Our Thoughts Are with the Esquimalt Nation upon Chief Andy Thomas Sinoopun Passing

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Today, we lost a great man and leader, Chief Andrew Thomas/Sinoopun of the Esquimalt Nation.

Chief Thomas was a champion for his people. Grappling with the ongoing legacy of colonialism, he became dedicated to ensuring a prosperous future for the youth of his community.

He was also a very personable, funny and committed man who will be greatly missed by everyone on Victoria City Council and the entire community.

I have been honoured to know Chief Andy Thomas over the course of my time on City Council and particularly through our Witness Reconciliation Program and City Family. He was an inspiration to me and to Council, and his legacy will live on as we continue to walk together on this new path of truth and reconciliation.

Chief Andy said to us “Reconciliation is your work, your responsibility. We will work with you, guide you and share the labour but it is your burden to carry, and you must do what is needed to put that burden down, piece by piece.”

As a City and as a community we will continue to do this work in this spirit.

On behalf of City Council and the City of Victoria, I extend sincere condolences to the entire Thomas family at this difficult time.

“I’m Right and You’re an Idiot” – April 9 Lunch Time Lecture at City Hall

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Are you discouraged about the state of public dialogue? Do you want to be inspired and learn about how to move past this way of relating? Join us for the April 9th Lunch Time Lecture at City Hall as James Hoggan talks about his book and the process of writing it.

Just as we pollute the natural environment we pollute the public square, not with chemical toxins but with our warlike approach to public conversations.

Passionate public argument is healthy, but unyielding one-sidedness undermines the pluralistic, reasoned debate at the core of healthy democracy. The middle ground disappears, problems seem unsolvable and people turn away from public discourse.

Best-selling author and communication expert James Hoggan interviewed thought leaders around the world to learn how to transform this social pathology and engage in higher-quality public conversations.

The series is free and open to the public. Hoggan’s lecture is Monday April 9th from 12-1pm in the City Hall Council Chambers. Bring your lunch and join us! And please share with your friends and neighbours who might be interested too.

Bridge to the future

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For more photos of the bridge opening celebration, see the end of this post.

It began early Friday morning. A small group gathered with Esquimalt elder Mary Anne Thomas and Songhees elder Elmer George on the new bridge at dawn. The elders called on the ancestors as they blessed the bridge and asked for protection for all who pass over it. As they did, I thought about all the other public infrastructure in the City, here on Lekwungen territory, that hasn’t been blessed. The City is in a process of reconciliation with the Songhees and Esquimalt nations; honouring their ancient tradition was the right way to prepare to open our new bridge.

When I arrived at the bridge site before the opening ceremony, I hadn’t expected to see such a crowd. It had taken us a long time to get to opening day, the road had many bumps, and the project had been controversial. But there were Victorians, some 10,000 strong, ready to mark the day together.

I learned something important about our community yesterday. The community scrutinizes (keeping a close eye and criticizing as the project budget increased and the timeline extended) but when the time comes, we are able to look to the future and to move forward together. This is a remarkable quality that will serve us well as we grow and change over the next hundred years.

As a community we collectively persevered to ensure that we have a safe, functional and extraordinary piece of infrastructure that I felt proud to present to the public. The bridge is a manifestation of the dedication and hard work of the people in both China and Victoria who built it. It’s an emblem of pride of workmanship. It’s a testimony to years of local work on site and especially local work in the last eight months since the bridge arrived, getting it ready for opening day. There were a number of local apprentices who trained on the job; they are the workforce of the future. And, they’ll be able to visit the bridge with their kids and grandkids and to say, “I built this.”

There was another key reason to celebrate: through the lessons learned on the bridge project, City Hall has turned a corner on project management and now has the capacity to deliver large scale infrastructure projects; both the Fire Hall Project and the Crystal Pool and Wellness Centre Replacement Project will demonstrate this. This new way of doing business is what the public expects and deserves.

An afternoon long, 10,000 person community picnic, festival and celebration might have been enough.  But the old bridge had been decked out with a disco ball and lights. As dusk fell, it became a festival of light. I joined in with the hundreds of people that had started an impromptu dance party, music blaring from speakers left behind from the day’s events.

