Late September Strawberries, and the Work of Reconciliation

I wrote this poem while picking strawberries, a few days before the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation – marked in Victoria since 2017 as Orange Shirt Day – to honour and support residential school survivors, intergenerational survivors, and the families of those who didn’t come home.

Late September Strawberries

maybe it’s climate change
or that we got the soil right
this year, pungent fertilizer applied
at the right intervals
and a commitment to every-two-day-
early-morning watering
no matter the conditions of my life
or that 15 minutes more sleep
would be welcome

maybe it’s the pollinators
the hedgerow at Robyn’s farm
inspiring us to create our own this year
welcome habitat for the bees,
that feed us

we aren’t very good gardeners
by that I mean we don’t
have all the time in the world
to study the soil, the path the sun makes,
reliably, across the yard each day
what should go where and, why
in some beds, things just don’t grow

well

we are good gardeners
earnest on Saturday afternoons
as life allows
planting vegetables
tending tomatoes
and the joy
of that backyard connection

late September strawberries
shorter-day-soak-in sunshine
as we prepare the garden
and ourselves
for what’s next

Songhees knowledge keeper Florence Dick says
that the City can’t have
the name of their Grand Chief
for our street sign
because even though he signed the Douglas Treaty
in 1850 and is long dead
he is also still alive
moves through this land through his descendants
he cannot be pinned down
as a name on a street sign

these strawberries
this land
ours and not ours

what’s next is winter
and the work of decolonization
the learning and unlearning
the shared pain
the deep understanding
that what was done
cannot be undone

those children who never came home
those children who survived

short days and long nights
to tend to the work
the lək̓ʷəŋən are winter ceremony people

I also must do my work
so that as another spring comes
and strawberries bloom
on land that is not ours
I know my role on this healing path
and walk, heart and hand,
with the people
of this land

CUIxVictoria – Vital Conversations for Our Shared Future

From October 18 – 20 the Canadian Urban Institute, the City of Victoria and the Victoria Foundation are hosting CUIxVictoria an “urban intensive” called Vital Conversations for Our Shared Future.

CUIxVictoria is an inspiring, engaging, inclusive series of events that generate possibility and excitement about our shared future. CUIxVictoria will create an opportunity for diverse sectors of Greater Victoria’s community to come together and grapple with community challenges and opportunities and generate actions that can be undertaken at many scales at once, from classrooms to neighbourhoods, from dinner tables to council tables.

Sessions include: 

And many more! All are free and open to the public.

For in person events, registration is limited to 100 people (in a 400 seat theater) so get your tickets now. All sessions (except the Lekwungen walking tours) will also be available by zoom or live stream.

The Lekwungen walking tour is hosted by Mark Albany, a member of the Songhees Nation. It’s an opportunity to understand downtown Victoria from a Lekwungen point of view, to learn about important Lekwungen sites and cultural practices, and also about the history of displacement of Indigenous peoples that made space for the creation of the City of Victoria. There are only 15 spaces available for each tour so if this is of interest, please sign up soon here. (The main page has three tours listed, one each day.)

What is an urban intensive?
An urban intensive is a deep dive into urban life. It asks us to come up against edges we may not usually be in contact with and to learn through and across difference. This means listening to different points of view, sitting down with a community organization we may know little about, or exploring a new part of town through someone else’s eyes. An urban intensive should generate new experiences; it should be surprising, evocative and ask us to question how we can live better in our city and region together, embracing difference and sharing stories. 

Here’s a bit more detail about some of the topics we invite you to explore:

In the Lekwungen Welcome and Stories for a Canada Under Review we’ll be welcomed and receive a Lekwungen teaching from Songhees Nation knowledge keeper Florence Dick and the Lekwungen Dancers. The second portion of the session is a panel discussion with some of the Indigenous members of the City Family – the City of Victoria’s reconciliation body – reflecting on what it means to be Indigenous and Canadian at a moment when Canada is “under review.”

In “Spirit Bear: Echoes of the Past – A True Story,” Cindy Blackstock and Spirit Bear are returning to Victoria to launch the children’s book they wrote after their last visit to Lekwungen territory, about residential schools and also the removal of the Sir John A Macdonald statue from in front of City Hall. This session is being held in person for a small group of children from the Victoria Native Friendship Centre and local elementary schools. Other classrooms and members of the public are invited to tune into the livestream and to share questions for Cindy and Spirit Bear in the chat. Please pass this along to any teachers or parents you know!

In “Hope Meets Action: Echoes Through the Black Continuum,” for the first time in its history, the Royal BC Museum has handed over curatorial authority to the community. This session will explore the challenges: What felt hard and new? The opportunities: What felt exciting and new? And what’s next: What advice do panelists have to share for institutions and communities that want to work together to centre the voices of those who have been historically and also presently silenced?

In Healthy and Just Food Systems we’ll explore the great changes and shifts the local food security movement has experienced over the past 18 months, balancing entrenched hunger and poverty with people’s deep desire to connect to each other and the land. Join us for a conversation with local food leaders working at the intersections of race and equity, to discuss some of the challenges and opportunities that they see in their own work and for society to work better as we emerge from the pandemic. Roundtable participants will speak to “What do you see that gives you the most hope in your work in relation to equity and food justice?”

In Belonging in Victoria: Muslim Voices for Change Muslim women from the community will explore themes of Islamophobia, belonging, racism and safety by sharing their local and global everyday experiences. Inspired by their calls to action from the National Summit on Islamophobia that took place in July 2021, the panel offers concrete recommendations for meaningful action on addressing ongoing faith-based hate, racism and colonialism on the traditional territories of the lək̓ʷəŋən peoples.

Please head here to see the whole program and to register for individual sessions. Everyone is encouraged to register for the opening plenary: Lekwungen Welcome and Stories for a Canada Under Review and the closing plenary, Our Shared Future: Reflections from Youth – Calls to Action. In person sessions are on a first-come first served basis and will follow all public health guidelines.

Please share this post and the program with everyone you think might be interested. The more participants, the richer the conversation, the brighter our city and our region’s future.

Grandmothers For Africa, and Fourth Wave Fatigue

Victoria Grandmothers for Africa gather at Mile Zero to celebrate their fundraising ride for 2021. Photo credit: Jane Player.

Victoria Grandmothers for Africa
Last Sunday, I was invited to ride with the Victoria Grandmothers for Africa on the final leg of their 15th annual cycle tour. We met at Central Park and biked along the Vancouver Street bike corridor to Mile 0 where they had started four weeks ago.

