Author: Lisa Helps

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Date: Thursday, July 11, 2019
For Immediate Release

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Inclusionary Housing: We’re All in this Together

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This piece was originally published here in the Times Colonist.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ambrose Place: Love and Decolonizing Housing, Health and Wellness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Cecelia Ravine Playground Grand Opening and How Parks Make Healthy Cities

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All photos provided by Derek Ford of Derek Ford Studios

Last Saturday I was so happy to stand with members of the Burnside Gorge neighbourhood and city staff as we officially opened the expanded park and new playground. It’s an amazing place and it’s been a long-time coming. A park is more than just a park – it’s critically important well-being infrastructure that helps to build a healthy city.

In 2009, the City of Victoria sold the Ellis Street Park in the Burnside Gorge neighbourhood to make way for the Rock Bay Shelter. At that point, Council made a commitment to use the funds from the sale to create a new park in the neighbourhood. In 2016, the City purchased the land where the new playground is now sited, with the funds held in reserve. The purchase of the property expanded the Cecelia Ravine Park to just over four hectares.

As soon as we bought the land, city staff began work with neighbourhood residents to design the park. I love that the park you see today was literally designed around the needs of the neighbourhood. One of the most important elements requested by the neighbourhood was an accessible connection from the Galloping Goose trail right up to the park. This allows access to the park from a highly used active transportation route.

In response to requests from neighbourhood residents and the creativity of our staff (while staying within the budget that Council allocated for the project) we now have:

  • A larger, more accessible, playground
  • Community gathering areas and open green space
  • Outdoor fitness equipment
  • Enhanced furnishings, including bike racks, shade structure, pathway lighting, and seating
  • A new public washroom
  • An accessible pathway connecting the park to the Galloping Goose Regional Trail
  • 21 new trees!

It’s a beautiful park and playground as you can see in the photographs. But it’s much more than this. In her groundbreaking 2017 report, “Designing Healthy Living,” Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer writes that, “We do not yet know how to quantify the extent to which the built environment affects healthy living, but we know enough to say with confidence that neighbourhoods that are built with health in mind are important for making healthy choices the easiest choices.” She also points to emerging research that makes a connection between the built environment and mental health and wellness.

Burnside Gorge is one of the most diverse and lowest income neighbourhoods in the city. The new park provides fitness equipment for adults who may not have extra money for a gym membership. There’s the gorgeous playground and lots of space for kids to run and play. It’s connected to a bike path so you can get there safely without the expense of a car. And it’s got an accessible picnic area and play equipment so people using wheelchairs can also have easy access. There’s also lots of green space to gather, dwell, and connect. And when those 21 trees grow up there will be lots of shady spaces to take refuge on hot days.

Parents I spoke with at the opening said they were proud to have the best playground in the city in their neighbourhood. I was moved close to tears during my opening remarks by the overwhelming joy and the deep gratitude of the parents and kids in attendance. I am proud to be mayor of a city that is helping to create health, well-being and inclusivity as we continue to build the city.

More photos from the park opening.

Climate Action, Active Healthy Transportation, and the Heidelberg Challenge

I’ve recently returned from a trip to Heidelberg where I attended ICCA 2019, an international conference on Collaborative Climate Action. The conference focused on the role of cities in the lead up to UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ Climate Action Summit in New York this September. It was an honour to have been invited to Heidelberg to help shape the global conversation on cities and collaborative climate action.

Over 700 people from 90 countries attended the conference. It was heartening to learn that from Kenya to Sweden, from China to California, cities are taking climate action. Cities are ready to be strong partners to provincial and federal governments and can help federal governments meet their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement. But, in order to do so, cities need more resources and more delegated authority from national and provincial governments. This is the key message from the conference that will be forwarded to the UN Climate Action Summit in September.

Another theme from the conference is the need for creative transportation solutions to decrease emissions in cities. Mauro Petrcionne, European Director General for Climate Action, was asked to sum up what he heard at the Mayors breakfast meeting, at which I was a panelist. He said that many people see individual cars as linked to individual rights. “Will we abolish this perception,” he asked. “No, but we can adjust it. In order to do so, we need to rethink the way our cities are organized.”

Petrcionne observed that if people are asked to choose what matters most, the end of the world or the end of the month, they will choose the end of the month ­– their own interests and survival – believing that someone else will take care of the end of the world. The advice he gave us was to avoid putting people in the position of making that choice; create climate solutions that also benefit people’s pocketbooks and their health and well-being.