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I felt like I was in a different city for a moment, but then I realized, this is the new Victoria emerging. It’s a Victoria that believes in spontaneity, light, laughter, well-being,  and connection. This is Victoria in the 21st century.

 

Bridge Opening Day Photo Gallery

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Thousands of people cross the bridge together as a community for
the first time after the ribbon is cut.

 

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The Island Chef’s Collaborative providing fresh snacks.

 

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Celebrating with a picnic lunch on the deck of Old Blue.

 

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The Greater Victoria Placemaking Network in action, gathering people’s favourite memories of Old Blue.

 

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A blue bridge mask-making table saw hundreds of kids go home
with a homemade momento of Old Blue.

 

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Two adorable kids who had just been to the mask-making table.

 

 

City of Victoria Council Highlights – March 23, 2018

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From a new fire hall to new childcare spaces, to a new micro brew tasting room, it’s been a busy few weeks at City Hall! Council Highlights provide a snapshot of the progress made on City programs, initiatives and on Council decision-making. If you’d like these highlights sent right to your inbox please email engage@victoria.ca.

Victoria Fire Department Headquarters Replacement Project
Council approved allocating $35.9 million from the City’s Debt Reduction Reserve for the procurement of a new Fire Department Headquarters to be located at a new parcel fronting Johnson Street, near Cook Street. A new Victoria public safety building will be built downtown under an agreement reached with local developer Dalmatian Developments Limited Partnership, a Jawl Residential and Nadar Holdings Ltd. Venture.

The new facility will house fire and rescue services and Victoria’s first purpose built Emergency Operations Centre. In addition, BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) has agreed to lease 3,200 square-feet of space from the City to operate a stand-alone facility for paramedics and four ambulances under a planned 20-year co-service agreement. The agreement is subject to Dalmatian Developments bringing their overall project through the rezoning process, which includes the construction of the new public safety building. Read the report here.

Project Update: Crystal Pool and Wellness Centre Replacement Project
The Crystal Pool and Wellness Centre Replacement Project is currently in the pre-construction, stakeholder engagement and design phase. Feedback from the community, along with best practices and trends in aquatic and recreation centre design, will advance the building and site design toward construction-ready documents later this year. You can learn more and share your feedback here. Read the Council update here.

Fairfield & Gonzales Neighbourhood Plans
City Council provided guidance to staff on changes to the neighbourhood plans and the engagement process for both Fairfield and Gonzales.
Motions on the Fairfield Neighbourhood Plan
Motions on the Gonzales Neighbourhood Plan
Based on Council direction, the City of Victoria will be engaging further on Cook Street Village, Ross Bay Village (Fairfield Plaza) and the gentle density model in both neighbourhoods.

David Foster Harbour Pathway Extension – Johnson Street Bridge Underpass
Council has directed staff to finalize detailed designs and proceed with procurement and construction of the proposed Johnson Street Bridge Underpass. A project budget has been set at $544,000 for the extension of the David Foster Harbour Pathway under the new Johnson Street Bridge, consisting of $444,000 from the Harbour Pathway Capital Budget from the deferred pedestrian bridges and $100,000 contribution from the Trans Canada Trail Foundation. Read more here.

National Cycling Strategy
Council has requested that the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) advocate to the Federal government to create a National Cycling Strategy to advance cycling and active transportation across Canada. Read more here.

Victoria Housing Fund Application for North Park Manor at 875 North Park Street
Council has approved a $30,000 Victoria Housing Fund grant to the North Park Manor Society to assist in the construction of three bachelor units of housing for low and medium income seniors at North Park Manor. Read more here.

Updated Emergency Plan
Council approved recommendations regarding the updated Emergency Plan which reflects legislation governing emergency planning in British Columbia. Read the report here.

2018 Micro Grant Applications
Council approved $3,500 in 2018 Micro Grant funding for seven urban agriculture projects. Read the report here. You can learn about the grant applications here.

Festival Investments Grant 2018 Allocations
The 2018 Festival Investment Grant applications were approved for a total of $222,380 cash grants and in-kind grants of up to $107,000 including the $15,000 in-kind contribution for Car Free Day previously approved by Council. Read the report here.

