves the problems of the future and creates high-value jobs.

Third, we need to form economic development and innovation partnerships with other relevant small powerhouse cities around the world.

Of course issues like bike lanes, plazas and ping pong tables are important and help to create a safe, healthy and sustainable community. But the frame has to be wider than this. The role of cities in the 21st century has changed fundamentally. Cities are increasingly the primary locus of innovation, prosperity and problem-solving. Cities are the scale at which global problems can be seen and fixed.

Victoria can not only learn from the challenges other cities have faced and the innovative solutions they have created, Victoria can also lead.

In their compelling and provocative book, The New Localism: How Cities Can Thrive in the Age of Populism, Bruce Katz and Jeremy Nowak say that cities must invest in place, find global economic relevance, work on inclusion and social cohesion, and develop creative mechanisms to finance the future.

They write that city leaders must “combine substantive knowledge of issues with a keen understanding of the interplay between markets, civics and politics. This,” they say, “is a far cry from the days when cities were seen as the backwater for pothole politicians and second-tier business leaders.”

In a global economy increasingly anchored by cities, I believe Victoria has a role to play in fostering a high-value and inclusive local economy that makes our city strong and sustainable. In order to do so, we must look up and see that there’s more to discuss than ping pong tables and bike lanes. We must look out and learn from other cities.

And we must look to the future and share a vision of Victoria as a small powerhouse, a future-ready and globally-fluent capital city. My challenge to Victorians is to share ideas that will help this vision come to life.

This piece was originally published in the Times Colonist here.

Victoria is a City that Looks to the Future

This blog post is short. The real meat is in this video. Please watch it!

Last Thursday evening, City Council held a public hearing for a 20-unit townhouse development at 1712 and 1720 Fairfield Road. Many people who live in the neighbourhood spoke with Council and shared their perspectives on the project. While more people were in favour than against, it was not only the opinions of the people who came out to speak that I considered when making my decision, but also what kind of city we want to be.

I believe that Victoria needs to be a city that looks to the future, readies itself for the future and builds for the future. In order to do this, we need to make sure that there’s housing for all. As you can see from the changing skyline in the downtown, there are lots of rental and condo buildings under construction, but what’s missing is the “missing middle.”

Missing middle housing is everything between single family housing and high-rises. It includes townhouses, row houses, multiplexes, garden suites, co-housing and probably more. Missing middle housing isn’t just an issue in Victoria, it’s a North America wide phenomenon.

As we learned at the public hearing from project proponent Luke Mari of Aryze Developments, less than five per cent of the city’s housing is townhouses. And in the Gonzales neighbourhood where his development was proposed, less than 0.8% of homes are townhouses, even though the neighbourhood accounts for nine per cent of the City’s land base.

Those are the facts. But it’s the stories beyond the facts that we need to listen to to shape the future of our city. We heard that night from people who were making enough money to buy a townhouse but simply couldn’t find one. So they’re renting and taking up a rental unit that someone who can’t afford to buy a home could move into. We heard stories of people leaving the city for the suburbs because their families are growing and they can’t find homes with enough bedrooms. And most moving of all, were the stories of parents whose children are leaving the region altogether and won’t be able to come over for Sunday dinner anymore.

As I said that night, I believe that Victoria is a place where everyone deserves a good job, a good home, and a sustainable community. The way we’ve been building the city – and the way cities across North America have been built for the past 100 years – is not sustainable. I’m so proud of Council for approving these 20 townhouses and signalling that we are a city – and that we are a Council – who looks to the future.

If you’d like to watch the full hearing and listen to the public and councillor comments, please head here and click on item F3.

For those who want to dig in more deeply, here’s a great article on exclusionary zoning and the need for missing middle housing in Seattle.

 

Wharf Street Pedestrian and Cycling Improvements Open Today – Ahead of Schedule and Under Budget

This fellow and others can now legally and safely use the lanes!

A segment of Victoria’s newest protected bike lanes along Wharf Street open for public use today. The phased opening will start from the Johnson Street Bridge to Fort Street and includes the pedestrian scramble crosswalk adjacent to the Victoria Visitor Centre.

The section from Fort to Government will open August 8, followed by Government to Douglas on August 15.

