Please Vote in the PR Referendum – The Future Is In Our Hands

We’re in a really exciting month in British Columbia’s history. We get to chose our future! How we vote in this referendum will determine how representative our government will be of the diversity of British Columbians.

Today I filled out my ballot. In this video I walk you through the process – and I show you how I voted.  Please join me in voting, whichever way you lean. And mail in your ballot before the end of November. Let’s use democracy to choose democracy! For a very helpful video that explains the three different proportional representation systems, watch the video below mine.

 

 

Thank you for choosing the future with me

Dear Victorians,

We did it! Love, connection and a shared vision for our future triumphed over fear and anger. Maybe they always do. But the way the rest of the world is going right now, we weren’t so sure. Our collective win on Saturday night is a testimony to the power of people standing together with hope and optimism.

It’s been an honour to serve as your mayor for the past four years. And now, with a strongly renewed mandate, I have the honour of serving you again. In my platform I’ve committed to bold and courageous leadership on affordability, well-being and prosperity and sustainability. As I move forward with my new council and as we take bold action for the future, we’re going to continue to need your support – the changes needed won’t be easy.

The next four years are critically important for making Victoria more affordable, keeping our economy strong, and tackling climate change. So when we take bold action, please stand up and support us: in letters to the editor, on social media, and most importantly, in good old-fashioned, face-to-face conversations – this is how we truly build understanding.

My commitment to you is to do what I say I will do, to listen and correct course as needed, and to keep our children’s and grandchildren’s future in mind with every decision we make.

With love and gratitude,

Lisa

Pandora Street Businesses Celebrate Bike Lanes and Endorse Lisa Helps

The owners of three popular businesses on the 500-block of Pandora in Downtown Victoria have endorsed Lisa Helps for re-election. They say that bike lanes are good for business.

They submitted this joint statement to our campaign:

“As established small business owners working downtown, we hear a lot of discussion about bike lanes, and, occasionally, about how they are bad for our city. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Bike lanes and their added bike parking have been nothing but positive for our businesses and we have seen firsthand how they’ve elevated the health of our community.

We feel Mayor Helps is the right choice for the future of our city. We’ve been in business for over a decade, and in the last four years we’ve been thriving in the climate conscious and business-forward Victoria that Mayor Helps is working to create. We believe in, trust, and support the direction Mayor Helps is taking Victoria.”

Shane Devereaux, Owner, Habit Coffee
Josh Miller Owner, Mo:Le Restaurant
Joe Cunliffe & Heather Benning Owners, Bliss Cafe

“I’m so thankful that these business leaders are choosing to speak up,” says Helps. “The benefits of active transportation that their businesses are experiencing are not unique to Victoria. The correlation between bike lanes, better walkability, and increased customer foot traffic to storefront businesses are tried and true in cities across Canada and around the world.”

Helps Campaign Announces Annual Urban Tree Planting Festival

Building on the City’s tree planting efforts over the past few years and responding to the urgent climate crisis, Mayor Lisa Helps announces the creation of an annual urban tree planting festival in the city.

“Even though it’s a core value in our community, climate change and climate action have not been getting much attention during this campaign,” said Mayor Helps. “The Annual Urban Tree Planting festival responds to calls from the community to plant more trees everywhere in the city. New trees are a great investment as the climate continues to change.”

Last Sunday, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a startling report that revealed we only have 12 years to take bold action and get the climate crisis under control. The IPCC report outlines reforestation as a key strategy in climate mitigation and carbon dioxide removal.

“Trees are Earth’s lungs. They are critical natural assets at this time of rapid climate change. The more trees, the better,” said Rainey Hopewell and Margot Johnston, founders of the Haultain Common. “An Annual Urban Tree Planting Festival will bring the community together, allow us to take joyful action to beautify our public spaces, and mitigate climate change at the same time. What a brilliant plan. Let’s do it!”