Annual Parking Services Review
Council approved recommendations regarding the annual parking services review including an increase in daily maximum rates for parkades to take effect June 1, 2018. Daily maximums for Centennial, Johnson, View and Broughton parkades will be $16. The daily maximum for the Yates Street Parkade will be $17.50. Read the report here.

Sightseeing Vehicle Parking Stands- Management Review Update
Council directed staff to amend the procurement process and approved a new fee structure for the allocation of bus sightseeing stands, with incentives towards zero emission. Read the report here.

Parking Stand Allocations for Horse Drawn Carriages
Council approved extending for five years the parking stand allocation for horse drawn carriage parking stands designated under the Vehicles for Hire Bylaw. Read the report here.

Street Vending Review Project
Council agreed to extend the seasonal bicycle street vending pilot program for 2018, to run from May 1 to December 31 and extend the limit to stay in one place to one hour. Read the report here.

Rezoning Application and Development Permit with Variances Application for 540 Discovery Street and 2000 & 2010 Government Street
Council approved an application for a tasting room and relocation of liquor retail sales area for Phillips Brewing. Read the report here.

Rezoning Application and Development Permit Application for 323 Skinner Street
Following a Public Hearing, Council approved an application for a childcare centre with capacity for up to 32 children in Vic West. Read the report here.

Rezoning Application for 2612 Bridge Street (Burnside)
Council declined the rezoning of the property located at 2612 Bridge Street to allow for the retail sale of cannabis. Read the report here.

Why I’m Quitting Facebook

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Disclaimer: Tech is the number one industry in Victoria with amazing, innovative and entrepreneurial people working in that space. This post is not a rant against technology; it’s about putting social media in its place. 

I’m quitting Facebook. Before the cry begins about how will the mayor be in touch with her constituents, let me count the ways: email me mayor@victoria.ca, call or text me at 250-661-2708, send me a note on Messenger, follow my blog, call my office 250-361-0200, call CFAX any Friday between 3pm and 4pm where I’m on air taking your questions, attend a Lunch Time Lecture at City Hall, or come to a Community Drop In .

It’s this last venue, the Community Drop In, that’s my favourite. I hold it in my office every two weeks. We put the kettle on, get great coffee from 2% Jazz and the community drops in to share ideas, concerns, and solutions. There’s always a diversity of people that show up. And it’s a place where we listen to each other, hear about amazing events and programs being led by citizens, and we solve problems together. Sometimes it’s hard and people come in really angry. And through conversation and connection that anger fades to understanding.

And this points directly to the first reason I’m quitting Facebook. When I became mayor, Facebook was still a civil place. It was a place where I could share ideas and get good feedback, where dialogue happened. I remember getting off Facebook and saying to a friend, “That was a really good conversation.” But all of this has changed.

In an article in the Guardian, Paul Lewis interviews former Facebook, Twitter and Google workers. Lewis writes that according to James Williams, an ex-Google strategist, social media manipulation “is not only distorting the way we view politics but, over time, may be changing the way we think, making us less rational and more impulsive.” As Williams says, “We’ve habituated ourselves into a perpetual cognitive style of outrage.” The site Time Well Spent, founded by Williams and others and focused on how to make tech more humane, puts it this way: “Facebook segregates us into echo chambers, fragmenting our communities.”

Facebook peddles in outrage. According to Roger McNamee, an early investor in Facebook, “Algorithms that maximize attention give an advantage to negative messages. People tend to react more to inputs that land low on the brainstem. Fear and anger produce a lot more engagement and sharing than joy.” 

I have felt this evolution online over the past four years. Facebook has become a toxic, echo chamber where people who have anything positive to say are often in defense mode against negativity and anger. And, as McNamee notes, “The use of algorithms … leads to an unending stream of posts that confirm each user’s existing beliefs. On Facebook, it’s your news feed … the result is that everyone sees a different version of the internet tailored to create the illusion that everyone else agrees with them. Continuous reinforcement of existing beliefs tends to entrench those beliefs more deeply, while also making them more extreme and resistant to contrary facts.”

I think we need to take this really seriously as a community. And I’m quitting Facebook so I stop contributing in any way to this cycle of psychological violence where fear and anger get more air time than joy, where opinions become hardened in the absence of facts or dialogue and where division rather than much-needed connection is the norm.