Over a four week period, 65 women from greater Victoria as well as Campbell River, Duncan, Galiano Island, Ladysmith and Merville cycled a total of 28,144 km and raised $104,180 (and climbing) for the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign of the Stephen Lewis Foundation. The women range in age from 58 to 86 with a median age of 70. Individually they completed distances over the four weeks ranging from 143 km to 1133 km.

At the first international Grandmothers Gathering (held in Toronto in 2006), 200 Canadian grandmothers made a commitment to 100 African grandmothers and to the world: “We will not rest until they can rest.” Fifteen years later, thousands of grandmothers are more committed than ever to three shared goals: raise awareness, build solidarity, and raise funds for the local, community-based organizations that support African grandmothers and the children in their care. There are over 15 million orphans in Africa – children who have lost one or both parents to HIV & AIDS – and most are being raised by grandmothers.

According to the organizers, “the Victoria Grandmothers for Africa Cycle Tour … embodies solidarity. Cycling requires strength, endurance, confidence, balance, optimism and perseverance. African Grandmothers need all of these and more in order to carry out their work. The tour has raised over a million dollars for the Steven Lewis Foundation over 15 years.”

During the pandemic, the Victoria Grandmothers weren’t deterred and found creative ways to continue the cycle tour and continue to raise money, which is a good thing because support for the grandmothers in Africa is needed now more than ever. In African countries, there is limited access to vaccines and the goal of having enough doses available for 10% of the population by the end of September is unlikely to be met. This leaves African grandmothers and their grandchildren at risk and even more in need of help, support and love sent from their counterparts in Victoria.

This is the fifth year I’ve joined the Victoria Grandmothers for Africa at the end of their cycle tour (last year virtually). Each year I do, I’m moved to tears by their deep and heartfelt commitment to grandmothers on the other side of the world. It is unwavering and it’s an inspiration for all of us. As big as the world might seem, we can make it smaller by creating direct links to others – in this case grandmother to grandmother. We know when we do this, that however far apart we are and however different we might seem from each other, we are inextricably connected.

You can learn more about the Victoria Grandmothers for Africa and their work here.

Fourth Wave Fatigue
It has been a difficult past few weeks in our city, province, and country. Notwithstanding the inspiring story above about the grandmother connections, we’re more divided than ever. In part it’s because everyone is beyond tired – fatigued – as we plow through yet another wave of COVID-19. This division is not necessary. And it’s not inevitable.

Doctors, nurses, those working on the front lines in motels and shelters in our community where vulnerable residents live and where COVID-19 has hit with a vengeance. Police and bylaw officers, paramedics, public works and parks staff. Small business owners who can’t find enough staff or who are experiencing break ins and damages. Those living outside because the existing sheltering and housing available doesn’t meet their needs. Those trying to care for them. All these people and many more are exhausted and stretched really thin, maybe to a breaking point.

Because of this, it’s the most difficult wave of the pandemic yet. But we’re not going to get through it divided. Remember back to the first wave when we were banging pots and pans to support health care workers. When we were bringing groceries to seniors who couldn’t go out. When we raised $6 million as a community in a very short time for the Rapid Relief Fund to help out those in need. When we found all sorts of ways to stay connected even while we stayed apart. When there was a general and overwhelming feeling of goodwill, generosity and a sense that we were all in this together.

For those of us who want that feeling back, we can create it. Indeed I think there’s an imperative for us to do so if we’re going to make it through the fourth wave intact as humans and as a community. Here are some things that I’m trying to do that might also be useful to you:

  • Get off and stay off social media
  • Instead of looking at your phone while in a line up, strike up a conversation with the person behind you
  • Give people with strong differences of opinion an opportunity to share their views without arguing back; give people the benefit of the doubt
  • Notice if you have privilege and find ways to address it. (Below is an amazing video to help figure out where you stand)
  • Find ways in daily life to do small, kind and unexpected things for others – both people you know and people you don’t
  • When in doubt, be generous

The World is Coming Apart at the Seams, and What We Can Do About It – A Dose of Inspiration

This might be a bit of a heavy read, and it’s a bit rambly about all the challenges we’re facing. But there is some practical inspiration and hope at the end of the post. Feel free to skip right to that section if you don’t want a re-hash of everything that is wrong with the world right now.

It feels as if the world came apart at the seams this summer. I read CBC news every day, both BC and national. I also scan the Globe and Mail and the New York Times. I read for information, but also for the metanarrative – what’s going on in the really big picture? How do all these headlines and stories fit together?

I wonder if others also see how bad things actually are and how all the problems we’re facing as a human society are interconnected, or at the very least related. The climate crisis. The housing crisis. The labour shortage. Worker burnout. Racism and colonialism. And more.

The pandemic and climate change are the most obvious. BC’s State of Emergency finally came to an end after 16 months and then, weeks later, BC was in another State of Emergency because of the wildfires. Is the new normal a State of Emergency? This is a real question.

In the interior, last summer’s tourist season was ravaged by COVID-19. This summer it’s COVID-19 and climate change. And nurses in the interior (and elsewhere) are quitting their jobs because of the stress and continuous state-of-emergency conditions. In Alberta, nurses are being forced to work overtime to deal with a rise in COVID-19 cases. Nurses and doctors are exhausted. Firefighters are exhausted. What if everyone just gets too tired? Who will take care of us then? Who will back fill?

Our population growth via immigration has stalled because of COVID-19, but even when we begin to welcome newcomers again, where will they live? Canada has one of the worst housing supply situations of any OECD country. So even if we let immigrants in by the thousands to fill the massive labour gap that we are facing in many industries and professions, there are no homes for them. There isn’t currently enough housing in the country, province or city for people who are already here.

In Victoria last summer, we also felt the negative effects of COVID-19. Those without homes and living in poverty experienced the giant gaps in the social safety net and ended up living in parks. And we also experienced a lack of tourist travel which had negative impacts on our local businesses.

This summer, tourists are flocking to Victoria rather than to other parts of the province that are too smokey. Our restaurant staff are so stressed as there aren’t enough workers to cover shifts; they’re often working shorthanded, or many are new and being trained all at once. Last year, restaurants had limited capacity because of COVID-19. This year some have limited capacity because of lack of staff; they have to close on certain days or cut hours. Everyone is hiring but no one can find enough workers. Why? Because the workers can’t find housing that is affordable, and, in many cases, they can’t find any housing at all, even if they make a really decent salary.