The City manages an urban forest of approximately 33,000 trees on 300 kilometers of boulevards and in 137 parks and open spaces. In 2017 the City planted 328 new trees, removed 150 trees and inspected 760 trees. New trees have a 95% survival rate.

Working under the skilled guidance of parks staff, the Annual Urban Tree Planting festival builds on the Tree Appreciation days the City already hosts. Spread out in neighbourhoods across the City, the Festival could see upwards of 1000 trees planted in one day.

Mayor’s Economic Development and Prosperity Task Force 2.0

Today, Mayor Helps announces Making Victoria 2041, a second Mayor’s Task Force on Economic Development and Prosperity to hit the City’s target of 10,000 new jobs in Victoria by 2041. Making Victoria 2041 will set Victoria on a path for sustainable, equitable and inclusive job growth out to mid-century.

In the last election campaign, empty storefronts downtown were a key issue. When Mayor Helps took office in 2014, the downtown retail vacancy rate was over 10%. She created the Mayor’s Task Force on Economic Development and Prosperity to tackle the problem. Comprised of business leaders, entrepreneurs, and students, under the leadership of Mayor Helps, the group created a five-year economic action plan, Making Victoria: Unleashing Potential.

“The most urgent recommendation of Making Victoria was to open a Business Hub at City Hall,” said task force member Jill Doucette. “In less than a month after Council adopted the plan, with no new tax dollars used, the Business Hub at City Hall opened and has been serving Victoria’s business community since December 2015.”

With the help of the Business Hub and the City’s Business Ambassador, the downtown retail vacancy rate is now below 4%. But there is more to do.

“Starting a business, or growing an existing one, requires tough decisions and risks. As a city, we need to keep identifying new ways to streamline our processes and support job creation,” says Helps. “Creating 10,000 jobs by 2041 requires collaboration and concrete action—that’s why we’re creating the Making Victoria 2041 task force.”

Making Victoria 2041 will once again draw together business leaders, entrepreneurs, students and the work of experts across the country to develop a sustainable, equitable and inclusive economic plan for the future.

References

Making Victoria Unleashing Potential 2015-2020 Economic Action Plan https://www.victoria.ca/EN/main/city/mayor-council-committees/task-forces/economic-development-and-prosperity-task-force.html

 

300 New Affordable Childcare Spaces Coming to Victoria

Today, the Helps Campaign is announcing the creation of at least 300 new affordable childcare spaces in neighbourhoods across Victoria. Working with non-profit childcare providers, School District 61, and Island Health, a funding application has been submitted to the Province to fund the creation of new childcare spaces in Victoria starting in 2019.

This announcement comes after 18 months of work with an informal Childcare Solutions Working Group, led by Mayor Helps. In mid-2017, non-profit childcare providers working out of city-owned facilities came to the Mayor asking for help to create more childcare spaces. In response, Mayor Helps gathered Island Health, the provincial government, School District 61, the Chamber of Commerce and the childcare providers around one table.

Together, they developed a plan to be ready for the anticipated announcement of childcare funding in the 2018 Provincial budget.  

“We’ve worked hard together to put an initial plan to address the concern we’ve heard over and over from both parents and employers that access to affordable, high-quality childcare is a key priority for keeping life liveable in Victoria,” said Mayor Helps. “This application to the Province for 300 new spaces is a good start. We also need to develop a Childcare Solutions Action Plan so we can anticipate future demand and develop a plan to meet it.”

Last year, the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce raised childcare as a key issue for its members. In Business Matters magazine, CEO Catherine Holt wrote, “The lack of affordable, government-regulated childcare spaces is having a direct impact on workers, families and our economy […] Childcare is a fundamental workforce requirement. But right now there is inadequate space and staff and it is too expensive for a working family.”

The plan for the 300 spaces is to work with School District 61 to provide modular learning units on school properties throughout the city. This will create ease for parents with a child in daycare and a child in school by creating one drop-off spot rather than two. It will also make an easier transition for young children from daycare to school.