Heidelberg is one city we can learn from when it comes to matching individual interests and quality of life with addressing the climate crisis. And they’ve done this by focussing on how people move around.

Heidelberg is currently where Victoria needs to be by 2030. Victoria’s Climate Leadership Plan aims, by 2030, to have 55% of trips made by walking and cycling (we are currently at 39%) and 25% of trips by transit (currently at 12%). This means that by 2030 only 20% of people will get around using a car. Sound impossible? Today in Heidelberg, only 22% of trips are made by car. Fully 38% are made on foot, 26% by bicycle and 14% by public transit.

They’ve achieved this by organizing the city around active and healthy modes of transportation. Almost every main street has as much space dedicated to transit, walking and cycling as it does to private vehicles. Walking and cycling are privileged. There are many pedestrian-only zones. And cyclists are allowed to ride both ways down one-way streets making them de facto bike streets; cars have to go slowly and yield to bikes going in both directions.

Side streets are narrow and have a maximum speed limit of 30km/h. I visited a brand new passive house neighbourhood (where all buildings are zero emissions) and the new streets there are as narrow as the streets in the 800-year-old city centre.

“Why did they make these new streets so narrow,” I asked former mayor of Heidelberg, Beate Weber-Schuerholz, who was kind enough to show me around. She replied, seemingly surprised by my question, “To limit cars so that children can walk safely to school of course.”

In Heidelberg it’s not bikes versus cars versus buses. It’s about the freedom for kids to get to school safely on foot, and for seniors to stay connected to their communities. The city is organized for better health outcomes, more money in people’s pockets and a stronger local economy. Heidelberg is alive, prosperous and thriving and their streets are for sharing.

Can we join them? This is the Heidelberg Challenge. Let’s step up our ambition as a community and work to overtake Heidelberg long before 2030. Will you join me? It doesn’t mean necessarily ditching your car (although car sharing is cheaper and gives more options) – it just means thinking differently about what it’s for and when you use it. And it means continuing to build a city that puts people first.

This piece was originally printed in the Times Colonist here.

The Future of Government Street and Other People Places

IMG_4979.jpgPhoto taken standing on the edge of the Hauptstrauss (highstreet) in the centre of town, Heidelberg Germany. 5:15pm on a Thursday evening.

I’ve recently returned from trip to Heidelberg where I attended ICCA 2019, an international conference on Collaborative Climate Action. The conference focused on the role of cities and was a key step in the lead up to the UN Secretary General’s Climate Action Summit in New York this September. It was an honour to have been invited to help shape the global conversation on cities and collaborative climate action. I learned a lot and will spend the next few blog posts sharing.

In addition to attending the conference, I had an opportunity to study the city while I was there. I made a particular study of the town square and the streets surrounding it. I did this both during early morning runs and in the late afternoon sunshine – between the conference ending and dinner meetings. And, if I squinted hard, I could see the future of Government Street and maybe the rest of old town too.

Cars aren’t banned from the area. It’s just that they aren’t the priority – people are. It was remarkable to see people in cars, people riding bikes, people walking, people drinking beer, all sharing the same space so gracefully. Jane Jacobs calls this kind of urban activity a “sidewalk ballet.” But amazingly in Heidelberg this ballet takes place in the middle of the streets. I sat and watched for a while and here’s what I saw:

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A young child walking her bicycle.

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Two young boys kicking a soccer ball. I didn’t get my camera out until they were a bit far away but they literally walked right past my table, there in the street passing the ball between them.

IMG_4983.jpgA catering truck delivering food to City Hall (building on the left).

IMG_4992.jpgA woman, child and dog standing in the middle of the street.

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A bike and a car sharing the road where only moments before the woman, child and dog had stood.

IMG_4989.jpg A server carrying a tray of beer across the road where only moments before a car had driven.

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And look, she made it without incident!

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I even spotted the mayor! Before our evening event, taking a break in the sunshine.

Remarkably, when I returned to this space one more time to see how it would be used at 9am on a sunny Saturday morning, I was in for a surprise. I expected to find tables full of people drinking their morning coffee. What I saw instead, where the night before had been a crowded street and square full of Friday evening revelers, were parked cars! The town square and streets surrounding it could even function as a surface parking lot if needed.

