Roundtable Series to Inform City’s Economic Action Plan: Victoria 3.0 – Pivoting to a Higher Value Economy

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Ocean Networks Canada launching B.C.’s megaquake sensor

Starting this evening and running for the next two months, the City of Victoria is hosting a series of roundtable discussions with people who do business in the community to inform our next Economic Action Plan, Victoria 3.0 – Pivoting to a Higher Value Economy.

I am happy to be facilitating all the round tables and warmly invite participation from a broad cross section of the community. Each roundtable contains two topics to allow for the cross-pollination of ideas. The first roundtable – tonight at City Hall from 5-7pm – is on high tech and advanced education, research and development.

We need input from people from a wide range of economic sectors and backgrounds. This input will help us develop a plan to position Victoria as an attractive place to invest and to start and grow a business over the next five to 20 years. The goal is for Victoria to become a small powerhouse that creates high-value jobs and builds a high-value economy that meets current, and anticipates future, needs.

I believe everyone in Victoria deserves a good job, a good home, and a sustainable community – and that the City has a role to play in making these things happen. That’s why this plan will use our status as a capital city and position Victoria as a globally-relevant and globally-fluent small powerhouse. This will help us to create the jobs of the future and an inclusive, sustainable, and high-value economy for the long term.

Tech, Advanced Education Research and Development
Monday, October 7, 2019 from 5 p.m. – 7 p.m., Victoria City Hall Antechamber
This roundtable is for movers and shakers working in tech and research and development in industry or in post-secondary institutions.

Indigenous and Newcomer Businesses
Tuesday, October 8, 2019 from 2:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m., Victoria City Hall Antechamber
This roundtable is for Indigenous-run businesses and organizations that support Indigenous entrepreneurs. It is also for newcomer-run businesses and organizations that support newcomer entrepreneurs.

Ocean Futures Cluster Development
Friday, October 25, 2019 from 1 p.m. – 3 p.m., Victoria City Hall Antechamber
This roundtable is for anyone working in the ocean and marine sector, very broadly defined. NOTE: This workshop is by invite only in order to have a focused conversation on cluster development. If you or someone you know would like an invite please email kmoore@victoria.ca

Neighbourhood Business and Social Enterprise
Tuesday, November 5, 2019 from 12:30 p.m. – 2 p.m., Victoria City Hall Antechamber
This roundtable is for people who run businesses in the City’s neighbourhoods and includes people who work from home in these neighbourhoods. It is also for everyone working in the social enterprise sector.

Small Business and Finance
Wednesday, November 20, 2019 from 6 p.m. – 8 p.m., Victoria City Hall Antechamber
This roundtable is for anyone who runs a small business in Victoria, with a focus on downtown businesses. It is also for everyone working in the financial sector.

Input from the roundtable discussions will inform the draft plan that will be presented to City Council and the public for consideration in January 2020.

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

Key questions for each roundtable discussion are available in advance on the City’s website. Click the session you’re interested in to see the questions for that session. The roundtables are free to attend and open to all. For more information and to register, head here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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City to Ask Supreme Court of Canada to Rule on Municipal Power to Regulate Business Use of Plastic Bags

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Earlier this week at the Union of BC Municipalities conference, the City held a press conference attended by local elected officials from across the province. We announced our intention to ask the Supreme Court of Canada to hear the City’s appeal with respect to plastic bags and the authority of local governments to regulate businesses in line with the values of the community.

In July, the BC Court of Appeal overturned a lower court ruling and set aside the City’s Checkout Bag Regulation Bylaw, which regulated businesses providing checkout bags to customers and included restrictions on the use of plastic checkout bags. The Court of Appeal ruled that the purpose of the bylaw was the protection of the natural environment and that it required approval from the Province of BC prior to being enacted.

After careful review, the City has decided to ask the Supreme Court of Canada to review the Court of Appeal decision to clarify a municipal government’s power to regulate unsustainable business practices that negatively impact the community.

The BC Court of Appeal decision goes far beyond the issue of plastic bags. It strikes at the heart of the power of local governments to regulate business practices in line with 21st century community values. If the decision is allowed to stand it can potentially be interpreted to severely limit the power of local governments. This is why the City of Victoria is seeking leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.

The Court of Appeal decision – that the bylaw required provincial approval – runs contrary to a principle previously mentioned by the Supreme Court of Canada that law-making and implementation are often best achieved at a level of government that is closest to the citizens affected and therefore most responsive to their needs and to local distinctiveness.

At the press conference, two of my colleagues – who are also leading by creating business bylaws that reflect the values of their communities – shared their thoughts

“Large and small local governments across British Columbia are enacting bylaws that regulate the use of single-use plastics, in response to the strong wishes of their citizens and businesses. These local governments are not wavering in their commitment, but a review of the BC Court of Appeal decision is critical,” said District of Tofino Mayor Josie Osborne. “Most municipalities simply don’t have the resources to respond to legal challenges or take issues like these all the way through the court system, so I welcome the City of Victoria’s decision and deeply appreciate their leadership.”