When complete, new features along the Wharf/Humboldt corridor will include:

  • A two-way protected bike lane from Pandora Avenue to Douglas Street and a shared, traffic-calmed road from Douglas to Vancouver Streets
  • Eight improved pedestrian crossings and a new pedestrian scramble crosswalk
  • Two urban plazas with street trees, benches and urban play features
  • A new pedestrian-controlled traffic signal at Yates Street
  • A new traffic signal at the Johnson Street Bridge
  • New transit stops near the entrance to Reeson Park and on Government Street

We encourages everyone to watch for and obey new traffic signals, to use caution when navigating the corridor, and to respect others by always following the rules of the road. This is really important! The new infrastructure will take time for everyone to get used to. It’s been designed to the highest North American safety standards. (Check out NACTO to learn more.) But safety standards are only as good as the people using the infrastructure. Please all road users of all modes take time and take care out there.

To assist the public, safety ambassadors will be stationed along Wharf Street and at the new scramble crosswalk throughout August to help answer questions about the new facilities and provide educational materials to road users.

These investments – funded by the federal gas tax program and provincial grants – are a part of the 32km cycling network that will connect every neighbourhood in Victoria by the end of 2022. Each project focuses on improving road safety and enhancing the experience of all road users. The new bike lanes and pedestrian areas on Wharf Street also contribute to increased vibrancy of the waterfront and connect existing facilities on Pandora Avenue and Fort Street.

For more information visit: victoria.ca/cycling

 

No Social License for Single-Use Plastics in Our Communities

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Photo complements of Karebags, a local company that sells bags wholesale to businesses in Victoria and donates a portion of profits each month to a local charity.

A lot has happened since the B.C. Court of Appeal ruled against the City of Victoria’s plastic bag business regulation bylaw. What’s been thrilling in the weeks following the ruling is to be working closely with three amazing woman mayors in B.C. who are also taking strong leadership on single-use plastics.

Mayor Josie Osborne of Tofino and her council adopted a bylaw recently (but before the court ruling) banning both plastic bags and straws. Mayor Karen Elliott in Squamish and her council are working to regulate single-use plastics. And perhaps most boldly of all, Mayor Kathy Moore and her Council in Rossland approved a bylaw almost identical to Victoria’s, even after the Court of Appeal ruled against Victoria’s ban.

We’re going to be keeping the “Plastic Bag Association of Canada” (whoever that may be – Google and you won’t even find them) very busy.

Last week we were all happy to see the Province launch its own consultation on single use plastics. Jointly, Mayors Elliott, Moore, Osborne and I released the following statement:

“As mayors of communities that are taking a leadership role to reduce single use plastics, we are delighted to see the Province launch a consultation period to hear from British Columbians on this important issue. We’re encouraged that the Province will also take a leadership role to reduce needless waste across the Province.

“Our communities have enthusiastically embraced the reduction of single-use plastic items. We have adopted bylaws or are in the process of doing so to prohibit single-use plastic bags. We’ve done this because single-use plastics and other single use items present a huge problem and big expense in solid waste management, which is a local government responsibility. In Victoria, over the last year 17 million plastic bags were diverted from the landfill, a cost savings to landfill operations.

“We are keen to work with the Provincial government to establish a clear role for local governments, our residents and businesses to move towards a sustainable, zero-waste economy and environment. We are confident that by working with the Province over the next few months, local governments will be able to offer our experience and expertise that will help the government develop and implement strong policies to reduce unnecessary single-use items across British Columbia.”

In the meantime, in Victoria we’re looking at all our options. Last Thursday Council asked our solicitor to report back in early September on the advisability of the City seeking leave to appeal the Court of Appeal decision to the Supreme Court of Canada. And in a brilliant suggestion from staff, we have asked our Director of Engineering and Public Works to bring forward a public report on the process for, and resource implications of, developing a comprehensive bylaw for the protection of the natural environment that would regulate, prohibit, and impose requirements in relation to single-use plastics and other products.

We are also currently holding workshops with community stakeholders to reduce or eliminate items that quickly become waste after one or few uses; items like cups, food and take away containers, straws and cutlery. These workshops are to help the City develop its Zero Waste Strategy. This strategy will introduce programs that shift our community towards a circular economy and systems where nothing is wasted, where needless materials are avoided and products are always reused or managed sustainably.

We are doing all of these things because wasteful single-use materials impose several direct and indirect costs:

  • Financial impacts to cleanup operations from pollution and obstructions to local waterways, City waterworks and sewers
  • Cost of landfill operations and extended life of landfill to continue to deal with wasteful practices
  • Environmental impacts to local wildlife, ecosystems and natural resources
  • Social impacts, such as household affordability

It’s going to take all levels of government working together some time to create a sustainable, zero-waste economy and environment. In Victoria we’re not waiting. The majority of Canadians support a ban on single-use plastics, and our residents and businesses are demanding action. We will continue to take it.

