City Council Takes Local Action on COVID-19

If nothing else, please watch this video. There’s a moving moment in it where someone who is homeless comes to talk to me and asks the very same questions the media is asking. We are working as hard as we can and as fast as we can to address her concerns.

Today at City Council we passed a number of important measures to support residents, local business and the non-profit sector facing hardship during the COVID-19 pandemic.

To further protect residents and City staff from the current threat of novel coronavirus (COVID-19), Council also amended the way it will conduct Council meetings until the health emergency is declared over by the Provincial Health Officer.

I want to thank Council members and staff for their proactive leadership for bringing forward these measures today. And I’d like to thank staff in advance for their hard work on implementation.

Some of the measures outlined here have already been implemented by the federal government. I am grateful to both the federal and provincial governments for their financial assistance to residents and businesses and the guidance and advice of both the federal and provincial medical health officers.

In the coming weeks, Council will continue to take actions within our jurisdiction to help alleviate the suffering of our residents and businesses in these uncertain times. I also know that Victorians are working hard and displaying extraordinary generosity to help each other out and to get through these difficult times together.

Business
Council has directed staff to examine all of the City’s fiscal, legislative and legal powers to support small businesses and jobs, the non-profit sector, arts and culture and the tourism sector in order to sustain the local economy during the pandemic and recover stronger and more resilient than before.

Council has also authorized the City’s Real Estate staff to look at potential options to provide relief for businesses located in City-owned properties on a case-by-case basis, and encourages all landlords to work with their tenants to explore options that work for both parties.

Financial Hardship
The COVID-19 pandemic is causing substantial economic hardship for many people, businesses and community organizations in the City of Victoria as a result of reduced economic activity and compliance with directives of public health officials and government entities.

To support the well-being of individuals and safeguard the economic base of the community, Council is initiating the following actions:

  • Direct staff to prepare bylaw amendments to allow for the temporary waiver of financial penalties for non-payment of municipal utilities fees and taxes during provincially declared emergencies.
  • Direct staff to develop an Action Plan, without delay, identifying measures within municipal jurisdiction to reduce economic hardship on individuals and organizations impacted by COVID-19, including consideration of the following measures:
    1. Repurposing under-utilized facilities for emergency shelter and healthcare for the unhoused, to allow for social distancing, proper care, harm reduction, and recovery.
    2. Emergency regulations to restrict evictions of tenants who have suffered a loss of earnings due to quarantine, self-isolation, layoff or declining economic activity.
    3. Temporary deferral of fees, taxes and other payments owing to the City from those suffering hardship.
  • Advocate to the Governments of British Columbia and Canada for immediate action on:
    1. Emergency housing and healthcare for the unhoused through the retrofitting of underutilized facilities to allow for social distancing, proper care, harm reduction and recovery.
    2. Income support through Employment Insurance, statutory Paid Sick Leave provisions and/or other programs to replace earnings that have been lost as a result of COVID-19, with immediate and retroactive effect, including eligibility for precariously employed workers in the service sector and “gig economy”, self-employed workers and small business operators.
    3. A temporary moratorium on evictions, foreclosures and payment of debt and utility fees.
    4. Support for Indigenous communities that are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 due to substandard health, housing, water and social service systems.
    5. Temporary deferral of payroll deduction remittances (i.e. EI, CPP, Income Tax) and income tax instalment payments where necessary to reduce pressure on business cash reserves and maintain payment to employees and suppliers.
  • Request that the Mayor write, on behalf of Council, to the Premier of British Columbia and the Prime Minister of Canada, requesting immediate action along the lines outlined above, and indicating the City of Victoria’s willingness to cooperate with those orders of government to ensure an integrated and effective response to COVID-19, including reducing economic hardship on individuals and organizations and safeguarding the economic base of the community.
  • Request that staff consider initiating emergency childcare services for essential services workers during the COVID-19 public health emergency, either as a City-operated service or in partnership with external childcare providers.
  • Request that the University of Victoria reconsider the displacement of students currently living in student housing who have no alternate housing options.
  • Council requests that landlords not increase rents at this time of crisis and defer rents for those in need.

