Canada Day, 2021, Victoria BC: When Our Neighbours are Suffering It’s Not the Time To Celebrate

Children’s shoes, stuffed toys, and 215 orange children’s shirts on the steps of the BC Legislature. The shirts were laid after a ceremony hosted for island nations by the Songhees Nation Tuesday June 8th.

This past week Council voted unanimously to move a planned Canada Day broadcast from July 1st to a broadcast that will air later this summer. It will be guided by the Lekwungen people and feature local artists and musicians and will explore what it means to be Canadian, in light of recent events.

While there has been strong local support for this decision, there has also been some backlash from across the country. The backlash tells me that we have a lot more work to do as a country to understand what reconciliation actually means. Reconciliation is about relationships. And it is place-based.

Victoria City Council didn’t #CancelCanadaDay. We weren’t responding to social media campaigns. And no one actually asked us to rethink what we had planned for July 1st.

Each year the City organizes a Canada Day celebration to bring the community together for a diverse, multicultural celebration of our country. Last year because of COVID-19, an online one-hour televised celebration replaced an in-person community gathering. This year, we were planning a similar event – a diverse, multicultural celebration of Canada in the form of a one-hour TV broadcast which features local musicians and artists.

Staff recently met with long-standing Lekwungen participants in the Canada Day celebrations in preparation for this year’s event. They told staff that they wouldn’t take part in Canada Day celebrations this year, in light of the 215 children’s bodies at the Kamloops Indian Residential School discovered so close to July 1st, and the pain and trauma this is causing.

Here is what Lyla Dick, a lead singer in the Lekwungen Traditional Dancers told the Times Colonist:

“The group withdrew from the planned broadcast out of respect for her mother, a residential school survivor and the ‘backbone’ of the dance group, and all those who attended the schools. Dick said her uncle, who attended the Kamloops Indian Residential School, has been hit particularly hard by the discovery.

“‘Because what’s happening with our survivors right now is the years of suppressing all those memories, it’s like the wounds have opened back up … In our communities, we’ve known all along that there was losses throughout the years. I remember my grandpa hearing of his sister being pushed out the window … I remember stories of my mom’s brother, his punishment in Kuper Island. And mum today just told me about the punishments my dad received when he was in [residential school]. So it’s been known all these years, but not really openly talked about’.”

I had been discussing with staff how to incorporate recognition of the 215 children into this year’s Canada Day event somehow. But until I heard from staff that the Lekwungen people were too grief stricken to participate, I hadn’t considered recommending to Council that we rethink Canada Day this year. I’m not sure how I thought that somehow we could proceed with business as usual, even as the history of our country’s genocidal relationship with First Nations had been once again revealed in a way that is painful for the Lekwungen people, for First Nations across the country, and for many non-Indigenous Canadians.

The more I reflected, the more I understood that holding the usual Canada Day celebrations would be damaging to the City’s and the community’s reconciliation efforts. For the last four years, through the City Family, the Witness Reconciliation Program and the Reconciliation Dialogues, we’ve been building close, heart-based and healing relationships between the City and the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations. How could we have a celebration when our neighbours – on whose homelands the City was built – were suffering? And how could we hold a Canada Day celebration without the Lekwungen people who have been part of the event for the last decade?

As First Nations mourn, and in light of the challenging moment we are in as a Canadian nation following the discovery of the remains of 215 children, Council decided to take the time to explore new possibilities this year. In our decision, we noted that everyone will mark Canada Day in their own way this year, with some choosing to celebrate; that is the freedom that a country like Canada provides. But for Council, now is a time where the City can take leadership and provide an opportunity for thoughtful reflection and examination of what it means to be Canadian in light of recent events and what we already know about our past.

For a broader perspective, here’s an interview I did with CBC’s Carol Off on As It Happens Friday evening. (Interview starts at 1:47)

Statement on the Targeted Act of Violence Against a Muslim Family in London, Ontario

The horrific hate-motivated violence against a Muslim family in a Canadian city makes our own work to make Victoria a more welcoming city even more urgent. Whether people are welcomed or not can literally be a matter of life and death. To learn more about Victoria’s’ Welcoming City Strategy development and to get involved, please head here.

In support of Victoria’s Muslim Community, today I released the following statement against Islamophobia and hate:

In light of the horrific events in London, Ontario – a targeted act of violence against a Muslim family out for a Sunday evening walk – this is a call to all Victorians to stand together with our Muslim community members who are once again scared and grieving because of a hate crime perpetuated against Muslims in Canada. 

I have spoken with Imam Ishmail this afternoon to offer the City’s love, support, solidarity and anything else that is needed to help our Muslim brothers and sisters get through this painful and difficult time.

To all Victorians, we must continue to stand against hate and hate-motivated violence wherever we see it. And in particular over the next few days and weeks, let’s find all of the ways we can – each of us, in our daily lives – to demonstrate to Muslims in Victoria that they are welcome here, that they are loved, and that they are our community.

‘Functional Zero’ – Ending Chronic Homelessness in Victoria

These buildings are samples of the types of homes under construction that will provide transitional and permanent housing for those currently experiencing homelessness or living in supportive housing, freeing up space for people experiencing homelessness to move in. There are thousands of units under construction in our region, including at least 500 with rents of $375 per month.

As I write this, there are approximately four structures remaining in City Parks 24/7, down from over 260 last fall. This is the lowest number of people living in City parks that we’ve seen in many years. And while this doesn’t account for everyone living outside, we are also seeing the lowest number of people sheltering outdoors over night than we’ve seen in years. It’s a real shame that it’s taken us a pandemic to secure the housing and health supports we have this past year. But the efforts are working. And we can’t let up now.