What is worse is that the effects and impacts don’t seem to be remaining on the screen. We are experiencing a Facebookization of public discourse in community meetings, in engagement processes. People sometimes show up angry and outraged before they’ve even received any information. The community is unnecessarily divided. Facebook is of course, not entirely to blame. But I wonder what would happen if we did a grand social experiment where people put down their phones, or at least took a Facebook break for a month, and engaged in more face to face conversations.

Except that we can’t put down our phones. And this is the second big reason I’m quitting Facebook. I’m worried about our individual (read my!) and collective ability to focus. And focus is exactly what is needed to fix the big issues that face us in 21st century cities – globalization, population growth, increased cyber-connectivity, income inequality, loss of biodiversity, and climate change.

Dscout, a web-based research platform, did a study where they put an app on the phones of a diverse sample of 100,000 people and tracked their every interaction for five days, 24 hours per day. By every interaction, they mean “every tap, type, swipe and click.” They called them “touches”. The authors reported that what they discovered was “simultaneously expected and astonishing – and a little bit sad.” The average user touched their phone 2617 times per day. As noted by Justin Rosenstein, inventor of the Facebook “Like” button, “Everyone is distracted. All of the time.”

It’s not a question of us a humans being ‘weak’ or something being ‘wrong with us’. Social media is designed to suck us in, to keep us distracted. It’s called the “attention economy”. Social media companies are competing for scarce minutes turned hours of our time. This is contributing to fragmenting our attention spans so that we no longer have the ability to focus individually or collectively on the big issues that desperately need our attention. This isn’t good for the state of our democracy in Victoria where what we need is to be able to talk with each other and listen to each other about the challenges we face as a community.

Finally, though and most worrying, and my third reason for quitting Facebook, is that social media use and cell-phone distraction is actually shriveling our brains.

According to Dr. Paul Mohapel at Royal Roads University, citing a study from Sussex, device-driven multitasking can shrivel the prefrontal cortex specifically the anterior cingulate cortex. This is the part of the brain used in executive function, cognitive processes, emotional regulation and evaluative processes.  Our brains are shriveling in the place we need them most – to reason, to have empathy and most importantly to have the emotional intelligence to connect with others.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been weaning myself off Facebook slowly, just like when I quit coffee. I first deleted the Facebook app from my phone. Then from my iPad. And finally, I changed my web browser home page. The final step is to close down my Facebook account … It makes me nervous just typing this.

I wonder how quitting Facebook will impact my relationship with my phone? My time? My sense of self worth? I look forward to more face to face conversations, less distractions, and keeping my noodle intact.

 

 

 

 

 

New Downtown Location Planned for Victoria Fire Hall and Emergency Operations Centre

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Date: Monday, March 19, 2018
For Immediate Release

VICTORIA, BC — A new Victoria public safety building will be built downtown under an agreement reached with local developer Dalmatian Developments Limited Partnership, a Jawl Residential and Nadar Holdings Ltd. venture.

The state-of-the-art, post-seismic rated facility will be located on Johnson Street as part of a new mixed-use development adjacent to Pacific Mazda.

The 41,700 square-foot facility replaces the current 26,700 square-foot fire headquarters building that has served the citizens of Victoria since 1959. The new facility will house fire and rescue services and Victoria’s first purpose-built Emergency Operations Centre. In addition, BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) has agreed to lease 3,200-square-feet of space from the City to operate a stand-alone facility for paramedics and four ambulances under a planned 20-year co-service agreement.

The proposed public safety building will be built to meet the upcoming changes to the BC Building Code standards for buildings designed to remain operable post disaster, which means it will be built to a seismic design load that is 50 per cent higher than typical commercial buildings that will be built under the new code’s increased seismic requirements. After an earthquake, the new building will be able to be safely re-entered and used to deliver emergency services.

Subject to Council approval, the City will pay $33.7 million to purchase and own the turnkey facility as part of the broader development. Additional costs to the City will include off-site servicing, sidewalk improvements, equipment and project management, bringing the total cost for the project to $35.9 million. This will be paid for through available funds in the City’s Debt Reduction Reserve. There will be no property tax impact and no grants required from senior levels of government. Under the agreement, the City will make an initial refundable deposit, with the remaining payment made upon completion and acceptance of the facility.