Businesses are flourishing. People are everywhere. The city centre feels alive! Heidelberg isn’t even a large city – the population is approximately 150,000. Their regional population is larger than ours at around a million people, but they get less tourists per year than we do. So what are we waiting for?

We don’t just need to “close Government street to traffic”, which is a 2020-2021 Action in Council’s Strategic Plan, we need to rethink the whole purpose of Government Street and maybe other streets too. Streets are for people. They are for kids kicking soccer balls and grandmothers bending down tenderly to their grandchildren without any thought of being run down by a car. Streets are for commerce – for the exchange of goods and services, for afternoon coffee, evening beer, for sharing a meal. Streets are for connection and joy.

The most remarkable and moving thing of all – considering the climate crisis we are in – is that running down the Hauptstrauss in the mornings, there were so few traffic noises that I could hear the birds singing, right there in the city centre. Streets can also be for nature.

 

 

Vélo Canada Bikes: The Case for a National Cycling Strategy

Kid and dad on bike

I was in Ottawa recently as a representative of the South Island Prosperity Partnership which had been shortlisted for an Infrastructure Canada Smart Cities Challenge prize. Coincidentally, and luckily, one day earlier, also in Ottawa, was the third annual National Bike Summit. I’m so glad I was able to attend. Even as an already strong proponent of cycling there’s always more to learn.

Every year in Ottawa, Vélo Canada Bikes convenes municipal leaders, cycling advocates, policy makers, academics and industry. The purpose is to keep cycling on the national agenda and to keep the pressure on the federal government (and all federal parties in an election year) to develop a National Cycling Strategy.

Vélo Canada Bikes is asking the federal government to work with provincial and territorial governments, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the Assembly of First Nations and additional stakeholders to develop a coordinated, evidence-based action plan tailored to maximizing current and future investments in cycling by all levels of government.

Elements of a National Cycling Strategy would include a national level forum to consult, share and develop best practices, a dedicated federal infrastructure fund, setting evidence-based and achievable five- and 10-year transportation mode share targets, and having Statistics Canada collect data on cycling prevalence and cycling safety.

Why is cycling capturing national attention and why now?

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, provided the opening address and made strong connections between walking and cycling and positive health outcomes. She noted that only 3% of children who live within five minutes of school cycle to school. She talked about the importance of starting with kids and education in schools to create positive health outcomes and life-long bike riders.

From Health Canada to the Canadian Institute for Health Research, to health researchers interested in implementation science, to doctors themselves, Tam noted that the health benefits of active transportation are becoming more widely recognized, especially in light of the rise of anxiety, depression and screen-addiction in young people and social isolation for seniors.

Another reason to push for a National Cycling Strategy is because there are more people biking in Canada now than there were two decades ago. Yvonne Vanderlin from the Centre for Active Transportation in Toronto presented data from the 1996 through to the 2016 census. She showed that in some places across the country, even in places with tough winters like Montréal, cycling had almost doubled in that period. In Victoria, our increase has been 34%. (The neighbourhood of Fairfield in Victoria is Canada’s second highest “cycling neighbourhood” in Canada with just over 18% of people cycling to work.) With more people riding bikes across the country there’s a need for more education, more dedicated cycling infrastructure and a national strategy to guide this.

There’s also a strong climate argument for a National Cycling Strategy. While riding a bike is an obvious way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, bikes aren’t getting as much attention as electric cars when it comes to transportation emissions reductions. Anders Swanson the Chair of Vélo Canada Bikes made the poignant point that Zero Emissions Vehicle strategies are entirely focused on cars. He pointed out the obvious – that bikes are also zero emissions vehicles. The federal government (and the BC government too) are offering $6000 incentives to people trading in their gas-powered cars for electric cars but there is no financial incentive for those who might be ready to ditch a car altogether if they could switch to an electric bike.

Finally, as Victoria’s own Todd Litman from the Victoria Transport Policy Institute told the national crowd, there are the economic benefits benefits of cycling, and these are often overlooked. He began with a Victoria example where we’ve spent approximately $6 million to build two kilometres of bike lanes (and to improve conditions for pedestrians). He noted all the criticism we’ve received for spending this money for such a short distance. But then look how many people that money is moving! He noted that for $6 million we move an average of 2000 commuters on a daily basis (combined daily average of Fort and Pandora lanes). He contrasted this with the Province’s recent announcement of a highway to Sooke, population 13,000. He pointed out that the Province is spending $85 million to move 13,000 people. If you look at dollars spent per commuter moved, dedicated cycling infrastructure makes strong fiscal sense.