Council Meetings and Public Meetings
To protect the public and City staff during the COVID-19 pandemic, City Council has adopted amendments to its Council Procedures Bylaw to adjust the way Council meetings are conducted.

Based on recommendations by public health officials, Council suspended the holding of public hearings in accordance with the Class Order on COVID-19 from the Office of the Provincial Health Officer until further notice. Council also suspended the question period sections of Council meeting agendas for in-person participation.

Requests to address Council will be limited to six delegations through either telephone participation, where possible, and the reading out of submissions and/or broadcasting of recorded submissions, if necessary.

 

Help on the Way for Businesses, Workers, Canadians

file8-1
Prime Minister Trudeau during his most recent visit to Victoria.

NB There is A LOT of detail below on the federal financial aid package for Canadians announced today. I wanted to make sure that people have all the information. Use what you need and feel free to share.

This morning Prime Minister Trudeau announced $82 billion in financial aid for Canadians. When he spoke following Trudeau, Bill Morneau said that as Finance Minister he’s used to worrying about macro economic factors and keeping the economy strong. But today he said, “Right now, I view my only job as being able to make sure that Canadians can keep a roof over their head and food in their fridge.”

I found my self choked up by this statement, listening to the announcements on my walk to City Hall this morning. All the way out here on the west coast I feel the care that the federal government is taking of Canadians, putting everything they’ve got into helping us get through this challenging time.

The financial support for Canadians announced this morning will help Victorians a lot. Importantly – and as City Council is calling for in a motion tomorrow – there is support for people who aren’t eligible for EI. CBC has put together a good piece on how to apply for COVID-19 Emergency Benefits. There are also tax relief measures, deferral of mortgage payments, increased funding for shelters and much more. We expect an aid package soon from the Province which will build on the federal measures and hopefully include support for renters and further relief for small businesses.

Here’s a full synopsis of the federal aid package. There will be more details in the days to come. As Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freedland said this morning, sometimes they won’t have all the details worked out when they share these big plans with us, but they want us to know what the plan is and that the details will come as soon as possible.

Key Details from Technical Backgrounder

  • The EI Emergency Care Benefit will be available through CRA beginning in April, and is worth up to $900/two weeks for up to 15 weeks. It will not require a medical attestation, application will be simple. Will have to attest to eligibility every two weeks.
  • The implementation timeline for the special COVID-19 Emergency Support Benefit is still unclear, but the value of the benefit will be the same as EI benefit and it will provide 14 weeks of support.
  • The GST credit increase for low-income earners will flow by early May, and is a one time payment to double the value of the program in fiscal year 2019/20.
  • The wage subsidy for small business employers is effective immediately. The subsidy will be equal to 10% of remuneration paid during that period, up to a maximum subsidy of $1,375 per employee and $25,000 per employer.
  • The Reaching Home initiative will be topped-up with $157.5 million. The funding could be used for a range of needs such as purchasing beds and physical barriers for social distancing and securing accommodation to reduce overcrowding in shelters.
  • $50 million will be allocated to women’s shelters and sexual assault centres to help with their capacity to manage or prevent an outbreak in their facilities.
  • The Federal Tax Filing Deadline: is extended until June 1, for both individuals and businesses, and any money owed will not be due until September 1.
  • Many further details in the backgrounder below – particularly on monetary policy and business supports.

Minister Morneau Press Conference Summary

  • The Federal government has the fiscal space to support the economy and we are going to do so – $27 billion in direct support to Canadians and businesses and deferring $55 billion in Federal taxation, leaving that money in the economy.
  • The monthly minimum withdrawal from registered retirement income accounts will be suspended for six months and “I assure you” that social security payments will continue to flow.
  • We are prepared to provide more supports for small businesses as necessary. We have freed up a lot of lending capacity for small businesses through commercial banks and Export Development Canada and the Business Development Bank.
  • Emergency legislation will be tabled to enact these measures.
  • When the time is right, we will announce measures to help the economy bounce back in the long-term from the effects of COVID-19.