“As Squamish works to develop a bylaw towards eliminating single use items, I wish to recognize the City of Victoria for taking continued leadership with the development of its original bylaw, and now as the City seeks leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. Local governments of all sizes across Canada are grappling with complex issues such as climate change, environmental degradation, housing affordability, economic disruption, policing, and the list goes on,” said Squamish Mayor Karen Elliott.

“We engage with our citizens, businesses and others to find local solutions that work in our particular circumstances, and that can potentially inspire other communities to act. As the government closest to the citizens, it is critical that our power to implement bylaws and regulations, in line with a community’s values and long-term goals, is protected to the fullest extent possible.”

The City believes that the Court of Appeal applied a very restrictive interpretation of municipal power to regulate business, which could potentially affect other municipal bylaws not only in Victoria but across B.C. and in other provinces that have similar municipal legislation. Therefore, this case raises issues of general importance and warrants consideration by the Supreme Court of Canada.

The City of Victoria’s Checkout Bag Regulation Bylaw came into effect on July 1, 2018 and regulated the types of checkout bags that could be offered by businesses to customers. The bylaw was developed with extensive input from local businesses, industry and the community during a two-year engagement period. The implementation of the City’s checkout bag bylaw in 2018 was enthusiastically embraced by both businesses and customers and was used as a model by a number of other B.C. municipalities.

The bylaw was challenged by the Canadian Plastic Bag Association, an industry lobbying group, that alleged the bylaw was not a valid business regulation but rather an environmental regulation that required provincial approval prior to adoption by the City.

The Association’s challenge was dismissed by the BC Supreme Court in June 2018 when the judge found that the bylaw was, in fact, a business regulation and that any environmental effect of the bylaw was merely incidental and secondary to its main purpose to regulate business checkout transactions. In July 2019, the BC Court of Appeal overturned the lower court’s finding when it concluded that the bylaw was an environmental regulation.

Victoria has made sustainable business practices the new norm.  Since the bylaw’s introduction, the community eliminated 17 million plastic bags from the waste stream which will result in both short-term and long-term cost savings for waste management.  Although the Checkout Bag Regulation Bylaw has been set aside and has not been in effect since the Court of Appeal decision on July 11, most businesses in Victoria continue to operate as if the bylaw was still in effect – a testament to the wide community support of the bylaw.

Under the Supreme Court of Canada rules, the court decides whether or not it will hear the appeal. The City’s deadline to apply is September 30. It normally takes between four and six months for the decision on whether or not the Supreme Court of Canada will hear the case.

 

Victoria joins U.N. Challenge with 5,000 Tree Pledge

Today in New York City, I participated in the launch of the United Nations Trees in Cities Challenge hosted by the U.N. Executive Secretary, Under-Secretary-General Olga Algayerova.

As part of this initiative, the City of Victoria will work with the community to plant 5,000 trees on public and private land by the end of 2020. Victoria is the first city in Canada to join the pledge.

We know there is a climate crisis and we’re committed to doing everything we can as a City to mitigate the impacts. Participating in this U.N. Trees in Cities Challenge allows Victoria to join in a global movement of cites that are embracing nature based solutions to climate change. City staff are currently designing ways in which we can harness the power of our community to meet this goal.

Algayerova wrote to me in the summer; somehow she had heard about Victoria’s Urban Forest Master Plan and our renewed commitment to the urban forest in the City’s 2019 budget. “I believe there is a lot we can learn from the progress your city has already achieved in this area,” she wrote, “and I would like to help you share this achievement with other cities and allow them to learn from it.”

The City’s Urban Forest Master Plan identifies 26 recommended actions for the improved management of trees on public and private lands over the next 50 years. A new investment of $1 million annually will expedite implementation of the Urban Forest Master Plan, to maintain the trees we have and to plant new trees. In 2019, a total of nearly $3 million will go to maintain and enhance the urban forest.

The wonderful and dedicated folks at the Community Trees Matter Network are exctied about the City’s commitment at the United Nations.

“We hope all Victorians are proud of our city’s leadership on the urban forest and we are delighted the City has accepted this challenge,” said Frances Litman, a spokesperson for Community Trees Matter Network. “Since three-quarters of our urban forest is on private land, we will certainly do all we can to spread the word and encourage homeowners to plant trees. Planting season is coming up soon – late fall is a great time to plant trees in Victoria!”

Trees are a critically important community asset providing a wide range of benefits, from positive mental health impacts, to environmental attributes such as regulating temperature, mitigating stormwater runoff, and providing wildlife habitat. The value of the urban forest will continue as the city adapts to climate change.

Planting more trees in urban areas holds a considerable potential to tackle effects of climate change. The United Nations has invited mayors around the world to join the Trees in Cities Challenge by making a pledge to plant trees in their city.

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Shaking hands with Under Secretary General Olga Algayerova at the announcement in New York today.

 

 

Election 2019 Candidates Listening Session: Focus on the Future

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recommendations for candidates:

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

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

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

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

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

Recommendations for candidates:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recommendations for candidates:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recommendations for candidates:

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


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

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

Recommendations for candidates:

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

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

Recommendations for candidates:

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This piece was originally published in the Times Colonist here.

Victoria is a City that Looks to the Future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information visit: victoria.ca/cycling

 

No Social License for Single-Use Plastics in Our Communities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Victoria Region Begins Electrification of Transit Fleet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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