Litman also pointed out the benefits to a family’s bottom line of moving to a car-free life. This doesn’t mean not driving a car (car shares like B.C.’s Modo are available when you need a car, or truck, or van) it just means not owning one. Since giving up their car years ago his family has saved approximately $5000 per year. They are paying for their children’s university education with the savings.

He also noted that cycling is good for local business. When you fill up a car, the profits from the gas purchase go elsewhere. With the money saved by not filling up a tank with gas, this is money in people’s pockets that will more likely be spent at local businesses where the money stays in the community. His overall point was that you don’t need to be an environmentalist or a cycling advocate to see the merits of his argument – cycling has a solid economic bottom line.

In just a short morning at the conference I was convinced once again that we need a National Cycling Strategy.  With a federal election coming up, I will be advocating to ensure that this makes its way into the platforms of all federal parties.

P.S. I was honoured at an evening reception with a national award for Canadian Cycling Advocate of the Year, 2019.

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Photo credit: Yvonne Bambrick/Vélo Canada Bikes

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oilsands Trip – A Tale of Two Paradigms

Last Friday I spent the day touring the oilsands, specifically Cenovus’ Foster Creek site. I was warmly received and treated with generosity and open-heartedness by Calgary City Councillor Jeff Davison, Canada Action representatives, and leaders at Cenovus Energy. I was truly moved by the people I met and what I saw and also by the fact that a day-long dialogue with perfect strangers can deepen understanding and strengthen human connection.

What I am left with from my visit, is that while there is only one earth, one climate, and one shared future for the planet, there are two different energy paradigms in Canada right now.

There is the paradigm I visited on Friday. In this paradigm, there is no end to oil and gas extraction in sight. I asked the VP of Cenovus point blank, “What are your plans to transition away from fossil fuels and to renewable energy?” He said, “We have no plans to do that; that is not the business we are in.” I appreciated the forthrightness and honesty of his answer.

In this paradigm, there is a spirit of continuous improvement in the process of oil and gas extraction. They told me that the industry is transitioning away from strip mines – which are a common perception of the oil sands: landscapes destroyed, water contaminated, large tailings ponds – to steam assisted gravity drainage (SAGD pictured above). They said this involves a much smaller footprint, less deforestation, and less energy consumption to produce oil.

The VP of Cenovus shared that their engineers and scientists are working to further reduce their steam to oil ratio, or SOR. Natural gas is used to produce steam which thins the oil and makes it pumpable. The less steam needed, the less natural gas needed, the less energy used to get the oil out. They showed me a commercial scale pilot project that they have underway to learn more.

They explained how that in developing the plant they had studied wildlife movements to learn where wildlife bridges need to be built and – where possible – they work around sensitive wildlife habitat. They said they have detailed restoration plans. They also showed me examples of how water is reused, methane is captured and reused, each camp building has its own sewage treatment system and all the water is reused. There are lots of closed-loop systems.

And, I live in a different paradigm. In this paradigm we are moving towards 100% renewable energy by 2050 at the latest, and we don’t see a long-term future for the use of fossil fuels. This is where I believe we need to get to. We’ve created a Climate Leadership Plan as a guide. We are working hard to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels through taking a sustainable, forward-looking approach to buildings, transportation and waste.

In this paradigm, we’ve declared a Climate Emergency both locally and regionally and have urged the Province to do so as well. The IPCC report  released last October has galvanized us to faster action for 2030 and we’re working with our residents and businesses to develop a Climate Champions program to support energy transformation in homes, schools and businesses.

We have accelerated implementation of the BC Step Code for buildings and we’re also proposing to remove the need for rezonings for passive house, net zero energy buildings.

We’ve put a significant price on carbon for corporate air travel and are working on carbon accounting for all municipal operations in order to make visible and reduce our carbon consumption. Our local airline, Harbour Air, is making investments to be 100% electric and aims to fly passengers between Victoria and Vancouver with electric engines beginning in 2021 or 2022.