Minister Morneau Q&A (Relevant Questions)

  • Do you plan to provide support for self-employed people that wish to stay home to respect social distancing, but don’t have COVID-19?
    • Minister Morneau: Those people would be eligible for the special COVID-19 benefit. Details to come.
  • Some analysts talking about unemployment reaching 20%. Comment?
    • Minister Morneau: It’s difficult to forecast as the situation changes continually. We intend to provide broad support, and if people are facing challenges we will help them and their family.
  • What is the purpose of the Indigenous Community Support Program and how will it be broken down between communities?
    • Minister Morneau: More details to come.
  • Any specific measures for seniors – i.e. changes to OAS? Did you consider direct cheques to all Canadians? Allowing people to delay mortgage payments, but what about renters?
    • Minister Morneau: The measures we have taken will help all Canadians, while targeting those that are most vulnerable or lose their jobs due to COVID-19. We wanted to deal with vulnerable populations first – i.e. people who are not eligible for EI. We will continue to think about other ways to get money to people and who needs help?
  • Are you expecting a worse economic downturn than in 2008?
    • Minister Morneau: We can’t know that for sure. We are taking measures to bolster the economy, and we will always be telling Canadians exactly what we know and don’t know about the challenge at hand.
    • Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz: The Minister is correct. We have a strong banking system. I have great confidence in our capacity to deal with this situation, and to be nimble to whatever we face. In 2008, we were not prepared for the other side of the crisis. Today, we know that this is temporary and that our economy was really strong going into the crisis – that will make a difference to the recovery.

Canada’s COVID-19 Economic Response Plan: Support for Canadians and Businesses

FromDepartment of Finance Canada

Backgrounder

The Government of Canada is taking immediate, significant and decisive action to help Canadians facing hardship as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.

On March 18, 2020, the Prime Minister announced a new set of economic measures to help stabilize the economy during this challenging period. These measures, delivered as part of the Government of Canada’s COVID-19 Economic Response Plan, will provide up to $27 billion in direct support to Canadian workers and businesses.

Support for Canadians

Income Support for Individuals Who Need it Most

Flexibility for Taxpayers

Mortgage Default Management Tools

Role of Financial Institutions

Support for Businesses

Supporting Canadian Businesses Through the Canada Account

Helping Businesses Keep Their Workers

Flexibility for Businesses Filing Taxes

Ensuring Businesses have Access to Credit

Supporting Financial Market Liquidity

Economic Response Plan – Cost and Implementation

Temporary Income Support for Workers and Parents

For Canadians without paid sick leave (or similar workplace accommodation) who are sick, quarantined or forced to stay home to care for children, the Government is:

  • Waiving the one-week waiting period for those individuals in imposed quarantine that claim Employment Insurance (EI) sickness benefits. This temporary measure is in effect as of March 15, 2020.
  • Waiving the requirement to provide a medical certificate to access EI sickness benefits.
  • Introducing the Emergency Care Benefit providing up to $900 bi-weekly, for up to 15 weeks. This flat-payment Benefit would be administered through the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) and provide income support to:
    • Workers, including the self-employed, who are quarantined or sick with COVID-19 but do not qualify for EI sickness benefits.
    • Workers, including the self-employed, who are taking care of a family member who is sick with COVID-19, such as an elderly parent, but do not quality for EI sickness benefits.
    • Parents with children who require care or supervision due to school closures, and are unable to earn employment income, irrespective of whether they qualify for EI or not.

Application for the Benefit will be available in April 2020, and require Canadians to attest that they meet the eligibility requirements. They will need to re-attest every two weeks to reconfirm their eligibility. Canadians will select one of three channels to apply for the Benefit:

  1. by accessing it on their CRA MyAccount secure portal;
  2. by accessing it from their secure My Service Canada Account; or
  3. by calling a toll free number equipped with an automated application process.