A friend told me over dinner recently that a few years ago, BC Assessment began to assesses the value of multi-unit residential rental properties differently and that rental buildings are now being valued at the income that they could be earning rather than the income that they are earning.

What this means is that even if a building owner is charging tenants rents that are below market, their buildings are now assessed / valued at how much they would be worth if they were charging market rents. For example, if a building owner has tenants that have lived in a building for a long time and are paying less than what they would if they moved in today, or if a building owner supports a single mom with kids by giving her a break on rent, their buildings are still valued at the maximum rents they are able to charge. They are penalized for providing below-market housing.

How is having a building that is “worth more” a penalty? Because as the assessed value of a building goes up, this means property taxes for that building go up and the below market rents can’t cover the property taxes. My friend tells me that some of his friends – long-time building owners – are putting their buildings on the market because they can’t afford to keep them more affordable.

These buildings are being snapped up by Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs), the mandate of which is to deliver as high as possible rate of return to their investors. Some of the investors in REITs are public sector pension corps. We want teachers and nurses and city workers to have good pensions; but we also want them to be able to afford housing now.

We also want our small local businesses to survive and thrive coming out of the pandemic. And yet, Amazon is opening a distribution centre near the airport to distribute Amazon goods up and down Vancouver Island. When our small businesses are still struggling.

Housing shortage. Labour shortage. Exhausted workers on the front lines. Housing crisis. Pandemic that looks like it’s here to stay. And climate change wreaking havoc. Something’s going to give. Something is giving. The world is breaking apart at the seams.

What do we do? Do we become bystanders? No. What is my role? As a human? As mayor? It’s exhausting sometimes when every decision that is good for the climate crisis or for the housing crisis feels like a giant fight. Think the Richardson Street bike corridor. Think the proposed rental building at 1475 Fort Street, sent back to staff for a third time rather than moving forward to create new housing.

Is this a blog post or a journal entry?

I thought this morning that maybe it’s a culmination of feelings built up over a few days of summer holiday reflection. It’s the same way I felt sometimes as a teenager – despair that we humans were destroying the planet and no one was really doing anything about it. I rode my bike and took the bus to school and became a vegetarian for a time. I did my best, but it didn’t really matter, because look at how the adults were treating the planet.

Now I’m an adult with an eighteen-year-old in my life who feels much the same was as I did. What are we doing as adults?

We can’t house people. We can’t properly care for people with mental health and substance use challenges; the latter are dying in larger numbers than people are dying of COVID-19. We can’t provide our essential workers with any relief as we lurch from State of Emergency to State of Emergency. We can’t adequately or quickly enough address systemic racism, the ongoing impacts of colonialism and the grief of residential school survivors and the families of those who never came home. We want to save the old growth forests, but we still fly to Mexico for vacation.

All of this while the province literally burns down around us.

Despair. Fear. Disconnection.

But thankfully, this isn’t all.

I’ve spent the last few months reading Margaret Wheatley’s, Finding Our Way: Leadership for an Uncertain Time. Almost every page has a folded corner. It’s from 2005. I bet her 2017 book, Who Do We Choose to Be? Facing Reality, Claiming Leadership, Restoring Sanity, has more recent insight for the even more precarious and uncertain time we are in now.

But still, in Finding Our Way, she shares wisdom that I turn to in despair. Wisdom that offers a path forward through connection, love, and hope-through-shared-action.

There are three elements in the book that give me not only hope, but the ability to see more clearly and to act more deliberately, both as a human and as mayor.

Wheatley says that we need to become better systems thinkers, to “see a system and its web of connections.” How is climate change related to COVID-19 related to the housing crisis related to the worker shortage related to worker burnout related to racism and colonialism related to disconnection?

She suggests when we’re trying to make change, to start small, do something that makes a difference and see who notices. The point is to find the connections in the system that we don’t know are there. Wheately says that when we do something like that – take a small action in the direction we want the world (or our street or community or neighbourhood) to move, people show up, “We didn’t know there was any connection between us, but their response makes the connection clear” (207). We then understand those connections better and can use them to take the next action.

To be better systems thinkers we also need to expect that there will be unintended consequences to the actions we take. We need to be able to identify these quickly, reflect on them, and then to take a different action next time. Systems thinking also requires seeking out different interpretations. “The more interpretations we gather,” Wheatley says, “the easier it is to gain a sense of the whole” (208).

Second, Wheatley says that we need to find less aggressive ways to work through problems. She points out that even how we talk about problem solving is aggressive. We “attack a problem,” “tackle the issue,” “get on top of it,” “wrestle it to the ground,” “take a stab at it” (182).

What she recommends instead is this:

“To step aside from aggressive responses to problem solving requires a little used skill: humility. Humility is a brave act – we have to admit that we don’t have the answer. We need more information, more insight. This kind of humility is rare in competitive, embattled organizations and communities, but it is what we need to find real solutions. One wise educator put it this way: ‘Humility is admitting I don’t know the whole story. Compassion is recognizing that you don’t know it either'” (184).

I think about social media here, how it is a platform for sheer aggression. What would Facebook, Twitter etc be like if – instead of posting with such certainty and then defending positions – people shared what they were grappling with, or struggling to understand. What if social media became a platform for humility and compassion.

The third kernel of wisdom I’ve gleaned and would like to share is probably the most important, and indeed the two approaches above are not possible without it: listening.

Wheatley writes:

“Our natural state is to be together. In this time when we keep moving away from each other, we haven’t lost the need and longing to be in relationship. Everybody has a story. If no one listens we tell it to ourselves and we go mad. In the English language the word for health comes from the same root as the word for whole. We can’t be healthy if we’re not in relationship. And whole is from the same root as holy. Listening moves us closer; it helps us become more whole, more healthy, more holy” (219).

What she recommends is that we “all play our part in the great healing that needs to happen everywhere.” She asks us to, “think about who you might approach – someone you don’t know, don’t like, or whose manner of living is a mystery to you. What would it take to begin a conversation with that person? Would you be able to ask him or her for an opinion or explanation, and then sit quietly to listen to the answer? Could you keep yourself from arguing or defending or saying anything for a while? Could you encourage the person to just keep telling you his or her version of things, that one side of the story” (221)?

Thinking like a system, approaching problems less aggressively, and listening. There are no quick fixes or easy solutions to the complex issues we are facing right now. Yet in a time of despair and disconnection, in a summer where it feels like the world is coming apart at the seams, these are three tools that I can use – maybe tools that we can all use – to help stitch the world back together again, creating it anew at the same time. To become more whole, more healthy, more holy.