Subject to Provincial funding, the plan is as follows:

  • Vic West Elementary School –  2019, Two units plus the gym divider (32 + 25 = 57). It could hold up to 75 new spaces depending on programming.
  • Fairfield Sir James Douglas – 2019/2020, One unit (16 – 20 young children + 25 school age) potentially 45 new spaces depending on programming and licensing.
  • Fernwood – George Jay – 2020, One unit (16 – 20 young children + 25 school age) potentially 45 new spaces depending on programming and licensing.
  • Oaklands – 2020, One unit (16 – 20 young children + 25 school age) potentially 45 new spaces depending on programming and licensing.
  • South Park – 2021, One unit (16 – 20  young children + 25 school age) potentially 45 new spaces depending on programming and licensing.
  • James Bay – 2021, One unit (16 – 20 young children + 25 school age) potentially 45 new spaces depending on programming and licensing.

No Room for Bullying or Harassment at VicPD or Anywhere

The last few days have been difficult for me personally.

As Co-Chair of the Victoria Police Board with Mayor Barb Desjardins, I was legally required under the Police Act to oversee an internal investigation into the misconduct of Ex-Chief of Police Frank Elsner. Mayors are not legal experts, so we sought legal advice and hired an investigator, who the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner endorsed.

Two days ago, Police Complaint Commissioner, Stan Lowe, released a report on our efforts and the subsequent external investigation. This report contains an important recommendation for the Province to amend the Police Act, which I strongly support, but the report also unfairly calls into question my character and the character of Mayor Desjardins.

At this point, I would simply like to say three things:

  1. We followed the advice given by our legal counsel at each step along the way.
  2. We have serious concerns over the OPCC report as it relates to the process we followed and the board will be addressing these with the Solicitor General.
  3. Most importantly, the Victoria Police Board and Chief are committed to being proactive to ensure bullying and harassment are not tolerated and that there is always a safe reporting environment.

One of the most upsetting elements of this whole situation is the insinuation that I would protect a man engaged in bullying and harassment. I have been working on women’s issues and women’s rights since I was 15 years old. To suggest we were planning to ignore the allegations brought forward by female members of VicPD is simply untrue. It makes no sense. And to those who know me, it’s just not plausible.

In closing, this process has been difficult not just for the women and men at VicPD and myself and Mayor Desjardins, but it has also been difficult for all of Victoria and for police departments everywhere. When people in positions of power and authority abuse the trust of the public, it can take a long time for those affected to heal. That is my priority now as we move forward.

Lessons Learned and Looking Forward

A Victoria resident recently read my re-election website which begins with the sentence, “I have learned a lot over the past term.” He suggested that it would be a good idea to say a bit more: “What have you learned? And what would you do differently going forward.” I welcome the opportunity.

In The Book of Joy, the Dalai Lama says, “There are many different angles. When you look at the same event from a wider perspective, your sense of worry and anxiety reduces, and you have a greater joy.”

The key lesson I’ve learned this past term is that we can have a more joyful politics and more joyful city if City Hall looked at the world from the perspective of citizens and businesses, not only from the perspective of City Hall.

This lesson was a real wake up call for me as I come from a neighbourhood background. I was that highly engaged neighbourhood person frustrated that City Hall was too slow, or not taking neighbourhoods seriously.

And now, seven years later, I better understand the complex challenges of striking a reasoned balance between the needs and wants of neighbourhoods and the overarching responsibility that City Hall has to ensure that broad community is prepared not only for today but also for the future. Direction-setting and decision-making in a democracy is difficult and important work. We are all in this together, and we all need to listen and learn from each other and be willing to adapt –  in our neighbourhoods and businesses and at City Hall.

Looking Back

Here are three stories.