 

 

Victoria Region Begins Electrification of Transit Fleet

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Near the end of the last term, the Victoria Regional Transit Commission passed a motion directing staff to prepare a business case for the transition of our bus fleet to electric. We also indicated to the BC Transit Board that we’d like to be a pilot region in the province for electric buses.

So it was thrilling – less than year after our motion passed – to see the first 10 electric buses being announced for our region. And it was an honour to have Prime Minister Trudeau and Premier John Horgan join Erinn Pinkerton, CEO of BC Transit, to make the announcement in Victoria. The 10 electric buses will arrive in 2021. The purchase of these electric buses is an important step in our goal of creating a pathway to electrification.

More than 50% of our region’s greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation where the car is the preferred mode of transport. That’s why the Transit Commission and transit staff are working hard to make the bus a convenient and fast alternative. We’re working with the province and the federal government to build rapid bus lanes from the westshore to downtown. The lanes in place to date have cut 10 minutes off a trip. When we’ve implemented all the plans we’re currently working on, trips from the westshore to Victoria by bus will be reduced by 30 minutes.

That’s a good start. But it doesn’t go far enough. We need further expanded service. We need more buses. And we need to transition our fleet to zero emissions. That’s why last week’s announcement was so exciting. Trudeau, Horgan and Pinkerton announced more than $79 million in joint funding to purchase 118 new buses for use in Victoria and communities throughout British Columbia. The new buses will help shorten daily commutes, reduce the number of cars on the road and make our region a greener place to live.  And they’ll come with the NextRide technology built in, making it easy for people to know, in real time, when their bus will arrive.

The first 10 electric buses are a good first step. We’ve got a long way to go to full electrification by 2030. But I’m confident that if the federal and provincial governments keep investing significantly in transit, and if we work together with them and as a region that we’ll get there. It’s important for the planet, the economy and our residents that we do.

Here’s what our leaders had to say about this significant investment.

Justin Trudeau
“Many British Columbians depend on public transit to get where they need to go safely and efficiently. As communities in B.C. continue to grow, investments in public transit need to keep pace. By investing in reliable, efficient public transit, we are making a real difference in the lives of British Columbians, while protecting our environment and making our communities stronger.”

François-Philippe Champagne, federal Minister of Infrastructure and Communities
“Public transit infrastructure is vital to building strong, sustainable communities where all residents have access to essential services and opportunities, and businesses can thrive. This investment in modern, eco-friendly vehicles serving communities across British Columbia will ensure that public transit services can continue to provide convenient, accessible transportation options that will improve the quality of life for residents today and contribute to a greener future.”

John Horgan
“Our government is committed to making life more affordable for British Columbians, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and investments like this will help us do just that. Working together, we can provide transit that people need and we can put public transit on a solid road towards a truly sustainable future.”

Erinn Pinkerton, president and chief executive officer, BC Transit
“These valuable partnerships have enabled BC Transit to actively pursue and implement low carbon technologies as we strive towards a cleaner, greener transit fleet. We are incredibly grateful to the Government of Canada, the Province of B.C. and our local government partners for their contributions and continued collaboration.”

Here are some more pictures from the event, including Erinn Pinkerton providing the Prime Minister with a pair of BC Transit socks.

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Victoria’s First Woman Mayor, Gretchen Mann Brewin, Honoured with Planting of Garry Oak In Mayors Grove

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Two women hard at work! Victoria’s first female mayor, Gretchen Brewin and I planting a Garry Oak tree in Gretchen’s honour. More photos below. Most photos by Derek Ford.

The Mayors Grove was established in what is now called Beacon Hill Park in the Heywood meadow area east of Arbutus Way, during a 1927 convention of western mayors in Victoria. Nine mayors planted trees to begin the grove. In the following years, visiting dignitaries were invited to plant trees, among them Winston Churchill (a hawthorn in 1929), the King of Siam (an oak in 1931) and Lord Baden-Powell (an oak in 1935).

Historian James Nesbitt has noted that in the 1920s and 1930s, it was popular for the mayor of the day to take distinguished visitors to Beacon Hill Park and have them plant a tree in the Grove. The Grove fell into decline during the 1950s. Mayor Richard Wilson had it restored in the 1960s.