Council Summer Wrap Up – Housing, Bike Lanes, Sports Fields, and More

New skate parks and bike park too at Topaz. More below!

Thursday was our last Council meeting before a summer recess, and it was a long one! It was probably one of the most exciting days in my almost-decade at the Council table in terms of big moves that lay the ground work for the future. Here’s a synopsis of the key decisions and, where applicable, information about how to get involved in the next steps. Each of these could be its own full blog post, so I’ll just touch on the highlights and provide a link to the Council report for those of you who’d like to read more.

Missing Middle Housing Moves to Broad Public Engagement

I previewed Missing Middle housing in a blog post a few weeks ago, “Housing Supply in Victoria Tipping in the Wrong Direction.” Missing Middle housing is ground-oriented housing (front doors that open out onto the street) that fills a gap between single family homes and condos. Staff recommended to Council that we move ahead with the next steps in rezoning the single family lands in the city – about 45% of the city’s land base – to make room for townhouses and houseplexes.

Staff’s recommendations balances the need for new housing in what are currently single family neighbourhoods, with the preservation of the character of these neighbourhoods that so many of us love. Staff provided draft design guidelines for townhouses and houseplexes that people building these homes will need to follow. Staff also worked hard to balance the preservation and enhancement of green space and the urban forest, with space for parking.

Council endorsed staff’s approach and voted to move forward with the next step, which is wide consultation with the public this fall, before Council gives consideration to zoning bylaws that would increase the density throughout a large portion of the city’s land base. These proposed changes will make it easier for small-scale developers and also for neighbours to come together to pool their properties in land trusts or co-ops.

To read the detailed staff report, the preliminary engagement summary, and to view the proposed design guidelines, head here to item F1. To follow along with next steps on Missing Middle housing and to participate in the consultation this fall, head here and register.

Village and Corridor Planning – Joyful Public Spaces and More Housing Choices

Since the fall of 2019, staff have been working with the communities of Fernwood, North Park, and Hillside Quadra to develop 20-year visions for their neighbourhoods, and to create more housing choices for more people. The engagement to date has produced some pretty inspiring results! Much of the early engagement was done online because of COVID-19. What we found is that while there is still a need for more face-to-face engagement – which will happen this fall – we reached a much wider and more representative group of people by providing online engagement opportunities.

The people who participated shared their visions and aspirations for their neighbourhoods. This includes some pretty awesome ideas for public spaces and placemaking, more inclusive and affordable housing choices, more sustainable mobility options, improvements to parks and green spaces, and more. For those of you who live in Fernwood, North Park or Hillside Quadra, haven’t yet been involved and want to learn more, please take the time to head here, to item E1 and see the ideas that your neighbours have put forward for the future of your neighbourhoods. To those who contributed time, energy and ideas, thank you!

One of the big changes proposed for all three neighbourhoods – and pictured in the map above – is to rezone portions of neighbourhoods along and off corridors, and near village centres to create more diverse housing choices and to incentivize rental and affordable housing through bonus density. For example, if someone builds rental or affordable housing, they will be allowed more density than if they were to build condos. To learn more, please read the staff report which is the first item under E1 here.

If you haven’t had a chance to participate yet, not to worry. With Council’s vote on Thursday to move forward on the next steps, staff will be taking all of the preliminary input and turning it into draft neighbourhood plans for each neighbourhood. These draft plans will form the basis of the next phase of engagement, to take place this fall, where the plans and the ideas generated to date can be assessed, revised and added to. It’s a really exciting opportunity to help shape the future of our city and your neighbourhood. If you’d like to learn more and participate this fall, head here and register.

New Turf Fields and New Bike and Skate Parks at Topaz

In 2018, Council approved the Topaz Park Improvement Plan. Since then, staff have been working with the community to prepare and design the first two big projects – skate and bike parks that will accommodate all skill levels – from beginner to advanced, and two new artificial turf fields to replace the existing ones which are at end of life. As part of both of these projects, accessibility improvements will be made including the addition of accessible parking, accessible access to the sports field, accessible spectator seating, an accessible washroom including an adult change table, and accessible pathways in and around the bike and skate parks.

With Council’s decision on Thursday, staff and the consulting teams can begin the detailed design and then construction. The budgets for these projects ($4.3 million for the turf fields and $3.8 million for the bike and skate parks) have already been approved as part of the 2021 budget. Construction will begin later this year. The bike and skate parks will be open by June 2022 and the new fields by early fall 2022.

It’s exciting to be able to make these investments in sports and recreation. Both projects are much anticipated by a wide range of community members. With skateboarding just having debuted at the Olympics, we expect the new skate park will be well-used by young Victorians who have big aspirations. And, both the bike and skate parks as well as the turf fields contribute to the physical and mental health and well being of our community.

Head here to item F3 to read the reports and see the plans and the engagement summary.

Final Corridors of 32km Bike Network – Approved Unanimously

This is the current status of the build out of the 32km All Ages and Abilities bike network. For more detailed maps and corridor treatments head here.

Since 2016, the City has been building an All Ages and Abilities bike network to make it safe and easy for people who are hesitant to cycle because they don’t feel safe doing so alongside high volumes of fast-moving cars. Recent research undertaken for Victoria found that 85% of people surveyed would consider biking if they had safe routes to do so.

On Thursday, after two rounds of public engagement on James Bay routes, Council approved the construction of safe cycling routes along Government Street, Superior Street and Montreal Street, with a short connector as well from Government along Michigan Street into the AAA facility through Beacon Hill Park. The design of each corridor was given thoughtful consideration by members of the public and staff, and each route was designed taking a ‘complete streets’ approach.

A complete streets approach means improvements for pedestrians, retention of as much on street parking as possible, accommodation of transit buses, etc. It also means that safety considerations and the kind of bike facility that we build depends on the condition of the streets. For example, at the beginning of the Government Street corridor at Humboldt, there are high car traffic volumes as it’s a busy downtown street, so there will be protected bike lanes on either side of the road. By the time Government Street connects with the waterfront pathway at Dallas Road, the proposed treatment is a shared neighbourhood bikeway because traffic volumes on that stretch of Government are less than 1000 cars per day.