We are proposing bold moves like making it free for everyone in the region to ride the bus and fully electrifying the transit fleet by 2030. We’re looking ahead 30 years and building a safe and connected bike network now, despite constant loud public backlash (but with lots of quiet support).

We’ve reduced the use of single-use plastic bags and we are working towards reducing other single use items. We generate electricity from our landfill waste and are developing plans to increase energy generation from waste. Our sewage treatment plant is under construction; we’ll be using energy generated from the treatment process to fuel the treatment process itself. And the dried biosolids produced will be used as a heat source to replace fossil fuels at cement kilns.

When the Chief Operating Officer of Canada Action asked me on Friday how we bridge these two paradigms, I whipped out Leo Bascaglia’s book, Living, Loving and Learning  from my knapsack and said, “One bridge is love.” Or if not exactly love, the surprise and delight of connecting, human to human, with people who have very different points of view. That’s what I felt on Friday. And it was such a refreshing reprieve from how differences of opinion are expressed on social media.

There are two things that the two paradigms have in common. One is a barrel of oil – we use the oil that they produce. The other is human creativity and innovation.

Twenty percent of emissions from a barrel of oil come from producing it. Eighty percent come from combusting it. We all have work to do together. We need to reduce carbon pollution by reducing the combustion of fossil fuels. And as oil is in almost everything – cell phones, tires, pens, etc. – if we want to get off oil any time soon, we need unprecedented energy and materials innovation, everywhere, in all fields, at once. This will help to create viable energy and materials alternatives and it’s the pathway to low-carbon prosperity and to ensuring that no one is left behind in the transition.

This is where another of Canada’s amazing natural resources comes into play – our human capital. I saw it in the facility that I toured; there were bright creative workers who were innovating and striving for continuous improvement. And I see it in Victoria’s and British Columbia’s tech sector. And in our colleges and universities. And in the responses to Infrastructure Canada’s Smart Cities Challenge. I see it in individual homes and businesses. We need to continue to mine Canada’s human capital and put it to work to its full potential.

After the wonderful visit, I’m still firmly rooted in my paradigm. I need to stay here as there’s so much work to do in order to make systemic and transformational changes as a city and region. These changes will make it easier and more convenient for people to make a shift to low-carbon living.

And I also know for sure that standing at the edges of our paradigms throwing stones across the divide is not a good way forward. Genuine listening and an appreciation of other points of view are important to building understanding. That’s what I experienced in Alberta last week. I’m really happy I went.

P.S. They have bikes to go from building to building in the camp. I thought people would get a kick out of the fact that I was able to find the bicycles, even in the middle of the oil sands! This is me and Calgary Coucillor Jeff Davison.

oilsands bicycles

 

 

 

Youth Climate Strikers Launch Meatless Monday Campaign

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April 29 2019

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Victoria, B.C. – Youth striking for climate are launching a Meatless Monday Campaign this evening at 5:30pm at a Meatless Monday Potluck at the CRD community room. They are urging residents of the capital region to give up meat one day a week in order to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“Like so many youth across the country, I am deeply concerned about my future, and what will happen if we don’t start to act more urgently on climate change,” said Emma-Jane Burian from Our Earth, Our Future. “I worry about the impact that not meeting our Paris targets will cause. For as we see from scientists, we have only 10 to 11 years to turn this ship around.”

Having a Meatless Monday every week for a year reduces an individual’s carbon footprint by 416 pounds. The youth have calculated that if our whole region (413,406 residents as of 2018) stopped eating meat on Mondays, we’d did reduce our carbon footprint by 171,976,896 pounds. That is equivalent to reducing 78,007 tonnes of CO2 emissions each year.

“Since most governments aren’t taking climate change seriously, we need to lower the carbon footprint one small step at a time,” said 12-year-old Rebecca Wolf Gage, one of the key leads in the region’s climate strikes.

Although big changes are required from all levels of government, individuals can do so much to help curb climate change. The inspiration for Meatless Mondays comes from helping to empower citizens to join the youth in creating the change they wish to see.

They hope that by showing that there are so many solutions that have great benefits more people will be motivated to take the action that is so desperately needed in our country and the world. They believe Meatless Monday is a great way for us all to make a relatively small change in our lives, that will make big positive ripples in our world.

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Media Contacts
Emma-Jane Burian, Our Earth, Our Future, 778-967-4696
Lisa Helps, Victoria Mayor, 250-661-2708