In February 2016, Council approved in principle using up to $30 million from the City’s Debt Reduction Reserve for the procurement of a new Fire Department Headquarters at either the existing site or a new site identified through the Request for Qualifications market sounding process. The $30 million did not include funding that may be required for land purchase or any additional multi-use components such as BCEHS.

Dalmatian Developments is working with HCMA Architecture + Design, who has designed a number of recently constructed fire halls in British Columbia. Dalmatian’s vision for the site, which includes lots on Johnson, Cook and Yates Streets, is a master-planned, mixed-use development.

To provide financial certainty and minimize project risk, a third-party review was conducted by Johnston Davidson Architecture, the firm that completed the initial needs analysis for construction of a new facility. The review looked at functional flow of the layout, systems, specifications and the operational performance of the proposed public safety building.

In addition, an independent Value for Money assessment was completed by PricewaterhouseCoopers comparing the negotiated deal with independent benchmark costing for post-disaster buildings, as well as the alternate option to build on the City’s existing site. The costing comparison indicates this deal is fair and shows greater value for money and overall lower cost than the alternate option.

The current headquarters can remain at 1234 Yates Street while the new facility is constructed, saving time, money and, importantly, operational efficiency compared to identifying and setting up a suitable alternate temporary space if the City had chosen to build on site.

The agreement is subject to Victoria City Council authorizing funds in its 2018 Financial Plan at its March 22 meeting, and to Dalmatian Developments bringing their overall project through the rezoning process, which includes the construction of the new public safety building.

The developer plans to submit a rezoning application to the City within the next six months. It is anticipated that if the land use process results in appropriate zoning of the property and the developer secures the necessary building permits, construction will take approximately 28 months.

Quotes:

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps:
“We’ve taken an innovative approach to this project. We canvassed the private sector and said, ‘We need a fire hall, what are your ideas?’ What has come back is a fantastic project with a high-quality local developer that will see a fire hall built as part of a mixed use project that will be much more cost effective to the city than a stand-alone project, or rebuilding on the current site.”

Victoria Fire Chief Paul Bruce:
“This is an inspiring development that will meet our needs today and well into the future, as we continue to pursue local and regional efficiencies in our effort to provide the public with the highest level of emergency services.  The inclusion of an Emergency Operations Centre capable of managing hazard response specific to the City of Victoria is a practical and effective improvement to the management of emergencies on a holistic level.”

David Jawl, Director of Development, Dalmatian Developments:
“We look forward to working with the neighbourhood and the City to deliver a development that we can all be proud of for many years to come.”

Lance Stephenson, BC Emergency Health Services, Patient Care Director for Vancouver Island:
“In terms of location, this is absolutely ideal. The new centre is in the perfect location for us to get to patients in the downtown core. It’s great to be partnering in this new state-of-the-art centre and an incredible opportunity for our paramedics.”  

View the report to be presented to City Council for consideration at the March 22 Committee of the Whole meeting.

 

Inspiring Town Hall – Citizens Assembly on Amalgamation

Sometimes we just need a little push before talk moves to action. Saturday’s town hall on how to use a Citizens Assembly to explore the question of amalgamation was that final push for me. I’m more motivated than ever for Sannich’s Mayor Atwell and I to meet with Minister Robinson and lay a path for a Citizens Assembly to explore the question of amalgamation. Both Councils have requested this; the time for action is now.

The event, hosted by Amalgamation Yes, featured North Cowichan Councillor Maeve Maguire and Mona Kaiser, a member of the Citizens Assembly which was convened to explore amalgamation between North Cowichan and Duncan. In her opening remarks Shellie Gudgeon of Amalgamation Yes encouraged us all not to think of “yes” or “no” but for now, Amalgamation Maybe. For those of you interested in the process, read on! For those wanting even more details, please take the time to watch the presentation and Q and A session in the video.

In 2015, North Cowichan and Duncan came together and requested that the Province fund a Citizens Assembly to explore the question of amalgamation. With the Province’s go ahead and funding confirmed they convened a small committee with two elected officials from each area. According to Macguire there was no agenda outside of a fair process.