We can end chronic homelessness in Victoria. It’s going to take the same focused effort that so many have put in over the past year. If close to 600 people can move inside in one year, in the middle of a global health pandemic when everyone is already stretched and stressed, surely we can focus on the people remaining outside and set our sights as a community on what’s known as “functional zero”.

According to a working paper produced by the Homeless Hub, “Functional Zero is achieved when there are enough services, housing and shelter beds for everyone who needs it. In this approach, emergency shelters are meant to be temporary and the goal is permanent housing. While the focus on supports is to prevent homelessness to begin with, this may not always be possible and in such cases, a system that is responsive and acts quickly is essential. A key aim of homeless-serving systems is to provide immediate access to shelter and crisis services, without barriers to entry, while permanent stable housing and appropriate supports are being secured.”

When we achieve functional zero, we will have brought and end to the humanitarian crisis of people sheltering in parks and public spaces when they lose their homes.

Achieving “functional zero” requires the creation of what’s know as a “By-Name List” or BNL. The Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness defines a BNL as “a real-time, person-specific list of all people known to be experiencing homelessness in your community. It includes a robust set of data points that support Coordinated Access and prioritization at a household level and an understanding of homelessness inflow and outflow at a systems level.” The development of a BNL is underway in our region as a key 2021-2022 action item in the Community’s 2019-2024 Plan to end chronic homelessness.

We’re closer than we ever have been before to ending homelessness in Victoria.

We have been operating for many years – and in particular during the pandemic – within a reality where homelessness in Victoria has become normalized. In recognition of this reality, we have accepted the need for people to shelter in City parks even as we worked toward permanent solutions to homelessness. But we haven’t been able to collectively envision a city without homelessness. This has to change. We need to re-envision. This past year has shown us what is possible.

We need to keep going to build a robust housing and transitional shelter ecosystem.

We need to continue to work with the Province on complex care housing – for the people who currently don’t fit into any of the existing housing options because of their complex needs. We need to ensure that those currently left behind get the kinds of supports and care they need in order to be successful in housing, and to not be evicted back to the streets and parks. The BC Urban Mayors’ Caucus is taking an active role with the provincial Ministries of Housing and Mental Health and Addictions to develop a framework for complex care housing and options for investment in complex care housing services or sites in the near term.

And we need to continue to support initiatives like the Regional Rent Bank and the Community Centre Housing Outreach Coordinator program, to prevent people from falling into homelessness.

Think reaching functional zero is impossible? It’s not. Medicine Hat Alberta reached that target in 2019 after ten years of effort. This blog post details how they got there. We’re following the same steps they took. We’re coordinating assessment and access. We’re working with people with lived experiences of homelessness. We’re prioritizing Indigenous people and working to support the Aboriginal Coalition to End Homelessness in providing culturally supportive housing and a dual model of care, blending both Indigenous and Western medicines.

Everybody is already mobilized in our community and working towards the goal of functional zero. And the federal government and the provincial government are mobilized too. In the almost-decade that I’ve been at the Council table, there has never been so much money pouring into housing and health supports.

The current Community Plan to End Homelessness says we will hit functional zero in 2024. That’s way too far away. COVID-19 has taught us that we can move quickly in a crisis. COVID-19 also revealed the chasms in the health and housing ecosystem in the province, leaving those already vulnerable even more so when the pandemic hit. At the same time, it’s been an unprecedented period of investment in housing and health supports. It has also been a time of lasting relationship building and deep collaboration among the City, BC Housing, Island Health, the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness, the Aboriginal Coalition to End Homelessness, the CRD, housing and social service providers, peers and people with lived experience of homelessness, and many others.

Nearing the end of the pandemic, and with the hard work of everyone involved, we are closer to ending chronic homelessness in Victoria than we’ve ever been before. We have fewer people living outside than we’ve seen in years. This is a moment to keep focused on the goal of achieving functional zero. This means that when people lose their homes, there is a robust social system – and a community – in place to catch them.

Statement on the Discovery of the Remains of 215 Children in a Mass Grave at the Kamloops Indian Residential School

Eddy Charlie speaking at Xe Xe SmunEem (Sacred Children)-Victoria Orange Shirt Day on September 30 2019, with Kristin Spray. Eddy and Kristin are founders of Xe Xe SmunEem-Victoria Orange Shirt Day which honours residential school survivors and those, like the 215 children whose bodies were discovered this week, who never came home.

On Monday, the City of Victoria is lowering the Xe xe Smun eem-Victoria Orange Shirt Day flag and the Canadian flag to half-mast to honour the 215 children who died at the Kamloops Indian Residential School, and whose bodies were recently found in an unmarked grave. We acknowledge the deep grief of families from the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Nation and families from the other Nations whose children attended the school and who never returned home. 

The flags will remain lowered from May 31 to June 8 for a total of 215 hours, one hour for each of the children who died. Council will also observe a moment of silence at the beginning of our meeting on Thursday. 

The discovery of the children’s bodies is a reminder to non-Indigenous Canadians that the grief and trauma of colonization is anything but in the past. These children’s bodies surfaced in the present and are a painful reminder to all residential school survivors and intergenerational survivors of their own pain, trauma, and need for healing. 

Taking meaningful action to address the ongoing, harmful legacy of colonialism requires more than symbolic gestures like the lowering of flags. It requires all non-Indigenous people and all levels of government to take action to recognize and honour Indigenous sovereignty, Indigenous laws, and Indigenous ways of knowing. The discovery of the children’s bodies should move us all to redouble our reconciliation efforts in real and meaningful ways.

To close with the words of Eddy Charlie, residential school survivor and founder of Xe Xe SmunEem-Orange Shirt Day in Victoria in a text to me today, “We all have work. Our old ones used to say, never think a path is perfect. The challenge is to stay standing together on that path. That goodness is all we need.”