Gonzales Neighbourhood Plan

Fairfield had been asking City Hall for a new Neighbourhood Plan for years. And so at the beginning of this term, when Council revised the timing of the neighbourhood planning process,  we listened. And then, because they are lumped together in the City’s planning process as “Fairfield-Gonzales” we began a planning process that involved both neighbourhoods.

We heard very early on at the beginning of the process from the neighbourhood that they wanted two separate planning processes led by two separate groups of neighbourhood residents – one for Gonzales and one for Fairfield. So we supported two separate groups of residents in coming together. But the big mistake we made right at the beginning was to assume that Gonzales also wanted a new neighbourhood plan.

We could have done a bit more exploration with the Gonzales neighbourhood, using the award winning 2002 planning process as a basis. We could have asked what elements of the 2002 plan were working and what needed updating. From the perspective of many neighbourhood residents, this would have been a much better place to begin the conversation than City Hall encouraging a new neighbourhood plan for Gonzales just because Fairfield was ready for one.

Fort Street Bike Lanes

When we built the Pandora bike lanes, after consultation with key stakeholders, there was general support from the businesses on the street. We engaged with the business on Pandora in a way that seemed to meet their needs – let them know about the lanes going in, asked for and responded to feedback on the detailed design – making changes as needed and adjusted the construction schedule around the businesses needs, particularly when it came to no construction during the holiday shopping season.

When we began consultation on Fort Street, we assumed that the same engagement process would work. We didn’t take into account the far higher density of businesses on Fort Street compared to Pandora, and we didn’t consider that businesses on Fort Street would have different needs than businesses on Pandora. And so, looking from the perspective of City Hall, we did the same engagement process on Fort that we did on Pandora and assumed it would be appropriate. But it wasn’t. These were different businesses with different ideas and our consultation process would have been greatly improved if we had recognized that earlier.

In the end, we adapted our approach. Our initial City Hall perspective was too narrow. Going forward, we’ve learned from our experience on Fort Street and have done detailed work with the businesses along Wharf and Humboldt Street, where the next two lanes are to be built.

Central Park

For the past two years, City Hall has been working with the community to design a new swimming pool and wellness centre to replace the Crystal Pool. We’ve been doing engagement all along the way – at the pool, in workshops, at community events and at detailed reporting out sessions that have been well-attended. We’ve been taking feedback and revising the design accordingly so that citizen input has literally shaped the facility.  At the detailed design stage, 80% of people surveyed support the design of the new pool.

Looking from the perspective of City Hall, we were singularly focused on the pool. I can see why. This was our first big project after the Johnson Street Bridge and we didn’t want a repeat performance. We wanted to get this project perfect. We wanted to be ready for the funding applications from senior levels of government, get our application in immediately and get the project built, as every month of not building escalates the cost by about $400,000 just because of the market conditions here. All good motivations.

But what we failed to do, is to look from the perspective of the community members that live around the pool and see that the pool is also in the park. It’s their neighbourhood park. Being singularly focused on the pool meant that we didn’t do engagement on the park. It’s always been planned for “after the pool project has reached detailed design”. But again, that’s from City Hall’s perspective. The pool is in the park. If we’d taken a broader perspective, we would have seen clearly that park engagement was important to do alongside pool engagement. We would have adapted our approach.

Looking Forward

Since January I’ve been working with a wide diversity of citizens and members of the business community to develop a 2018-2022 four year plan. The very premise of the plan is this lesson learned: we must look first and foremost from the perspective of the community. And we must draw on the energy, intelligence and goodwill of our citizens and our business community and create the city, all together.

We must do this in order to meet all the challenges and seize all the opportunities facing us. We must do this in order to ensure that even as Victoria grows and changes it remains recognizable as Victoria, as the city we all love. And, most importantly, we must do this in order to have a more joyful city, where through the projects we do together, we strengthen relationships, build trust and create a stronger social fabric.