Council also approved expedited engagement for protected bikelanes on Gorge Road between Government Street and the Saanich border at Harriet Street. Gorge Road has had a great deal of discussion as a bike route over the years both in the initial network planning in 2016 and through the development of the Burnside Gorge Neighbourhood Plan in 2017. The Gorge Road bike lanes will help to better allocate existing road space, create a more human-scale feeling, include improvements for pedestrians, and will help to knit the Burnside Gorge neighbourhood – which is bisected by many busy roads – together.

The Gorge Road bike corridor is being coordinated with the District of Saanich, which is also building protected bike lanes from Admirals Road to the Victoria border. And, the Gorge Road route is being built in 2022 in anticipation of sewer repairs planned for 2023 which will mean the closure of the Galloping Goose trail for a period of the year. We are building the Gorge Road AAA facility in 2022 so that riders of all ages and abilities will have a safe detour route during the period of the Goose closure.

The final leg of the priority AAA network – Pandora from Cook to Begbie – will be designed in 2022 and built in the first quarter of 2023.

All the AAA projects to date have come in on time and on budget. And best of all, we’re seeing more people than ever before using the network. We learned at the Council meeting Thursday that on some days, the two-way bike lanes on Wharf Street along the harbour are as busy as the Galloping Goose Trail!

Head here to item F1 to read the staff report, see the proposed corridor designs and the engagement summary.

Northern Junk Buildings – Heritage Preservation and Building for the Future

Pictured here are renderings of the ‘Northern Junk’ buildings, two warehouses dating back to the 1860s. The proposed project that Council approved on Thursday evening was 11 years in the making. This was a very controversial project. Victoria has a world-class heritage preservation program and because of it, a large portion of our downtown is intact and well-preserved for the future.

Many of the people who were involved in the creation and stewardship of the City’s award-winning heritage program, were strongly opposed to this proposal, noting that it doesn’t respect the heritage guidelines for Old Town. A key point that they made is that the five-story addition on top of the old warehouses was not subservient to the heritage buildings.

I agree with this assessment. But my vote in favour of the project had wider considerations than only heritage preservation. I do think – from a heritage point of view – that this development has many merits. Many of the character defining features of the buildings will be restored and preserved, including a few of the internal elements. They will be brought back to life and able to be viewed and enjoyed from the street, Reeson Park and the water.

In addition, the redevelopment of this site which has sat vacant for 43 years – almost my whole life – will begin to knit that portion of the harbour front back together and breathe new life into it. The City has recently made improvements to Reeson Park, including installation of a portion of the waterfront walkway. The Northern Junk redevelopment will continue the harbour pathway from Reeson Park and along the waterfront of the old buildings.

On the north side of the buildings is a derelict piece of City-owned land currently serving as a small parking lot. With the certainty of the development going ahead, and with direction from Council, staff could begin work on converting that parking lot into another small waterfront park and continuing the harbour pathway across the City’s property there, linking the public realm of the south and north sides of the Johnson Street Bridge together.

In addition, the proposed development will add 47 rental units to the city. Some of the people who spoke against the development noted that these units won’t be affordable. That’s true. But with a rental vacancy rate hovering around 1% and with a massive labour shortage – in part due to lack of housing, even for people who earn really good wages – I’m very hard pressed to vote against housing.

You can head here to watch Council’s debate and deliberation on Thursday evening (debate starts at 1:32:04) which resulted in a 5-4 vote in favour the project.

“The Beginning of the End of Homelessness in the CRD”

During the pandemic, homelessness was a key issue that we had to work through as a community. On March 17 2020, there were approximately 25-35 people sheltering outside. By the end of April 2020, that number grew to over 400 people. Working hard together, the City, BC Housing, Island Health, the Province, the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness, the Aboriginal Coalition to End Homelessness and so many amazing housing providers, outreach workers, peer support workers and others, helped over 600 people move inside from parks.

To learn from this process about what went well, what didn’t, and what should come next, the City applied for federal funding through the Reaching Home program to undertake an assessment. The report Council received and approved on Thursday is game-changing for addressing homelessness in the City and the region, that is, if everyone involved – from the City to the Province to the homeless serving system as a whole – implements the 28 recommendations.

The power of the report and the recommendations is that they foreground the stories and experiences of people who have experienced homelessness, most of whom moved from the parks indoors during the study period. Their experiences and stories reveal all the gaps in the system that need to be fixed, and point to a need for stronger coordination. They also reveal a keen willingness from, and need for, people experiencing homelessness to have a say in and control over their own journey from homelessness to home.

The goal that we have collectively set now – coming out of the successes and challenges of the pandemic – is to achieve what’s called “functional zero homelessness.” Functional zero is a concrete and measurable approach to ending homelessness; it means that there are enough, or even more homeless-serving services and resources than needed to meet the needs of individuals who are experiencing homelessness.

The Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness has already developed a work plan to implement the recommendations. We want to keep up the momentum gained during the pandemic. And we want to work to ensure that everyone in the region has a safe, secure, affordable place to call home, with the help, support and the community they need.

For those interested, I strongly recommend reading the full report. Head here, to item D2.

Clover Point 2.0, Accessibility, Confronting Reality, and The Future We Need

Dave Obee’s Times Colonist editorial on Friday, “Clover Point redesign ‘fixes’ what wasn’t broken,” really got under my skin. So I thought I’d go down to Clover Point on Saturday afternoon, watch the world go by for a little while, and start this blog post.

What I saw were people of all ages and abilities using the space freed up by closing half the loop to cars. There were seniors strolling. Really little kids on bikes. A couple – one in a chair, one on foot – rolling and walking down to the waters’ edge together. And best of all, behind the table I was sitting at, a large family was having a picnic at one of the many accessible picnic tables; when I turned around and got up to leave, one of the kids was rolling freely in her motorized wheelchair in the space previously reserved for cars, with her sister chasing after her. Where else in the city does she have such a big space to roll so freely?

There are two problems with the Clover Point redesign. One is the COVID-19 supply chain issues that are holding up delivery of some of the new furniture meant to spruce up the old road. The second is that Council compromised on staff’s original bold vision for the space, which proposed play features and place-making elements and closing the entire loop to cars. Instead, we tried to make everyone happy by reserving some spaces for people to park and the rest for people to walk, roll, and sit.

The result – at least at this interim point – does feel very much like a used-to-be parking lot with picnic tables and benches where people used to park their cars.

But what really troubles me are two bigger issues. First, Obee says that Council has “no regard for those who do not meet their able bodied ideal” and that  “the old and the infirm don’t fit with the city as the politicians want it to be.” Missing from his assessment is that fact that the City of Victoria recently adopted both an Accessibility Framework and a Senior’s Action Plan. These key policy documents were created with guidance from the Accessibility Working Group and the Senior’s Task Force, respectively – people with lived experience.