In 1963, a refurbished Mayors Grove sign was erected on steel posts northeast of Goodacre Lake. Listed were twenty-five dignitaries, the tree species they had planted – oak, maple, fir, ash, beech, copper beech, linden or hawthorn – and the dates. Identification numbers matched stone markers at the bases of the trees.

In all these decades, there were no women represented in the Mayors Grove. That changed last weekend.

In addition to being the site of the Mayors Grove, Beacon Hill Park, or Meegan as it’s known in Lekwungen is a place of historical, cultural and sacred significance to the Lekwungen People. For thousands of years they have actively stewarded and cared for the beautiful, life-giving environment that flourishes there.

Through my reconciliation journey, I have come to a deeper understanding of the sacredness of this site to the Lekwungen people. I’ve also learned about the profound cultural importance of ceremony as well the importance of listening to, learning from and honouring elders.

It’s fitting that we gathered together in this sacred place in ceremony last Saturday to celebrate a leader and elder in our community. As the first woman mayor in the City’s history, Gretchen showed courage, tenacity and she inspired many. The native Garry Oak tree we planted in honour of Gretchen’s service will thrive for generations, just as as her legacy as a leader has.

Gretchen began her political career as a member of the Scarborough School Board when she was in her twenties. After moving to Victoria from Ontario in 1973, she went back to university and completed a Bachelor of Arts in political science. She was elected to Victoria City Council in 1979.

Gretchen was Mayor of Victoria from 1985 to 1990 when she was the first woman elected to this office. In her time as mayor – and based on her interest in community development – she brought the first heritage planner as well as the first social planner to City Hall. She was also responsible for the building of the Victoria Conference Centre as well as playing a key role in bringing the 1994 Commonwealth Games to Victoria.

After serving as mayor, Gretchen was elected as the MLA for Victoria Beacon-Hill (NDP), serving two terms from 1991-2001. She was the province’s first woman Deputy Speaker and then Speaker. She also served as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Social Development and Economic Security, and as the Minister for Children and Families.

Whether as Mayor, Speaker of the House, Minister, leader and advocate for women, children, and seniors, Gretchen’s lifelong ability to bring people together and unite people in positive action was visible last Saturday in the diversity of people who came together to witness the tree planting.

It was an honour to be with the crowd gathered, to celebrate Victoria’s first female mayor and – equally importantly – to celebrate a mayor who started a tradition of the open-hearted, collaborative spirit that we strive to continue today at City Hall. It’s important to celebrate a leader who helped to shape Victoria’s position as a resilient, world-class city and region, where both tradition and innovation are embraced.

A special thanks to my colleagues Councillors Marianne Alto and Charlayne Thornton-Joe for initiating the celebration, and to city staff who once again shone at event planning and execution.

 

City Vows to Find Another Way to Eliminate Single-use Plastic Bags as Appeal Court Rules in Favour of Plastic Bag Industry

You don’t need regulations to do the right thing! Even though the court of appeal ruled in favour of the plastics industry today, these kids are on the right track as they remind us to bring our reusable bags! Let’s continue to heed their advice. 

Date: Thursday, July 11, 2019
For Immediate Release

VICTORIA, BC — Today, the B.C. Court of Appeal overturned the BC Supreme Court decision and has struck down the City’s Checkout Bag Regulation Bylaw.

In their reasons for judgment, the Court of Appeal found that the bylaw’s dominant purpose was to protect the natural environment rather than business regulation. Therefore, in accordance with the requirements of the Community Charter, provincial approval for the bylaw was required, and since the City did not obtain such approval, the bylaw is not valid. Writing for the unanimous Court, Madam Justice Newbury stated: “While the City’s intentions in passing the Bylaw were no doubt reasonable, we must give effect to the clear instructions of s. 9(3) [of the Community Charter] requiring the Minister’s approval.”

“We will review the decision and will consider all our options. We believe it is fundamentally within the jurisdiction of cities to regulate unsustainable business practices,” said Mayor Lisa Helps. “The Court decision doesn’t undermine the soundness of the bylaw itself, it only deals with the process required for its adoption.”

The bylaw, which has been in effect since July 1, 2018, banned the use of single-use plastic checkout bags and set a minimum price on paper and reusable checkout bags. It was developed with extensive input from local businesses and the community over a two-year period.