Comprehensive Approach Needed to Public Safety, Mental Health, and Addictions

There are people living on the streets of Victoria who struggle with mental health and addictions. I’ve learned that these conditions are often a result of childhood trauma or brain injuries. Although we don’t have verifiable data, there seems to be an increasing number of people in this situation. Their challenges are highly visible and can show up unexpectedly. This can leave some members of the public feeling threatened which isn’t good for anyone – not for those seen as threatening or those feeling threatened.

Addressing homelessness, mental health, and addictions present complex challenges for everyone. This situation isn’t good for the people on the streets who need medical care and attention; if they had a broken arm they would be receiving treatment in a hospital. It isn’t good for other local residents. It isn’t good for business owners. And it’s putting a real strain on frontline workers and on our police officers.

Over the last four years, I’ve frequently spoken with people living on the streets, with residents of affected neighbourhoods, business owners, service providers, and police officers. I’ve listened to many perspectives.

When people struggling with mental health or addictions want to change their life – when they want to get off the street – there is almost nowhere for them to go. They can join a long waitlist for housing or enroll in 30-day treatment with no guarantee of stability or support afterward. Some end up in prison, but when they are released, they are released back onto the street. Some go to hospitals but, again, they are released right back onto the streets. It’s a cycle that’s very hard to break.

Some people in Victoria walk down Pandora or Johnson Streets on a regular basis or take their kids to the Victoria Conservatory of Music, and they feel nervous. It’s not because they think anyone is fundamentally bad but because the situation seems so dire. And also the behaviour they see is unfamiliar to them. They want to feel safe and they want their kids to feel safe.

Our local business community also has a great deal of compassion for people living on our streets; I hear this all the time. Many donate to community organizations. Some let people sleep in their doorways or outside their shops. But it’s also hard to run a business when there are needles, feces and other things that often need to be cleaned up in the mornings. Female staff sometimes don’t feel safe leaving work late at night. Business owners are really frustrated.

Frontline workers are out there working as hard as they can to address all the issues. They’ve witnessed way too many overdoses and deaths. Each time they administer Naloxone they save a life. But there seems like no end in sight to the problem and they are feeling really burnt out.

Our Vic PD officers are out on the streets 24-7. They know most of the people on the streets by name. The police are doing everything they can to help, which sometimes includes preventing a suicide or administering Naloxone. Some of the officers are part of the ACT Teams that work with health care professionals and others to try to help. They’re under-resourced most of the time, responding call to call with many stacked calls waiting. They need more officers and their members are feeling the stress and burnout of working in this really difficult situation.

This situation on our streets clearly isn’t good for anyone. The status quo is unsupportable, unaffordable, and ineffective. If the solutions were easy, the problem would be solved by now. Thankfully there are solutions underway and a more comprehensive approach to come.

Here’s what’s already underway:

  • The opening of the Therapeutic Recovery Centre in View Royal this fall will provide treatment and recovery to a cohort of 50 of the region’s most vulnerable residents. They’ll stay there for 18-24 months and work through the root causes of their addictions. When they come out they will have housing and employment and be on a strong recovery pathway. We know this model works because it has been operating for 40 years at San Patrignano in Italy. BC Housing recently purchased Woodwynn Farms in Central Saanich and plans to run a similar program there, with housing provided offsite. 
  • Thanks to the leadership of Inspector Scott McGregor at VicPD, BC Housing, Pacifica, Island Health, and City Bylaw teamed up to create the Housing Action Response Team (HART). Based on a successful model from Seattle this team works with the most vulnerable people camped in public spaces to assist them in getting the help and shelter they need. In the first six months of HART over 20 people have been housed and received the supports they need to move towards recovery.  
  • Starting in 2015 and reinvigorated this spring, I’ve lead the Pandora Task Force to address the situation on the 900-block of Pandora. Meeting monthly at the Victoria Conservatory of Music, I’ve facilitated a group of residents, business owners, service providers, city staff, the Greater Victoria Placemaking Network and VicPD. We will be bringing forward proposals based on best practices from elsewhere as part of the 2019 budgeting process to make the 900-block of Pandora safe and welcoming for all.  
  • In 2018, the Victoria-Esquimalt Police Board requested six additional officers. I along with four of my colleagues at Victoria Council supported the addition of these officers – the first new officers proposed to be added since 2010. Esquimalt Council did not support the addition of the officers as they did not feel it fit the policing framework agreement between our two communities. The matter has been handed to the Province to make a ruling. We must resolve this issue because while new police officers on the street can’t solve any of the problems above on their own, they are part of the solution.