Council developed these policies precisely because cities in the 20th century were built for able bodied people. Think about the hydro poles in the middle of sidewalks, the lack of curb cuts in appropriate places, missing sidewalks on some neighbourhood streets, not enough accessible parking spots or even policies to ensure these, few benches along greenways or key pedestrian routes for seniors to stop and rest. The Accessibility Framework and the Senior’s strategy combined are meant to make the city more accessible, and inclusive of everyone.

That’s one of the reasons why at Clover Point all the new picnic tables are accessible – people who use wheelchairs can roll right up. And it’s why we’ve reserved so many parking spots for people with accessibility challenges, at the same time as making one whole side of the point accessible and safer for a wider range of people. Obee’s piece puts Council’s Clover Point decision in a vacuum and doesn’t recognize that Victoria is one of the few mid-sized cities in the country with both an Accessibility Framework and a Senior’s strategy and that we’re working hard to address these important issues.

But what troubles me most is Obee’s assertion that, “The decision made there does reflect a troubling tendency among councillors to ignore reality when drawing their castles in the air.”

Ignoring reality.

The province is burning all around us. In one week alone during the June heat dome, 815 people in this province died suddenly. This is just under half the number of people in B.C. who have died of COVID-19 so far during the 17 months of the pandemic. In one week.

Ignoring reality.

The reality is, that in addition to overhauling cities to make them more inclusive of seniors, young kids, and people with accessibility challenges, we need to overhaul cities to address climate change. That is the reality that Council has been tackling head on since 2014, controversial decision after controversial decision – from the now-very-popular bike network to the now widely-heralded plastic bag ban, and more.

Climate change means that we need to create less carbon intensive ways to live in cities. Victoria’s Climate Leadership Plan shows that we need to retrofit our homes and offices (buildings = 50% of Victoria’s emissions), rethink how we deal with our waste (10% of Victoria’s emissions), and how we move around cities (transportation = 40% of our community’s emissions).

Obee laments that Clover Point is no longer “a perfect spot to park and admire the sunset or the weather.” According to recent research in the United States, most building codes prioritize cars. For every car in a city, there are approximately eight parking spots. Parking requirements mean that our doctor’s offices, our grocery stores, our homes, our banks, etc. all must have a certain number of parking spots. Eight parking spaces on average for each car in a city. That is a lot of asphalt, creating heat-island effects on hot days. It’s a lot of storm water runoff. It’s also a lot of wasted urban space. Which is odd, because the research also shows that, on average, cars are parked in one place for 95% of the day.

Cars aren’t going anywhere in the near future. And people with accessibility challenges and others will still need to own their own cars. But if we want our children and their grandchildren to survive and to thrive, the rest of us are going to have to learn to share. In the future, if we do it well, Modo and Evo and other car-sharing cars will line our neighbourhood streets. Few people will own their own cars, yet everyone will have whatever kind of vehicle they need, whenever then need it.

This will mean that much of the space in our cities, like driveways and parking lots, currently reserved for cars can turn into green spaces, or housing, or gardens, or whatever else our children and their grandchildren need to thrive while tackling the changing climate.

Obee is right, Clover Point was never a parking lot in the truest sense. But it was yet another place in the city reserved exclusively for cars. The changes that Council made at Clover Point are fixing what’s broken. The changes signal that we can’t live as we have for the last few decades if we’re going to have a future as a species.

Perhaps like Obee, I’m putting too narrow a focus on Clover Point. But the point is that the asphalt space there – reserved for cars for decades – and other spaces like it in the city, have to be put to work differently in order to help us all mitigate and adapt to a changing climate. We cannot ignore reality. We must look what’s broken – excessive carbon emissions from buildings, waste and transportation – squarely in the eye. And we must and throw all the energy we can muster into fixing it.

South Island First Nation Chiefs: “Please don’t lose sight of the young ones that we are honouring”

Along with other mayors, MLAs and MPs across the region, on Friday moring I was invited to stand with the nine chiefs of the South Island First Nations as they released and signed a letter calling for an end to the vandalism that is further dividing our communities and preventing healing from taking place.

The chiefs unequivocally denounced the tearing down of the Captain Cook statue and the vandalism to churches. They said that this was not done in their names or in the names of their nations. They told us that since this vandalism had happened, their young people and their elders had been subject to greater racism and their own properties had been threatened.

They asked those of us in attendance to work with them to create understanding and loving, caring communities. They said that we will get further along the path of reconciliation and towards healing together, arm in arm rather than by tearing down each other’s cultural symbols. “Na’tsa’maht”, some of the chiefs said. This means, “We are one,” in lək̓ʷəŋiʔnəŋ (Lekwungen). With generosity, love, and through ceremony, they called us in, asked us to witness and to share what we learned.

All the words and stories shared were powerful and I listened with an open heart – a heart breaking open with both grief and opportunity. But the most powerful moment of Friday’s event for me went beyond just the words.

At the opening of the ceremony, us non-Indigneous leaders were invited by the chiefs to walk in together with them, shoulder to shoulder, in a procession behind the lək̓ʷəŋiʔnəŋ Traditional Dancers, singing, drumming and dancing the Paddle Welcome Song. Despite everything that has happened and that is happening in our region, province and country – so much divide, so much racism, so much anger and hurt – they invited us to walk with them. In that moment, we were one. I will carry with me that feeling of profound oneness from Friday’s event as we continue to walk the difficult but healing path ahead.

Here is the letter from the Chiefs. Please share it with everyone you know.

“Dear South Island Community Members and beyond,

“We are writing you in a united voice of Nations to share our perspective on the recent events in the South Island and beyond, and to spread hope that we can work together for change, and a safer community.

“These events have brought violence and vandalism to our region and communities, the damaging of property including statues and totem poles is unacceptable. We are all residents of this region, and we need to respect each other.

“We are leaders of the South Island Indigenous communities, and these are acts are not ours, we do not support them, and we do not believe in dividing communities.

“These acts are not medicine, they fuel hate and inhibit the healing that is so deeply needed right now. The disrespectful and damaging acts we have seen are not helping, they are perpetuating hurt, hate, and divide.

“These actions go against our teachings and are not reflective on how we have been taught to carry ourselves. As a collective we feel the need to step in before things continue on a destructive path.

“We are writing this letter because we need to work together towards the goals that strengthen our community and bonds with each other.