They hired MASS LBP to assist them, and off they went. There were 10,000 invitations sent out; 277 people expressed interest in participating; 147 could attend all events – which was a prerequisite for participation; and 36 people were selected. There was even gender distribution, fair distribution among neighbourhoods and age distribution within neighbourhoods and a set number of First Nations participants. Both Councils agreed to the criteria and then after that, it was out of their hands.

Kaiser, one of 36 residents selected for the Citizens Assembly, said she learned about her neighbours and local history, how local government works, and about the shared values and differences across their region. It is so valuable to spend time with people who think differently than you, she said.

The Citizens Assembly had a four-month mandate to examine amalgamation between the two areas. Both Maguire and Kaiser spoke of the brilliance of the approach and how it could be used to solve other complex problems and increase citizen knowledge and engagement. Participants received technical advice, financial information and presentations from community and business groups to assist in their deliberations.

After months of work, the Citizens Assembly presented to both Councils and the public and recommended amalgamation of the two areas. Both Councils had to agree to the recommendation in order to move forward to a referendum. Next step is further First Nations consultation by the Province and then the Province will hold a binding referendum on amalgamation of the two areas.

Lessons learned? Make sure we get a clear road map from the Province on what the steps will be after the Citizens Assembly reports. And don’t interfere with the Citizens Assembly process; once it is set up, just let them do their work. As Kaiser said, “Having a whole bunch of people in the room [beyond the 36 appointed] is not the the most effective – the voices get louder not deeper.”

What next for our region? We’ll keep you posted as Mayor Atwell and I meet with Minister Robinson. I’d like to see a Citizens Assembly set to work before the summer. And I’d like to trust the wisdom of a randomly selected group of citizens to explore the question of amalgamation of Saanich and Victoria with no preconceived outcome, willing to listen, learn and explore the similarities and the differences between us, and willing to recommend a path forward one way or the other.

Wholehearted Support for Songhees Games Bid

Something remarkable happened in Victoria recently. Late last Monday morning I walked into the Songhees Cultural Centre on the lower floor of the Steamship Terminal Building in the inner harbour. I’m not sure what I was expecting. But I was thrilled to see such a packed room. And happy to see so many of my colleagues; there was a least one elected official from each local government across the region.

We were there with local business leaders, media, and community members to throw our wholehearted support behind the Songhees Nation in their bid to host the 2020 North American Indigenous Games.

The North American Indigenous Games were created in the 1990s as a catalyst to support the health and wellbeing of Indigenous youth through sport and cultural activities. The Games today are a symbol of respect, friendship and athletic achievement. The event serves as a powerful opportunity to showcase the rich Indigenous cultures from across North America and to foster understanding.

Teamwork and the practice and rewards of discipline and dedication are transformational experiences for anyone. These are particularly important for Indigenous youth for whom we must all work together as a community, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to ensure this next generation has a future full of cultural pride, optimism, opportunity, health and prosperity. Pride, success, celebration and harnessing the strength of their distinct cultures – these are transformational experiences for everyone, but especially for youth on which the Games focus.

Bringing the North American Indigenous Games to Greater Victoria also makes great economic sense. The Games will be a significant economic generator and for the entire region. The Toronto games generated over $44-million for the regional economy. And we expect more delegates than Toronto.

Family members, coaches, and chaperones will come, along with 5000 athletes who will compete in the following sports: 3-D archery, Athletics, Badminton, Baseball (male), Basketball, Box Lacrosse, Canoe/Kayaking, Golf, Rifle-shooting, Soccer, Softball (female), Swimming, Volleyball and Wrestling.

The Songhees dream of hosting the Games is not a slam dunk by any means – Winnipeg, Halifax and Ottawa are all in the running. And the Songhees and their partners have a lot of work to do between now and the bid deadline of March 16th. But there’s something special happening here in the region that bodes very well for their bid: we are united as a region behind them

In his remarks at the event Chief Sam shared with us a word in the Lekwungen language, “NÉTSAMAÁT” which means “together we are one.” This North American Indigenous Games bid is a big deal in an era of reconciliation. It’s an opportunity for us as settler allies to stand with the Songhees and partner nations and to support them in any way we can.