City Staff Propose Bold Approach to Expediting Affordable Housing

Cool’s Aid Crosstown Project at 3020 Douglas Street and 584 Burnside Road. You can head to their website to learn more about this exciting development. Photo from Cool Aid website.

For the past few years, Council has been hearing from many residents about the impact of the housing affordability crisis in Victoria. Seniors who live on fixed incomes have a hard time affording housing; students who pay high tuition costs and then high student loan payments are in a similar boat. And many women-led single-parent families and people working in low-income jobs can’t afford to pay current market rents in this city. All of these groups are vulnerable if they lose their current housing.

Last June, in response to the evidence that the COVID-19 pandemic was deepening an already dire housing crisis, Council directed staff to report back with ideas to expedite affordable housing. We already fast track affordable housing projects and move them to the front of the line, but it still takes too long.

Let’s take Cool Aid’s Crosstown Project, pictured above, as an example. This is how it is described on their website:

“The project combines affordable rental units for working families, seniors and singles with a mix of incomes – a range of rental housing supply our city desperately needs – with other uses, including daycare services, office space, and retail space (including a café). The development is close to shopping, transit and other services, and is just a couple of kilometres from the downtown core, making it an ideal location for singles and families.”

This is exactly what the City’s Official Community Plan wants for this site. And it’s what the community desperately needs. So why does it currently take well over two years to get such a project to construction?

Here’s some background: Victoria’s Official Community Plan (OCP) lays out the land use plan for the city, to accommodate the anticipated population growth between 2012 (when the plan was adopted) out to 2041. The OCP was developed through a two-and-a-half year public consultation process. Over 6000 people gave their input to shape the vision for the city’s future and the land use plan that will help bring this vision to life.

Yet even with this overarching document, most land use changes (development proposals) still need to go through a public consultation and rezoning process – even if they fit with the OCP guidelines. This week, City staff are putting forward a bold proposal to change this when it comes to affordable housing.

The proposed changes will create certainty so that if non-profit housing providers or the Capital Regional Housing Corporation (CRHC) buy a piece of property and plan to use it in the way the OCP envisions, they will be able to do so without going through a political process. This will make it easier for non-profit housing developers and the CRHC to secure funding for projects from the provincial and federal governments, which like to fund less risky projects. The proposed changes will also shave significant time off the approvals process, bringing affordable housing to completion more quickly. This is important given the substantially increasing construction costs.

Specifically, what staff are proposing is that Council:

  • Delegate the authority to the Director of Sustainable Planning and Community Development to issue all Development Permits, with or without variances, offering affordable non-market housing secured by legal agreement.
  • Allow the maximum density contemplated in the Official Community Plan to be the maximum density permitted for a specific site, where an affordable non-market housing development is proposed and affordable dwelling units are secured with a legal agreement.

This amounts to waving a regulatory magic wand to make affordable housing possible on any site in the city, as long as the proposal fits with the OCP and the design guidelines for the neighbourhood. This means that there would be no public or political process for affordable housing developments.

I know there are some people who may be unhappy with this approach, as it cuts out public consultation on a site by site basis. We got significant public input on land use during the development of the OCP. And from a housing affordability point of view, we got lots of input through the development of the Victoria Housing Strategy, the Housing Summit, and the thousands of emails Council has received over the years from working people who can’t afford to live in our city, asking us to take bold action.

The housing affordability crisis is also regional. The Capital Regional District Housing Affordability Strategy identifies that over the next 17 years as a region , we need at a minimum 17,107 units for people from very low to moderate incomes. The regulatory change that Victoria city staff are proposing is just as possible for all other local governments in the region. My hope is that our colleagues across the CRD will also embrace this approach, making our whole region affordable for a range of people and families at every phase and stage of life.

And finally, while this is a good step for the City to take with respect to affordable housing, as I noted in my “Three Big Ideas” blog post, we need the Province to step in with big, bold action too. If we want to comprehensively address the housing crisis – including the lack of missing middle housing for families – we need a change to provincial legislation so that any project that fits within a community’s OCP and respective design guidelines does not require a political process. As part of this, the Province needs to ensure that local governments are still able to receive public amenities in exchange for extra density, and secure statutory rights of way for widening sidewalks or adding bike lanes. Right now these are only possible to secure through a rezoning process.

To read the staff report, “Options to Support Rapid Deployment of Affordable Housing through Regulatory and Process Changes,” head here (item G2). To read the Times Colonist coverage from Saturday head here.

Is Victoria A Welcoming City?

This booklet outlines the Welcoming Standard against which Victoria will be measuring itself and the goals we are aiming to achieve. It’s very short! Please take the time to read it and share it with everyone you know who might be interested in learning more about Victoria becoming a Welcoming City, or participating in the process.

The first year anniversary of George Floyd’s death is coming up at the end of this month. His murder at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer sparked international outrage. It brought the Black Lives Matter movement and the existence of systemic racism – everywhere, not only in policing – squarely into the mainstream as an issue that could no longer be ignored.

Creating a Welcoming City Strategy to address systemic inequities and make Victoria more welcoming is an action in both Council’s 2019-2022 Strategic Plan and the City’s economic action plan, Victoria 3.0. When the pandemic hit last spring – like much else that wasn’t part of core operations – Council put this project on hold. After George’s Floyd’s death and the response to it in Victoria and around the world, we felt the need to take urgent action.

For background and context, here is an excerpt from the June 9 2020 Committee of the Whole Report from Councillor Dubow and I:

“At the Council meeting on April 9, 2020, Council decided to put on hold a range of initiatives due to budget constraints from COVID-19 and revisit these on August 6th. The Welcoming City Task Force was one of these initiatives.

“Given the recent events in the United States and Canada as well as the well-organized and thoughtful responses of Victorians against racism in all forms and the desire to create a welcoming city for everyone, it is recommended that we proceed immediately with the Welcoming City Task Force. This will enable Council to harness the energy, creativity, passion and commitment currently evident in our community to make Victoria a welcoming and safe city for everyone. 