“Victorians care deeply about this issue and they told us that single-use plastic bags do not align with their values. Businesses and residents have embraced the transition to reusable bags. It’s been a tremendous success. We will continue our efforts to phase out single-use items,” said Mayor Helps.

Victoria has made sustainable habits and removing single-use checkout bags the new normal. Since the bylaw’s introduction, more than 17 million plastic bags have been eliminated from the community, village centres, parks and beaches – bags that otherwise would end up as litter or choke the landfill for hundreds of years.

“The City is committed to continuing our work to eliminate unnecessary waste. There is no question that the continued use of single-use plastic checkout bags is an unsustainable practice and the historic volume of plastic bag waste and litter negatively impacts our community and the environment,” said Mayor Helps. “I would encourage businesses and shoppers to stay-the-course on reusable checkout bags.”

Hundreds of B.C., Canadian and international jurisdictions are already introducing programs and regulations to eliminate single-use plastic bags.

“We are inspired by other municipalities’ efforts to phase out single-use checkout bags and plastic waste, and we must work together to take this issue forward to provincial and national leaders to develop common, high and shared standards,” said Mayor Helps. “This issue affects us all locally, regionally and globally. This is time for action and leadership. There is no turning back.”

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Inclusionary Housing: We’re All in this Together

834 Johnson .jpegThis condo building at 834 Johnson Street, built by Chard Developments, is an example of inclusionary housing as it contains affordable housing units run by Beacon Community Services.

Housing is a key issue in Victoria for both social and economic reasons. Council is working hard to take action on affordable housing including developing an updated Victoria Housing Strategy which was released on Friday.

Council’s recent policy decision on Inclusionary Housing requesting that 20% of units in new condo buildings be affordable rental units is one piece of the puzzle. I didn’t support the policy Council adopted. I won’t go over the reasons; they have been well-documented. However, my job as mayor is to take the policies adopted by Council, become their champion and make them work.

To this end, I contacted the Chair of the Urban Development Institute (UDI) right after the policy was adopted. Their members are the people who build homes in our region. I asked him how we could move forward from here, together. An invitation arrived very soon after that for myself along with Councillors Potts and Loveday to be on a panel hosted by UDI to explain the new policy – including its flexibility and room for creativity and innovation. We have accepted.

Understanding the policy is key to making it work and keeping the home building boom happening. We need to keep that boom going for some of the reasons pointed out in the Times Colonist editorial Tuesday. First is climate change. Over 50% of greenhouse gas emissions in the region come from transportation. Building compact communities where people can walk or bike to work is a key climate mitigation strategy. We must continue the housing boom in Victoria to reduce the GHG emissions in the region.

Second, and related, population projections recently released by the CRD show 16,200 more people living in the City of Victoria by 2038 and 11,900 more jobs. To house all these people and to have them working close to where they live, we need the home builders to continue building homes.

So how will the City’s new Inclusionary Housing policy work?

All rental housing is exempted. Right now – and likely for the first time since the 1970s – we have more rental housing being built in the city than condos. In 2018 we had over 400 rental units started, compared to around 200 condos. In addition, there are also over 500 units of affordable housing in the development process, including units that rent for $375 per month. Rental housing is important; it’s expensive to buy a home and people are spending a longer time in the rental market. Council is aware of this and its new Inclusionary Housing policy supports the creation of new purpose-built rental housing.

The other thing the policy does is builds in flexibility. In order to encourage new projects under Council’s policy and to address the need for family-sized units and to meet the City’s climate goals, Council will consider less than 20%  for projects that a.) would be financially non-viable if required to provide 20% affordable rental units, or b.) are primarily comprised of family sized units, or c.) are built and operated to energy efficiency above the City’s current requirements. Council will also consider less than 20% for affordable home ownership units. This may result in more housing built that is needed for families and for the future.

The other measure of flexibility – which I strongly support – is to consider proposals with heights and densities greater than those in the City’s Official Community Plan (OCP). Council would consider this where the project delivers community amenities such as affordable housing, family-sized units, accessible units for people with disabilities, daycare facilities, enhanced greenspace, energy efficiency or other provisions deemed appropriate by council. The reason that inclusionary housing policies work in other places is because councils are willing to be flexible with the OCP limits in exchange for amenities. We’ve signalled with Council’s vote last week that we are willing to do this too.

With this flexibility in place, and with a continued commitment to improving our development processes and cutting red tape as we did last term (look at all the cranes in the air as proof) we don’t need to “go all Langford on new development” as the Times Colonist editorial concludes.