And when they are successful in winning the bid we will celebrate with them, as a community. And when they host the games in 2020, we will stand beside them as they watch their young athletes compete with pride in their culture and with achievable aspirations and opportunities for a very bright future.

Originally published in the Victoria News.

First National Sustainable Tourism Conference Hosted in Victoria

Plenary - Lessons from the North 2.jpgPanel Discussion: Lessons from the North                             Photo Credit: Impact Conference

In late January, Victoria hosted Impact: Sustainability Travel and Tourism, Canada’s first national conference on sustainable tourism. Organized by Tourism Victoria, Starrboard Enterprises, Beattie Tartan, and Synergy Enterprises, the conference was buzzing with energy from the moment it began.

Our local hosts and guests from across the nation grappled with important issues facing Canada and the world as the tourism industry continues to grow.  Sessions explored climate change, technology, transportation, Indigenous culture, policy, local labour markets and new tourism trends and experiences. Themes included innovation, prosperity, conservation, culture and partnership.

What does all of this mean for Victoria as host to over three million visitors a year and counting?

Victoria is booming right now. Tech and tourism are both growing. There are lots of new apartment and condos being built for people who want to live downtown. And we’ve recently been named by the renowned Condé Nast Readers’ Choice as the second best small city to visit, in the world.

The result? We have the lowest unemployment rate in the country. But this also means we have labour shortages and we also clearly have housing shortages for workers.

So in Victoria we are already not sustaining this growth. And people will continue to vacation here for the same reasons locals live here – it’s paradise.

What to do? Author of Overbooked: The Exploding Business of Travel and Tourism was a keynote speaker at the conference. Her remarks were instructive. “You have to know what you are sustaining,” she said. She also urged us to answer key questions: “What is the culture? What is the landscape? What are the events? And what’s the transportation plan?”

What are we sustaining in Victoria? A small-scale, compact community, on Indigenous land with strong Indigenous presence where we share the values of environmental sustainability, stewarding natural assets, community, connection, smart growth and prosperity.

In Victoria and other destinations poised to grow we need a deep collaboration between local elected officials, city staff and the tourism industry to answer these questions. And we need the industry to develop according to the answers.

How do we get to 100% renewable energy as a community and as industry by 2050 while still having people arrive by ferry boat, cruise ship and plane? Do we “exempt” these emissions because they “don’t really happen in Victoria?” How do we reduce carbon emissions 80% over 2007 levels by 2050 while more people come to our destination?

Some of our operators in the region are already moving in this direction; sustainability is woven into their business practices. Wild Play as an attraction, keeps the forest intact and has a “treading lightly” program to promote sustainability such as composting and recycling on site. Ocean River sports gets visitors out on kayaks to experience nature without emissions. The Inn at Laurel Point is a carbon neutral hotel that runs with a social enterprise business model. And the Victoria Airport has set targets for emissions reduction, and has restored the creeks that run through their land, where native fish species can now spawn.

These are big questions with no easy answers. But the first annual Impact conference was critically important naming the questions, collaborating to answer them, sharing best practices and moments of inspiration from across the country, and saving the world – one destination at a time.

 

 

Tsunami Warning – Reflections and FAQs

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In the early morning of January 23rd some Victorians woke up to their cell phone or landline ringing with a VicAlert call, some received a text, some got calls from relatives or friends. And others slept through the whole thing and awoke wondering what they’d missed. I think what all of us felt was a little vulnerable and a little scared, with pictures in our minds of big waves engulfing entire cities.

I awoke from a very early morning phone call from our Acting City Manager letting me know that she had followed the City’s emergency management protocol and set up an Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) at Fire Hall #1. I hopped out of bed, got dressed and walked the three blocks to the fire hall to join the City’s senior leadership team in the EOC.

In order to be better prepared as a community and to understand the risks that face us, here are some thoughts, reflections and lessons learned. It’s a bit wordy but packed with important details. Please read and please share with your family, friends and neighbours.