“The original proposed funding amount for this initiative was $50,000. This included engaging a consultant, in person meeting costs and stipends for Indigenous members of the Task Force as per the City’s protocol and compensation policy. Given that the meetings will all be held online, it is possible to reduce the budget.

“There is approximately $42,800 remaining in the Mayor and Council travel budget for this year, most of which will not be used given travel restrictions and lack of in person conferences. It is recommended that $40,000 be re-allocated to the Welcoming City Initiative.”

Council accepted our recommendation unanimously and a task force was struck.

The Welcoming City Task Force is co-chaired by myself and Councillor Dubow and is made up of people who reflect Victoria’s increasing diverse population. The members have been working hard with consultants and city staff for many months in preparation to launch an extensive public engagement process, which begins this week.

What is a Welcoming City?
The Welcoming Cities program began in the United States in 2009 as a deliberate way to create relationships between long-established residents and newcomers and to help develop a sense of belonging, connection, and community cohesion. Since then, it has grown into a global movement with the founding of Welcoming International and the development of the Welcoming Standard (pictured above). The Standard lays out the keys areas of civic life that need concerted attention and action in order to create inclusive communities:

  • Government Leadership
  • Equitable Access
  • Civic Engagement
  • Connected Communities
  • Education
  • Economic Development
  • Safe Communities

Not all the categories in the Welcoming Standard are within the jurisdiction of local governments. This is why Victoria’s Welcoming City Task Force includes representatives from other organizations like the Greater Victoria Public Library, newcomer serving agencies and Parent Advisory Council reps. The idea is to co-develop and co-deliver the Welcoming City Strategy together with the community.

Why Welcoming Victoria and How to Get Involved
Victoria is a culturally diverse place. According to the 2016 Census, close to 20 percent of Victoria’s population are newcomers, or people who are new immigrants or refugees to Canada who have settled in Victoria. They face significant social and economic barriers to integration into the local community and into Canadian society.  

Creating a Welcoming City Strategy means foregrounding the lived experiences of newcomers, people of colour, Black people and Indigeneous people to help inform the development of the strategy, so it reflects their needs and desires. We know that even on their own homelands, Victoria can be an unwelcoming place to Indigenous people. This needs to change. Important as well are the voices of long-established Victorians who have a role to play in helping to make Victoria welcoming, inclusive and resilient because of our diversity.

Phase one of the engagement begins this week with small workshops for people to share their experiences and needs in each of the Welcoming Standard areas cited above. At the same time, everyone is invited to share their stories between now and May 30th on the City’s Have Your Say platform. Do you feel a sense of welcome and belonging? What would help to make you feel like you belong and are able to flourish in Victoria? The Welcoming City engagement will be up Tuesday so if you go there as soon as you read this post on Sunday evening, you won’t see it yet – please check back later in the week!

The information gleaned in the workshops and on the story portal will be used to generate a community survey that will go live in early June. Whether you’re a newcomer or a long-time resident, please take the time to fill out the survey. You’ll also find it on the City’s Have Your Say platform in June.

The input from public engagement will help to inform the development of a Welcoming City Strategy that will be presented to Council in the fall. Once adopted, the implementation of the Welcoming City Strategy will be led by the City’s newly formed Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.

The success of the strategy will be in the quality of the inputs we get during the public engagement period. For those who are new to Victoria and/or racialized minorities who don’t feel welcome here, who experience racism, who need us to do better as a community, thanks in advance for the courage to tell your stories and share your experiences. We can and must do better. For those of us who are non-people of colour, non-Black and non-Indigenous, we have work to do to unpack our privilege and examine our shared role in making Victoria more welcoming.

I thank the hard-working, courageous, and delightful task force for their work to date, and I look forward to the next steps in this important and necessary process.

City Budget 2021: Well-Being and Economic Recovery, and A Spot of Grace

As part of budget 2021, the City is continuing the transition to a zero emissions fleet like the zero emission ride on lawn mower featured here. We’re making these investments to meet the goals in our Climate Leadership Plan, with the added benefit of a more pleasurable work experience for staff and a better experience for the public with quieter, no emissions vehicles in parks and public spaces.

This Friday, I’m speaking on the opening plenary of a conference in Montreal (virtually of course!) called Policies for Better Lives. It’s an international conference of researchers focused on well being and policy development. Most of the conversations about measuring well-being are focused at the provincial and national level. It seems I’m being brought in as a local voice to remind the research community that their questions and research agendas also need to focus on cities.

Every year cities spend millions of dollars on programs and services; how do we know whether our spending is enhancing or detracting from residents well-being? How do we know whose lives are getting better by the investments we’re making? These are important questions to answer in our annual budgeting process, particularly coming out the other side of a global health pandemic where already vulnerable people have been made even more vulnerable and the pandemic revealed cracks in our social safety net. I’m honoured to help set this international research agenda, and in the coming years to see Victoria’s budget measured by how investments enhance well-being and equity in our community.

In the meantime, in the City’s recently adopted 2021 budget, Council has made an effort to focus investments on enhancing the well-being of Victoria residents and helping our beloved local businesses recover from the pandemic. I’ve pulled out some of the key highlights to share. Additional background information and the detailed five-year financial plan and background can be found here.

Infrastructure and Economic Recovery
Timely investments in the maintenance, repair and improvement of City infrastructure support community safety, avoid the need for more expensive costs for taxpayers in the future, and attract businesses and industry as they look for locations to invest. Infrastructure investments also create jobs. Some of the city’s key projects – like the bike network– are undertaken by private sector contractors which employ local people.