“We ask all residents of Southern Vancouver Island and beyond to join us on the road to healing. We need to walk together, support each other, and demonstrate humanity. We honour those that have stood with us, those who are our allies, and those who have listened and supported us.

“All vandalism must stop immediately. Let us lock arms, walk together, and look out for one another. Please do not lose sight of the young ones that we are honouring, and please listen to our Elders and survivors.

In Friendship,
Songhees Nation
Esquimalt Nation
Beecher Bay First Nation
T’Sou-ke Nation
Malahat First Nation
Tsawout First Nation
Tsartlip First Nation
Pauquachin First Nation
Tseycum First Nation”

Housing Supply in Victoria is Tipping in the Wrong Direction, and How Giving Away Council’s Power Can Help

These 22 town homes by Aryze, in Fairfield are currently under construction. They took close to three years to get through the approvals process and a total of five and half years from when the land was purchased to when the families will move in.

As she sanitized the knob of my office door, one of the City’s newest employees, who keeps our offices COVID clean said to me when we met recently, “Nice to meet you; thanks for building the city for the future.”

I was so struck by this because this is exactly what we’ve been doing for the last six and a half years. From the bike network, to the Climate Leadership Plan, to Zero Waste Victoria, to the Accessibility Framework, to Victoria 3.0, to the Witness Reconciliation Program and the Reconciliation Dialogues, and more. We’ve moved Victoria from 20th-century approaches to city building and oriented our city towards the 22nd century.

The one exception is housing and land use. There we’re still very much stuck in the 20th century. And we are very close to a tipping point, in the wrong direction. Unless the City and the Province make some bold moves soon, we will be responsible for creating a low-affordability future where the next generations of families and working people will be priced out of the city. We’ll lose artists, creatives, daycare workers, young professionals. We’ll lose our arts and culture scene. All of Victoria’s cherished strengths will be steadily eroded and undermined.

Whether you’re for or against townhouses being allowed in every neighbourhood, or for or against taller buildings downtown and in Harris Green, I imagine no one would willingly work create to this kind of future. So what can we do?

Single Family Dwellings: So few can afford them, so why are they so easy to build?
Currently, the City’s land use policies and procedures make it easier to build a single family home than any other type of dwelling, even though this is the most expensive form of housing that few people can afford.

Want to knock down a single family home and build a bigger one? No problem. This only needs staff – not Council – approval. And it doesn’t take too long to get the permits needed. Want to build a triplex, or houseplex or townhouses – what’s known as “missing middle housing” – on lots that are currently zoned for single family homes?

  1. Start by holding a Community Association Land Use Committee (CALUC) meeting.
  2. Incorporate the feedback you receive at the CALUC meeting into your plans.
  3. Submit your rezoning application and development permit application to the City.
  4. Staff will then review your application, including an interdepartmental review that usually involves both the Parks and Engineering departments.
  5. Then your application will be sent to a Committee of the Whole meeting for review by Council. If you’re lucky, Council accepts the staff recommendation to move the project forward. But Council always has the prerogative to refer the application back to staff to work with the applicant to make changes. If this happens, go back to step 3; if there are substantive changes, go back to step 1 for another CALUC meeting.
  6. If you get past Committee of the Whole, two weeks later the application is voted on at Council. It could get turned back or turned down here.
  7. If it passes at Council, months are usually needed to prepare all the legal agreements required before proceeding to a public hearing.
  8. Once all the legal agreements are prepared, one more trip to Council before heading to public hearing; that’s at a Council meeting where first and second reading of the bylaws are considered. Council could turn down or turn back the proposal at this point too.
  9. After first and second reading of the bylaws, a public hearing date is scheduled and advertised to the public in the newspaper, as is required by provincial legislation.
  10. At the public hearing, the public gets to share their thoughts and concerns about the project. And then, that night, Council makes a decision.

    This whole process can take often take a year, or more.

Unless there are efforts by the developer to rally support for the proposed new housing – which is often seen as suspect by Council and some members of the public – public hearings are usually mostly attended by people who live in single family dwellings nearby the proposed duplex, houseplex or townhouse who are opposed to the new housing. As the Canada-BC Expert Panel on the Future of Housing Supply and Affordability put it in their recently released report, “Rezoning can be difficult and amplifies the voices of a few rather than the needs of the community at large.”

Figure 10, Opening Doors: Unlocking housing supply for affordability, Expert Panel Report. Mean MLS price by dwelling type – annualized growth rate 2000-2020.

So we’re making it easiest to build the most expensive form of housing, and we’re pricing people out of our city.

Later this month, City staff will be bringing a report on missing middle housing to Council. They will recommend changes that make it much easier to build the kind of housing that people in Victoria need and can afford. I hope staff recommend taking away Council’s ability to vet these proposals, and delegating the entire process to staff. In short, I hope we start to treat duplexes, houseplexes and town houses just as we currently treat single family homes. I can’t think of a logical reason why we wouldn’t at least try this given that so few working people can afford a million dollar home.

Beyond Single Family Homes: What about housing supply in Victoria more generally?
While the Canada-BC Expert Panel was hard at work, so too were City staff. The recently released, “Victoria’s Housing Future,” report looks at current and future housing needs in our city. When staff presented their report to Council and the public a few weeks ago, one of the City’s housing staff and report authors reminded us that, “We’re planning for people, not just to accommodate growth.”

There is a narrative out there in the public that goes something like: “There’s so much construction and building already changing our city. Why should we welcome more people to Victoria and change our city so much that we don’t recognize it, just to accommodate people who don’t live here yet?”

Starkly, what “Victoria’s Housing Future” reveals is that as of 2016 (the most recent census data and five years out of date), we are between 4500 and 6300 homes short for the people who are already living here. Where are all these people now?

This estimated housing gap of between 4500 and 6300 homes for existing residents is based on these factors. It’s likely a conservative estimate of how much catching up is needed. According to “Victoria’s Housing Future”, “Even if 7000 units were added to the market today, we’d likely still feel some of the same pressures we’re already facing.”

To help out our residents who are already living here in overcrowded, or unaffordable housing, and to help employers who can’t keep workers because they can’t afford to live here, Council should not be allowed to turn down any proposal for new homes that fits within the City’s Official Community Plan (OCP), until we close the 7000 unit gap.

Here’s what the OCP says about Land Management and Development:

“Victoria’s Housing Future” also reveals that even if the OCP is built out to meet the housing need anticipated by 2041, we will still be 20-30% under the number of homes projected to be needed. What this means is that we need to revise the OCP to create more “urban residential” land and less “traditional residential.”