What does a Tsunami mean for Victoria?
A tsunami in Victoria is not a big wave. The City has done tsunami modelling and it shows for the City of Victoria it is a slow water level rise, of approximately 1.5 to 3.5 meters. The maximum water level rise is 3.5 metres with a water flow speed of one metre per second. This means that the people who would be affected are those living within a maximum of two blocks of the ocean in low-lying areas pictured on the map above.

In comparison, the 2011 Tohoku earthquake in Japan had a maximum water level of 40 metres with a water flow speed of 12 metres per second.

What did the City do in the early morning of January 23rd?
Residents were notified of the warning through a number of channels including an emergency takeover of our website, social media and the VicAlert notification system.

Emergency responders were deployed and had started door-to-door notifications in the potentially affected areas based on our tsunami modeling. Victoria Ready volunteers were setting up a reception centre at the Fairfield Community Centre when we received notice at 4:30am the EOC that the warning – of the tsunami that had been predicted to arrive in Victoria around 5:50am – had been cancelled.

As Connect Rocket, the provider of the City’s VicAlert program put it in a tweet the next day, “Always lessons to be learned but @CityofVictoria got it right opting for targeted notifications. No benefit to anyone if evacuation routes become clogged by unnecessary traffic. These are tough calls and their team nailed this one.”

What is VicAlert and How Does It Work?
VicAlert provides you with important emergency information, such as imminent threats (e.g. severe weather, power outages, tsunami), AMBER alerts, and local incidents that affect specific areas of Victoria. The service enables emergency notices to be disseminated City-wide or to targeted areas, which can be helpful for neighbourhood-specific emergencies such as a gas leak.

When you sign up for VicAlert, you receive emergency updates and helpful instructions where you are, when you need them. You have the option to receive notifications by cell phone, landline, and email. Because emergencies can happen at any time, it’s a good idea to include the phone notification – and list your landline and cell phone numbers. A phone call in the middle of the night may wake you, while a text may not.

During the January 23rd tsunami warning notifications through VicAlert were only sent out to potentially affected areas. If residents selected to be notified only for certain neighbourhoods and didn’t receive a message, they were not in an area notified for evacuation. You can easily change your profile to select all neighbourhoods and receive all alerts in the future.

We are encouraging all residents to sign up for VicAlert in the wake of this warning, and suggest using both mobile and landlines where possible to ensure multiple methods of notification in the event of an emergency. Subscription to this service has increased from 6500 people before the tsunami warning to close to 50,000 people since.

In April 2018 a Province-wide “push” alert system that will automatically get in touch with each cell phone will be put in place by the Province. Here is a CHEK news story about that program.

Where do I go in an emergency?
The City of Victoria has identified potential buildings throughout the City that may be used for reception and group lodging centres. We don’t advertise these, as the locations will vary depending on the situation and suitability.  For example, after an earthquake these buildings will have to undergo damage assessments prior to their use and we do not want residents going to buildings if they’re not safe.  VicAlert, the City’s website, Twitter and local media will broadcast the appropriate locations for people to go depending on the circumstances.

Get a Siren!
On the morning of January 23rd while people were still recovering from panic mode, we heard many cries for the City of Victoria to get a siren. The City of Victoria is not at risk like coastal communities on the open water are such as Tofino and Ucluelet where there are sirens in place.  We do not expect a large fast wave like we’ve seen in places like Thailand and Japan. As noted above, what the Tsunami modelling shows for the City of Victoria is a slow water level rise, of approximately 1.5 to 3.5 meters.

We have the resources in place to issue tsunami warnings without a siren due to the lower risk, the slow water level rise, and the length of warning time we will receive after an earthquake has occurred.  Our emergency responders have the capacity to go door-to-door and use loud speakers in the small areas within the City of Victoria that the tsunami modelling has shown the water level will rise to.

This approach has the benefit of notifying affected residents and businesses with personal instructions rather than a siren that would be heard by thousands of unaffected people and lead to confusion about what to do.

We’re all in this together!
The communities that do best in disasters are ones where people have a sense of connection, belonging and resilience. The false alarm on January 23rd is an invitation for all of us  to learn more about preparedness. It’s also a good opportunity for us to get to know our neighbours better and find out what their needs would be in an emergency. Where are the seniors who may need our help? The parents with young children? The people with limited mobility? Preparing for emergencies before they happen is a good opportunity to build stronger communities.