In 2021, the City will invest $24.5 million to improve city streets, fill potholes, upgrade crosswalks and sidewalks, and undertake traffic calming projects to make the city more walkable and safer for people walking and cycling. An investment of $33.7 million will continue the renewal of essential underground infrastructure including aging water mains, sanitary sewers and storm drains.

Economic recovery and resiliency are also key in this year’s budget. The Build Back Victoria initiative is a cornerstone of the City’s COVID-19 response and recovery plan to support businesses in every neighbourhood. Within weeks of launching last spring, dozens of patios and retail “flex spaces” had sprung up across the city, yoga and fitness studios had moved classes outside in parks. We know we’ll see even more creative use of public space this summer.

The City will also allocate more than $459,000 to support economic development and recovery to implement the Victoria 3.0 – Recovery Reinvention Resilience – 2020-2041 the City’s economic action plan. Key projects for 2021 include work with stakeholders to create an Oceans Future Hub, taking shape as the Centre for Ocean Applied Sustainable Technologies (COAST), and continuing to make it easier for new and existing businesses to do business in Victoria.

The South Island Prosperity Partnership will receive close to $220,000 to support their work collaborating with government, First Nations and private sector partners to accelerate recovery and build a resilient, diversified economy on the South Island.

For the first time in anyone’s memory, we’ve also lowered business taxes. For every $1 homeowners pay in property taxes, businesses contribute $3.32. Businesses – particularly local retailers, restaurants, arts and culture and tourism related businesses – continue to struggle with the fall out of the pandemic. If Council had adhered to its tax policy, this would have meant that this year businesses would pay and increased $3.59 for every $1 that residences pay. To support businesses during this unprecedented year, Council decreased business taxes.

Health and Well-Being
Providing outdoor spaces for people to enjoy and stay active, but apart, has never been more important. Parks, recreation and facilities will see more than $24 million in 2021 to maintain and enhance the city’s 137 parks and open spaces, gardens, community centres and other facilities.

In addition to the $3.8 million funded last year to design and build a new bike and skate park in Topaz Park, the City is investing $4.5 million to replace the artificial turf field at Topaz Park this year. Further improvements include $600,000 to replace the playground equipment at Stadacona Park and $85,000 will fund preliminary design work to install new lighting at Vic West Skate Park. An investment of $2.8 million will substantially improve and expand the waterfront Songhees Park on the west side of the Johnson Street Bridge.

This year will also see the design for the new sč̓əmaθən Peter Pollen Waterfront Park, improvements to Pemberton Park, and expansion of the Banfield Park dock for public swimming this summer.

Victoria’s neighbourhood associations, community associations and seniors centres will receive $1.5 million in funding to deliver important services and programs to residents and help make the community healthier and age-friendly for seniors.

To make Victoria more accessible and inclusive, the City is investing up to $40,000 for the development of a Welcoming City Strategy, as well as allocating funding to establish a new Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion with three full-time staff. Having a staff position in both community planning and recreation services divisions will embed equity in policies, programs and services, advance the removal of systemic barriers and help to make City Hall, city services and the community as a whole more welcoming and inclusive for the increasing diversity of residents that call Victoria home.

Also, in line with Victoria’s Strategic Plan, the City will continue to seek deeper and more engagement with the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations, including with both hereditary and elected chiefs. The City Family will continue to guide the City’s reconciliation work. As part of this work, $37,500 has been allocated to scope out potential future positions to advance a new Indigenous Relations and Elders in Residence Function in 2022. The Victoria Reconciliation Dialogues series will continue once large-scale public events can be held again and the City will support and help with the organization of Orange Shirt Day this September.

Affordable Housing
As we’ve seen throughout the pandemic, there is much more work to be done on affordable housing. While cities aren’t responsible for housing, the City of Victoria does what it can as a junior partner to the federal and provincial governments to assist with housing creation. This year we are allocating $660,000 to the Housing Reserve Fund which helps to leverage investment in affordable housing from the provincial and federal governments.

We are also continuing to accelerate the implementation of the Victoria Housing Strategy to increase housing choice and affordability for families. This includes non-market housing, affordable rentals, market rental housing and affordable or entry-level home ownership.

In response to the housing crisis in Victoria, the City has created an expanded set of housing targets to meet growing demand and catch up to the already existing need. Supported in part by the Victoria Housing Reserve Fund of more than $3.9 million, the plan is to partner with senior government and non-profit housing providers to create approximately 1,450 new affordable non-market homes over the next six years, as part of a total of 3,900 new homes across all housing types. This is an ambitious goal and it’s going to take Council saying “yes” more often than “no” to housing of all sorts in all neighbourhoods.

Climate Leadership and Zero Waste
Having declared a climate emergency in 2019, the City of Victoria is committed to taking serious climate action to reduce carbon pollution by 80 per cent and transition to 100 per cent renewable energy by 2050.

Through its Climate Leadership Plan, the City will invest up to an additional $350,000 in 2021 to top up the CleanBC’s Better Homes and Home Renovation Rebate Program, encouraging homeowners to transition from oil and gas to electric heat pump. If you are heating your home with oil or natural gas and want a substantial rebate to convert to a heat pump, now is the time. Details are here.

Climate action will also include the continued transitioning of the City’s fleet to electric vehicles, in addition to $175,000 for public EV charging stations. If you are interested in swapping in your gas guzzler for an electric vehicle, it’s also a good time to do that with substantial provincial and federal rebates totaling up to $14,000 . More details here.

Last year saw the introduction of new zero waste stations across the city. This year we will invest an additional $95,000 to install more stations in high pedestrian traffic areas like the new Dallas Road Waterfront Walkway.