OCP Map 2 from Chapter 6 Land Management and Development.

Traditional residential means:

  • Ground-oriented buildings up to two storeys
  • Ground-oriented buildings up to two and one-half storeys may be considered for certain infill housing types
  • Multi-unit buildings up to three storeys, including attached residential and apartments on arterial and secondary arterial roads
  • Houses with front and rear yards oriented to face the street
  • Variable landscaping and street tree planting
  • Small apartments and local retail stores along arterial and secondary arterial roads and at intersections
  • On-street parking and individual driveways

Urban residential means:

  • Attached and detached buildings up to three storeys
  • Low-rise and mid-rise multi-unit buildings up to approximately six storeys
  • Primary doorways facing the street
  • Front yard landscaping, boulevard and street tree planting
  • On-street parking and collective driveway access to rear yard or underground parking

Shifting more of the city’s limited land base from traditional residential to urban residential doesn’t mean drastically changing the character of our neighbourhoods. It means doing more with our limited land base. And, it means doing this in order to meet not only our housing targets but also our climate goals. If we don’t make more room for housing in the city, what will happen is what is happening – more forests will be destroyed to build housing in the suburbs.

What can we do to make sure there is enough room in Victoria for artists, innovators, families, seniors, the next seven generations?
The Canada-BC Expert Panel on the Future of Housing Supply makes some good recommendations that the Province should implement immediately. Low hanging fruit includes mandating no public hearings for any buildings that fit within a City’s OCP. The panel also recommends that cities update zoning to match their OCPs and delegate development permits to staff. This means that there will be no political decisions and no public input for new housing on a development by development basis, as long as proposed new homes fit with what the OCP envisions.

While it may feel to some that these changes will cut the public out of the process, what they’re meant to do is a open up a more robust and vision-oriented public dialogue that happens as OCPs and design guidelines are developed and as City-initiated rezonings come forward. This kind of big-picture dialogue isn’t happening through the current public hearing process which pits existing neighbours against future neighbours against Council against developers.

Instead, we could ask questions that require us all to think bigger than whether we are for or against a certain proposal, questions like:

  • How might we enhance Victoria’s character and the neighbourhoods we all love at the same time as making room for current and future residents to have the housing they need at every phase and stage of their lives?
  • How might we protect existing older rental buildings and the affordability that comes with them, at the same time as making the most of the limited land base we have in the city?
  • How might we ensure that as our city grows and has more tall buildings as envisioned in the OCP, we also create more public spaces, green spaces, and enhance biodiversity?

It’s in answering these questions together that we’re going to build a more inclusive, resilient city, a city for everyone, and for the future.

Cautious Optimism for Victoria’s Economic Recovery: Building Back Victoria, by the Numbers

This past week, we turned a corner on COVID-19 as a province. As Dr. Henry laid out our new freedoms in Step 2 of the re-opening plan, she said we may need to go slow moving forward. But she also said – that with more than three-quarters of B.C.’s adult population vaccinated with one dose – we likely won’t have to go backwards.

I felt a huge collective sigh of relief from our small business owners and tourism operators. While everyone has public health and the greater good top of mind, the “circuit breaker”, while necessary, felt like a big step backwards. It was emotionally hard to get through. The past 16 months as a whole have tested the resilience of Victoria’s small businesses. The pandemic has also been hard on our downtown – and downtowns across the country – from the turn towards online shopping, to the challenges of people living outside with untreated mental health and substance use issues.

So how is Victoria’s economy and downtown after more than a year of a global health pandemic? Undoubtedly challenges persist, but based on the numbers, better than you may think.

Working with the Downtown Victoria Business Association (DVBA) and other business leaders, we’ve taken a snapshot of February, March and April 2019, 2020 and 2021 so we understand where we were pre-pandemic and can measure our recovery. While there’s still more work to do implementing Victoria 3.0 – our plan for recovery, reinvention and resilience for the long term – there are encouraging signs of downtown’s resurgence beginning to emerge right now.

Let’s start with people driving. In February, March and April 2019, just over a million people parked at on-street meters and in city parkades. In the same months of 2020, that number went down to around 630,000. This year – even with substantial public health restrictions still in place – we were back to around 731,000. Last year’s summer data tells an even better story, and we’ll look forward to seeing the positive trend continue this summer.

The bike data into downtown from the counter at Harbour Road shows a strong year-over-year increase. February to April 2019 saw around 138,000 bikes. This was up to just over 147,000 in 2020. And in the same period in 2021, just over 154,000 bikes were counted. During the pandemic, people have been taking advantage of the safe cycling infrastructure the City has built and making healthy transportation choices to come downtown.

The DVBA’s pedestrian counters tell the most interesting story of all. Not surprisingly with so many people working from home, there are far fewer people walking in the downtown. But still, there is optimism to be gleaned from the data. In April 2021, even with the circuit breaker in place, we saw over 575,000 people counted by the DVBA pedestrian counters throughout the downtown, as compared to close to 445,000 in April 2020.

This is a far cry from the 1.7 million people counted in April 2019. We know where our north star is and that there’s still a lot of work to do to welcome people back to the office, to welcome tourists back to the city and – in addition to the decrease in commercial taxes this year and the Build Back Victoria program – to find ways to continue to support our small businesses through recovery.

Finally, a good measure of the economic health of a city is investor and builder confidence. This is where the numbers show a bright future for Victoria. Pre-pandemic, the building permit values for the months of February to April 2019 totaled just over $53 million. In 2020, amidst all the pandemic uncertainty, we saw a drop to around $47 million. This year from February to April, the value of building permits topped $130 million, more than double pre-pandemic values. Our city planners are run off their feet as we continue to see new applications for both residential and commercial buildings in downtown Victoria.  

After 16 months of pandemic, there’s a pent-up demand for real life. People want to get out, have a meal, gather with friends and family, not leave the pub at 10 p.m., all while staying safe and respecting the health guidelines.

We can now travel within the province, and the City has been working alongside Destination Greater Victoria getting ready to welcome visitors. We’ve done this by adding new public plazas and spaces to gather, new pedestrian-only areas, and cycling infrastructure, for the benefit of locals and visitors alike.

We’ve helped to lay the groundwork for a healthy city and healthy economy. And we’ll continue to work hard in the next months and years to support our small businesses and our community, and to keep the numbers going in the right direction.  

This piece was originally published in the Times Colonist here.

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)