But what’s really needed is a comprehensive overhaul of the way mental health and addictions resources are spent in the Capital Region. Working together as a region in the past four years we’ve done this with housing. We have the Regional Affordability Strategy, the $90-million Regional Housing First Program, and a Community Plan created by the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness. We know how the money needs to be spent to most effectively to address chronic homelessness. And our approach here in the region has been recognized provincially and nationally. We must take the same comprehensive approach with mental health and addictions.

In the next term, working in partnership with the Province, we will ensure that money spent on addressing mental health and addictions in our region gets people the supports and services they need—at whatever stage or phase of their mental health or addiction—from prevention to recovery.

We’ll begin by co-convening a Regional Mayor’s Task Force on Mental Health and Addictions with one mayor from the Core, one mayor from the Westshore and one mayor from the Peninsula. It’s not only in the City of Victoria that people need access to treatment. That teenager in Colwood or the injured worker addicted to opioids on the Peninsula need help in their home communities before they end up on Pandora Avenue.

The task force will be co-chaired by the three mayors and comprised of staff from Island Health, staff from the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions, service providers, members of the business community, police, bylaw, and people with lived experience of mental health and addictions. The scope of work for the task force will be to quantify the problem and the cost regionally and to develop a business case for solving it.

We will implement a new approach to mental health and addictions prevention and treatment in the region and regularly evaluate and share results, and continuously improve the approach based on feedback.

This will be good for the people living on the street who can’t get the help they need and it will be good for the people who will never have to end up on the street. It will take some of the pressure off frontline workers and police, and it will ensure that our streets are welcoming, inclusive places for everyone.

Overdose Awareness Day

Today, Victoria will recognize Overdose Awareness Day from 4:00 to 8:00 pm with a gathering in Centennial Square. Organized by the South Island Community Overdose Response Network (SICORN), this event will provide an opportunity for the community to come together and remember those we’ve lost, and to educate ourselves to prevent future loss of life.

Addiction is not something we can end for others. Anyone who has experienced addiction, or loved ones struggling with addiction, knows that the strength to beat it must come from within. What we can end is addiction stigma.

We can help others get the care and support they need, but only when we know they are struggling. As a society, we believe that addiction is always visible. In Victoria, where issues of homelessness, mental health, and addictions are frequently intertwined, this perception is especially true.

But there’s much more to addiction than what we can see around us. Addiction is different for every single person and it’s often invisible to everyone but the person struggling. The largest barrier to aid for people struggling with addiction is the stigma that makes them feel like they can’t tell anyone what they are going through.

Many are unable to seek help from their employers for fear of losing their job. Many are unable to speak to their friends for fear of being ostracized. And many are unable to even speak to their families—their parents, their children—for fear of disappointing those they love most.

We can’t expect to solve addiction. We can expect to solve stigma, and we can do it now.

Nearly 4,000 Canadians died from opioid-related deaths in 2017 and over a third of those deaths took place in B.C. These numbers will continue to climb if we don’t take action together.

Our task is simple but difficult to achieve: we have to change the way we think and talk about addiction because that will change the way we act. We simply cannot continue to criminalize people suffering from addiction. We have to treat addiction like any other medical condition, and that means providing access to care.

While we work together to redefine addiction—in our conversations, in our laws, and in our hearts—please join me today in Centennial Square to let everyone struggling with addiction know, “We see you. We are here for you. You don’t need to fight this battle alone anymore.”