Unrelated to Budget: Dose of Inspiration / Spot of Grace
My Sunday blog posts get mixed reviews, particularly when I make attempts to call us together, recognize our common humanity, our shared purpose, etc. Some people write and say they’re moved to tears, others say that they don’t need all this philosophizing garbage from the mayor. This week, one of the latter asked me what my “Sunday sermon” was going to be about. I told her I was writing about the 2021 budget! But just before sitting down at my computer to work, I happened to re-read this from Rachel Naomi’ Remen’s Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories that Heal. It moved me, so I thought it would share it with you:

“Each person is born with an unencumbered spot, free of expectation and regret, free of ambition and embarrassment, free of fear and worry, an umbilical spot of grace where we were each first touched by God. It is this spot of grace that issues peace. Psychologists call this spot the Psyche, Theologists call it the Soul, Jung calls it The Seat of the Unconscious, Hindu masters call it Atman, Buddhists call it the Dharma, Rilke calls it Inwardness, Sufis call it Qualb, and Jesus calls it The Centre of Our Love.

“To know this sport of inwardness is to know who we are, not by surface markers of identity, not by where we work or what we wear or how we like to be addressed but by feeling our place in relation to the Infinite and by inhabiting it. This is a hard lifelong task, for the nature of becoming is a constant filming over of where we begin while the nature of being is a constant erosion of what is not essential. We each live in the midst of this ongoing tension, growing tarnished or covered over only to be worn back to that incorruptible spot of grace at our core.”

Mark Nepo cited in Kitchen Table Wisdom

Moving Indoors, Ending Parks Sheltering – The Next Few Weeks

Housing – Aboriginal Coalition to End Homelessness
SpeqƏȠéutxw (SPAKEN) House, on Hillside Ave at Blanshard, is an example of a modular housing building, like the one that will be built on Catherine Street in Vic West and other sites in the city and region. SpeqƏȠéutxw house opened in August 2020 and offers culturally supportive housing and services to Indigenous women experiencing homelessness, with priority given to those fleeing violence.

I left work on Friday feeling rather hopeless. There are so many challenges still on the horizon: Our small businesses, already struggling, facing more restrictions. The variants of concern impacting young people. More than a year into a global health pandemic people still living outside. And this past week, another tragedy: a 15-year-old child living in Beacon Hill Park was assaulted in their tent. How can we, as a city, province and country have failed so miserably to have 15-year-olds – or anyone – living in tents? It’s a collective failing. No one is to blame, and everyone is responsible.

I’m angry at the decades-long divestment in housing by former provincial and federal governments. I’m angry that when mental health institutions were closed years back, a community solution was promised but never delivered. I’m angry that a couple of weeks ago, there were events to mark the five year anniversary of the declaration of the opioid crisis as a public health emergency. What kind of society has a five year long emergency? Our does. No one is to blame, and everyone is responsible.

The federal and provincial budgets this past week continue to address these issues. The provincial budget has $500 million for mental health supports, including youth mental health. And the federal government allocated an additional $1.5 billion for a second round of the Rapid Housing Initiative to help end chronic homelessness. Round one saw 91 new homes here in our region, in Saanich and Central Saanich. There’s so much more to be done.

But it’s not just more money that’s needed. Part of the issue is how we as a community are dealing with the three concurrent health crises facing us: the housing crisis, the COVID-19 crisis and the opioid crisis. This has come to a head in my email inbox again this week with a wide variety of perspectives, some worded very strongly.

Let’s start with the positive. Responsibility means the ability to respond. I’ve witnessed some phenomenal responses to the three concurrent health crises. In just over two months, 570 people donated over $550,000 to build homes for their neighbours. The Tiny Home Village at 940 Caledonia Street is set to open in the next couple of weeks. Thirty people will move inside due to the generosity of their neighbours and the problem-solving spirit of Aryze Developments.

In Beacon Hill Park, Stadacona Park and perhaps other parks as well, there are housed residents who are getting to know their unhoused neighbours, supporting them while living outdoors and continuing to support them as they move inside. If you take nothing else from this blog post, please read this inspiring story in The Capital Daily about the Fairfield Gonzales Support for the Unhoused.

Their work shouldn’t be remarkable. Imagine if there were a ‘real’ disaster – an earthquake or a flood – and Victoria residents were forced to set up tents in city parks. How would we respond? We’d do what all communities do in a disaster, we’d pull together and we’d help each other out. So why is this particular disaster – the housing crisis combined with the COVID-19 crisis combined with the opioid crisis – dividing us as a community rather than bringing us together with a can-do helping spirit?

In part it’s because people who live in homes near parks where people are living have had front row seats to the ongoing tragedy and vulnerability of people living outside. You are witnessing others’ trauma on a daily basis. For some it’s a reflex to turn away, to get angry, to just want it to stop. Also, to witness another’s pain and trauma can’t help but bring us face to face with our own. I know there have also been very real impacts on your lives in big and small ways, as you’ve shared these with me by email. I’m sorry.

In part it’s because of the toxic cesspool of social media where anyone can say anything about any one in any way without taking responsibility for the damage and division their words are doing. The name calling and blame game has to stop.

It’s also that we haven’t done enough to name and address stigma and discrimination against people who are poor, or living without homes, or living with substance use issues. A Vic West resident created a very disturbing flyer about the proposed transitional housing in their neighbourhood. Another Vic West resident wrote to me that they were “deeply distressed by the tone and language” contained in the flyer and that “it is a gut-wrenching demonstration of the ‘othering’ and prejudice that people who are homeless face every single day of their lives.”

In part its because those living outside are so visible and vulnerable. You have nowhere else to go. Being this visible must be very difficult. At end of a long hard day, I can come home and close my door. For those of you living outside, this past year has probably felt like one long, hard day with no end in sight. I’m sorry. I get why anxiety is high, tempers are high, and trust is low.

But there is a an end in sight. Over the past many months, BC Housing has been working hard to secure indoor spaces as a pathway to permanent housing for those living in parks. 114 people have already moved inside and over the next few weeks the people remaining outdoors will be offered spaces to move into. The spaces aren’t permanent homes and they’re not perfect. But they are a pathway to permanent housing, some of which is already under construction and will be open by the end of the year.