The projections show that demand for housing in Victoria will continue to grow. The units currently under construction are being snapped up. And downtown Victoria is becoming a lively and vibrant neighbourhood. People who want to live close to where they work, enjoy a high quality of life and spend less time commuting will continue to choose Victoria. And they will need homes. It’s up to all of us, the city and the private sector, to work together to make it happen.

This piece was originally published here in the Times Colonist.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ambrose Place: Love and Decolonizing Housing, Health and Wellness

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I had an incredible experience earlier this week that I’m really excited to share. I was in a situation where I was expecting one thing and something completely different happened. In the space between expectation and experience, there was inspiration, love and great deal of learning.

I was invited by Fran Hunt-Jinnochi, Executive Director of the Aboriginal Coalition to End Homelessness, to tour Ambrose Place in Edmonton. She invited a dozen of us from Vancouver Island to join her to learn about the Indigenous-informed, culturally supportive housing site which includes a managed alcohol program. She wants to start a similar program on Vancouver Island, hopefully in the capital region, and she invited us to learn and to witness.

I was expecting a conventional facility tour and a series of PowerPoint presentations with governance models and funding charts. Instead, we began on Monday evening in circle with a local elder. He shared his songs with us and spoke for three hours about the importance of connection to one’s own spirit. “Human and spirit,” he said over again in many different ways as the sage burned and the day faded to night.

Tuesday, we learned about love and how a decolonizing approach to “harm reduction” works. Carola Cunningham, the CEO and founder of Ambrose Place said about the residents, “We just keep loving them. We’re all related.” Her staff who were there to share their experiences, echoed this. A staff member shared a story of a resident who told her that he was almost 50 years old and no one had ever told him they loved him. So now every day, at the end of their one-on-one meeting she says, “I love you.”

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Another staff member recounted her experience working at a hospital before coming to Ambrose Place. “The thing I love about working here is that we love our residents. When I worked at the hospital you weren’t allowed to love your patients. Here we are allowed to love them.” Another staff member told us that when she started working at Ambrose Place she had to get used to residents hugging her.

This tenderness, this Indigenous-centred, love-based approach continues through to end-of-life care. Ambrose Place was not originally set up for palliative care. Early on, one of the residents very close to death had gone to the hospital. He wanted to come home to die but they weren’t prepared. After he passed, Carola was determined that people should be able to die at home. And – just like much else that happens at Ambrose place – Carola made it so. “Now we do palliative care,” she said. “And we love people through to the spirit world.”

“In the regular system, at the hospital,” one of the staff members said, “when there’s a death and you cry, you’re seen as weak. Here we’re told, ‘Cry, let it out, tears are medicine.’ We accept our residents where they’re at. As staff we’re also accepted where we’re at.”

The longer people stay at Ambrose place, the more opportunity they have for sobriety, the closer their trauma comes to the surface. The residents work through their trauma in ceremony, in circle, and with an “Elders Review” – a practice where they walk through their lives chronologically with an elder and decide which parts they are ready to work on. What’s truly moving is that the trauma work doesn’t stop with the residents. Carola has created a social enterprise catering service and she uses the money to reinvest in trauma support for her staff.

Ambrose Place is remarkable. And it’s working. As it turns out, love and a decolonizing approach are saving the Alberta government a lot of money. In the first two years they were open, they saved $7 million in health care costs. Their residents have reduced their hospital days by about 90%. There has been a significant decrease in mental health and addictions emergency room visits. And this takes only health care into consideration. There’s currently a study underway to quantify the savings in policing and the justice system.

Niginan Housing Ventures, which runs Ambrose Place, has big plans for what’s next. Ninety-three percent of kids in care in Alberta are Indigenous. So Niginan is going to create a building for kids and parents together. Instead of removing the kids from their parents, they’ll remove the parents – but only to another part of the building. They’ll have “kookums” (grandmothers) and elders around to care for and love the children as well. By keeping everyone under one roof, they’ll ensure that the kids stay connected to their parents until the parents are ready to move back into a suite with their children.

A disproportionate number of people experiencing homelessness in Victoria are Indigenous. A disproportionate number of Indigenous children are in care in this country. Conventional approaches are not working to address these issues and are likely just making them worse. My key takeaway ­– and my reflection to the group in our closing circle – is that the decolonizing practices and loving ways of Ambrose Place have the power to transform the whole health and housing system, if only we are open to new ways of knowing.