To those of you living outside, please strongly consider taking the offers that you receive. I know that a transition to indoors can be really difficult. That’s why as much as possible, we’re trying to take a person-centred approach so as you move inside you get the supports you need and have the networks you need to settle in. I know there are strong communities that have formed in some of the parks, and as much as possible, BC Housing is trying to keep people together who want to stay together.

Once someone makes the decision to move inside, we want to do everything we can to support them in that transition and on their pathway to permanent housing. That’s why we’re taking a compassionate, tailored approach to bylaw enforcement until the new transitional homes are ready to move into. City staff have put together a thoughtful, graduated approach to bylaw enforcement that recognizes individual needs while ensuring that the bylaw prohibiting daytime sheltering is enforced. Council has supported this direction. You can read the report here (item E1a).

People who accept an offer and are preparing to move from parks will not be required to pack up daily. Bylaw officers will allow time for moving into the transitional housing locations and will assist with downsizing belongings. When indoor spaces are ready, Bylaw and outreach workers will assist people with packing their items in totes and helping people move. Effective May 1, people who do not accept an offer will be required to take down, pack up and remove their tent and belongings daily by 7 a.m.

Council has approved this enforcement strategy and authorized the City Manager and City Solicitor to proceed with a court injunction to enforce the Parks Regulation Bylaw should voluntary compliance not be achieved. This provides the City with flexibility to respond to evolving situations quickly and effectively.

To all Victorians, I know that everyone is exhausted more than a year into a global health pandemic from job losses, from keeping your small businesses afloat with yet more restrictions, from social isolation, from worries about the future. Despite our collective exhaustion, can we please find it in ourselves to come together over what will potentially be a difficult transition period for everyone as people move inside over the next few weeks and 24/7 sheltering ends.

How can we welcome people into their new neigbourhoods? How can we have patience as the final moves take a bit of time? Can we muster up the grace, kindness and generosity that will be needed? In strong, resilient communities, no one is to blame, and everyone is responsible.

Cities Need Housing for Economic Recovery

This piece was co-written by myself, Mayor Rebecca Alty, Yellowknife, Councillor Cindy Gilroy, Winnipeg, Mayor Berry Vrbanovic, Kitchener and was originally published here in National Newswatch. We are members of the Right to Home Municipal Working Group, which brings together elected officials and city staff from across Canada committed to securing the right to housing. It is convened by The Shift and the Canadian Urban Institute.

In cities across the country, we’ve witnessed the devastating effects of housing insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic unfold on our streets and in our parks.  In the early days last March, shelters closed or cut their numbers, and many people were forced into doorways or tents.  Others lost their jobs and couldn’t pay rent, and – even with all the government supports available – fell into homelessness.

Many low-income people have managed to hold onto their housing but are paying even more of their monthly income for shelter than they were pre-pandemic; this leaves less money for other necessities like food, childcare, and transportation costs.  Indigenous people, Black people, and people of colour have been disproportionately impacted by housing insecurity, housing loss, and by COVID-19 cases and deaths, often as a direct result of living in inadequate or crowded housing.

Next week’s federal budget is an opportunity for the government to write Canada’s future story and uphold its human rights commitments.  We understand that there are many pressures on the public purse; we feel these every day locally, as we also have to make difficult choices.

But we can’t state strongly enough that unless Budget 2021 makes significant and immediate investments in housing that reach those in need, economic recovery will be slow and uneven. Cities across the country – which are the engines of innovation in an increasingly knowledge-based economy – will have to spend continued time, energy, and resources dealing with the issue of homelessness, rather than on broader recovery efforts, and residents will not benefit from a recovery plan if they do not have decent housing that is affordable to them.

By adopting a human rights-based approach to housing through the National Housing Strategy Act of 2019, the Federal government has committed to addressing homelessness on an urgent and priority basis.  The $1 billion federal Rapid Housing Initiative that rolled out in September 2020 was a good start.  This program will see the immediate creation of 4700 supportive housing units across the country, 1700 of which are due directly to the investment and contribution of provinces and cities.  With over 200,000 Canadians sleeping outside each night, and 27,000 chronically homeless who have lived on our streets for years, there is more to do.

A report by Carleton Professor Steve Pomeroy commissioned by the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness shows that over the next 10 years, Canadian taxpayers will spend $70 billion to continue to manage homelessness.  Ending it would cost just $52 billion – a savings of $18 billion. The $52 billion plan would prevent an additional 300,000 Canadians from falling into homelessness, and it would create 500,000 well-paying jobs in the construction sector.  Not only does ending homelessness ensure compliance with the federal government’s human rights commitments, it makes good fiscal sense.

And, it’s the kind of bold, ambitious action that our cities and our most vulnerable residents require.  As a start, in Budget 2021 we’d like to see a $7 billion expansion of the Rapid Housing Initiative.  This will create at least 21,000 additional units of housing within a year for people facing homelessness.  If the federal funds are leveraged further with investment from provinces and land from cities, even more housing will be built.

We know that building new housing isn’t enough.  Between 2011 and 2016, the number of private rental units affordable to households earning less than $30,000 per year (rents below $750) declined by 322,600 units.  This trend is continuing as older rental stock is purchased by Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) that significantly drive up rent levels and drive out tenants.  The current National Housing Strategy proposes to build only 15,000 units per year over ten years. This means we’re currently losing far more affordable housing than we’re building.

Budget 2021 should create a significant fund for non-profit housing providers to acquire older market rental housing, renovate it as units turnover, and keep it affordable in perpetuity.  This will protect the seniors in our communities who live on fixed incomes, students who pay high tuition costs, women-led single-parent families, and people working in low-income jobs who can’t afford to pay market rents in any city in this country.  Budget 2021 should also include immediate rent relief measures for renters.

We are not alone in our call for a housing focus in Budget 2021.  A poll conducted by Nanos Research in August 2020 shows that 84% of Canadians support or somewhat support affordable housing investment as part of pandemic recovery economic stimulus.  And our residents in cities from coast to coast to coast call and email us every day asking us to do something about the housing crisis.

As cities, our roles and resources are limited.  But we’re here as partners nonetheless.  We pledge to work together with the federal, provincial, and territorial governments to create a future story for our country where every person has their right to housing met.  Doing so makes common sense, fiscal sense, and will help ensure a speedy, inclusive, and lasting recovery.

There Is A Rape Culture in Victoria, and Everywhere

You can donate to the Victoria Sexual Assault Centre here.

Trigger warning: This post contains discussions of rape, sexual assault, and violence against women.

For those who haven’t been following social media over the past week in Victoria, this post will come as a bit of a surprise and maybe a shock. In the past few months on an Instagram account @survivorstoriesproject, women working in the restaurant industry have been reporting sexual assaults. More recently, on the same account, women reported sexual violence by a number of Victoria real estate agents.

In response, on social media last Saturday, Victoria Councillor Stephen Andrew posted the following tweet:

He has since apologized, acknowledged the existence of rape culture, and made a motion for Victoria Council to create a task force to address sexual abuse. More on the motion below.*

Some may wonder how anyone could claim that rape culture doesn’t exist. There’s an easy answer: It’s the very misogynistic and patriarchal organization of western society that perpetuates rape culture, that makes it possible to claim that rape culture doesn’t exist. In other words, it is male privilege to be able to be blind to the existence of rape culture.

Rape Culture Rape culture is defined as “an environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against women is normalized and excused in the media and popular culture. Rape culture is perpetuated through the use of misogynistic language, the objectification of women’s bodies, and the glamorization of sexual violence, thereby creating a society that disregards women’s rights and safety.”

So many women have written to me this past week outraged, thoughtful and courageous. They’ve outlined, once again, how patriarchy and misogyny work. Many put it so eloquently. Here is what one woman wrote:

“We are fearful walking home after dark, we go for runs without headphones, we avoid booking male massage therapists and other practitioners that place us in a vulnerable position without prior recommendation and vetting from friends, we are uneasy taking public transportation in certain areas or times of day, we can’t leave our drinks unattended, we smile and we laugh in uncomfortable situations until we can politely escape for fear of making the situation worse. The list goes on, and on, and on, and on, and on. I have done all of these things. I know hundreds of women who do these things daily. I would say that this is representative of a culture and society that demands women make unreasonable sacrifices to avoid sexual assault, wouldn’t you?”

In this culture, women, transgender and non-binary people face sexual violence. Over the last 10 years, sexual assault is the only violent crime on the increase in British Columbia and across Canada. Statistics Canada states that less than 5% of victims of sexual violence report to police. This number is likely lower because when these studies are done, rarely do teens and young adults – those at greatest risk of being sexually assaulted – answer the phone and respond to surveys. Of the less than 5% who report, few ever result in charges and only 1.8% (of the 5%) result in convictions. We need to collectively work to change these conditions and make it easier and safer for survivors to speak out and to receive justice.

As noted above, rape culture is also perpetuated through the use of misogynistic language. Brace yourselves for the text I received yesterday afternoon:

“Notice the bottle neck you created on the Tillicum bridge. More traffic congestion more pollution. Well done you dumb CUNT! Article 16 on your blog post on Clover Point you point out what cities like Oakland are doing if that’s what you want do what the majority of Victorians want you to do, fuck off and go there before you do anymore damage to our city. You dumb CUNT!”

I felt sick to my stomach. And shamed. I’m not sure if it’s the capitalization of the word that’s most upsetting, or the fact that the writer needed to say it twice, or the fact that the “Tillicum bridge” isn’t even in Victoria and it’s just easy and convenient to use violent language to blame me – a female politician. It turns out the writer is referring to a wonderful pedestrian improvement project spearheaded jointly by Esquimalt Council and Saanich Council on the Gorge Road Bridge.

I just finished reading a compelling book by Indigenous author Alicia Elliott, A Mind Spread Out on the Ground. Last weekend, as the social media firestorm was unfolding, I happened to be reading the chapter called “On Forbidden Rooms and Intentional Forgetting,” where she talks about her experience of being raped.

She writes, “Arguing that a woman deserves to police the boundaries of her own body – boundaries that are continually, sometimes violently broken by men who have been taught to disregard women’s active, informed consent – is a task similar to Sisyphus rolling a boulder up hill, waiting for it to roll back down and crush him. It’s contrary to all that we’ve been taught about women and men. It questions the very legitimacy of Western misogyny, and thus, Western society. In other words, it’s blasphemy.”

Her words are so strong and powerful, just like all of the survivors who have the courage to speak up. And all the wonderful staff at the Victoria Sexual Assault Centre and the @survivorstoriesproject followers who support them. Keep raising your voices. The world needs to hear us. For men who want to help, thank you. Please donate to the Victoria Sexual Assault Centre here. Examine your privilege, work to address it, don’t be complicit. We need you.

*Re: Councillor Andrew’s motion cited above: Council postponed consideration of the motion on Thursday until we receive a report from staff on work already underway based on an earlier motion made by Councillors Potts and Loveday to address sexual harassment in the restaurant industry. The staff report will outline what jurisdiction, if any, the City has to directly address sexual violence. We won’t set up a task force that gives hope to survivors, only to have the system fail them once again if there’s nothing the City within its jurisdiction can do. Of course we will continue to advocate. And, the City has been funding the Victoria Sexual Assault Centre Clinic – the first of it’s kind in British Columbia – since it opened.