Longer-Term Income Support for Workers

For Canadians who lose their jobs or face reduced hours as a result of COVID’s impact, the Government is:

  • Introducing an Emergency Support Benefit delivered through the CRA to provide up to $5.0 billion in support to workers who are not eligible for EI and who are facing unemployment.
  • Implementing the EI Work Sharing Program, which provides EI benefits to workers who agree to reduce their normal working hour as a result of developments beyond the control of their employers, by extending the eligibility of such agreements to 76 weeks, easing eligibility requirements, and streamlining the application process. This was announced by the Prime Minister on March 11, 2020.

Income Support for Individuals Who Need It Most

For over 12 million low- and modest-income families, who may require additional help with their finances, the Government is proposing to provide a one-time special payment by early May 2020 through the Goods and Services Tax credit (GSTC). This will double the maximum annual GSTC payment amounts for the 2019-20 benefit year. The average boost to income for those benefitting from this measure will be close to $400 for single individuals and close to $600 for couples. This measure will inject $5.5 billion into the economy.

For over 3.5 million families with children, who may also require additional support, the Government is proposing to increase the maximum annual Canada Child Benefit (CCB) payment amounts, only for the 2019-20 benefit year, by $300 per child. The overall increase for families receiving CCB will be approximately $550 on average; these families will receive an extra $300 per child as part of their May payment. In total, this measure will deliver almost $2 billion in extra support.

Together, the proposed enhancements of the GSTC and CCB will give a single parent with two children and low to modest income nearly $1,500 in additional short-term support.

To ensure that certain groups who may be vulnerable to the impacts of COVID-19 have the support they need, the Government is proposing targeted help by:

  • Providing $305 million for a new distinctions-based Indigenous Community Support Fund to address immediate needs in First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Nation communities.
  • Placing a six-month interest-free moratorium on the repayment of Canada Student Loans for all individuals currently in the process of repaying these loans.
  • Reducing required minimum withdrawals from Registered Retirement Income Funds (RRIFs) by 25% for 2020, in recognition of volatile market conditions and their impact on many seniors’ retirement savings. This will provide flexibility to seniors that are concerned that they may be required to liquidate their RRIF assets to meet minimum withdrawal requirements. Similar rules would apply to individuals receiving variable benefit payments under a defined contribution Registered Pension Plan.
  • Providing the Reaching Home initiative with $157.5 million to continue to support people experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 outbreak. The funding could be used for a range of needs such as purchasing beds and physical barriers for social distancing and securing accommodation to reduce overcrowding in shelters.
  • Supporting women and children fleeing violence, by providing up to $50 million to women’s shelters and sexual assault centres to help with their capacity to manage or prevent an outbreak in their facilities. This includes funding for facilities in Indigenous communities.

Flexibility for Taxpayers

In order to provide greater flexibility to Canadians who may be experiencing hardships during the COVID-19 outbreak, the Canada Revenue Agency will defer the filing due date for the 2019 tax returns of individuals, including certain trusts.

  • For individuals (other than trusts), the return filing due date will be deferred until June 1, 2020.  However, the Agency encourages individuals who expect to receive benefits under the GSTC or the Canada Child Benefit not to delay the filing of their return to ensure their entitlements for the 2020-21 benefit year are properly determined.
  • For trusts having a taxation year ending on December 31, 2019, the return filing due date will be deferred until May 1, 2020.

The Canada Revenue Agency will allow all taxpayers to defer, until after August 31, 2020, the payment of any income tax amounts that become owing on or after today and before September 2020. This relief would apply to tax balances due, as well as instalments, under Part I of the Income Tax Act. No interest or penalties will accumulate on these amounts during this period.

In order to reduce the necessity for taxpayers and tax preparers to meet in person during this difficult time, and to reduce administrative burden, effective immediately the Canada Revenue Agency will recognize electronic signatures as having met the signature requirements of the Income Tax Act, as a temporary administrative measure. This provision applies to authorization forms T183 or T183CORP, which are forms that are signed in person by millions of Canadians every year to authorize tax preparers to file taxes.

The Canada Revenue Agency is adapting its Outreach Program to support individuals during COVID-19. Through this service, the Canada Revenue Agency offers help to individuals to better understand their tax obligations and to obtain the benefits and credits to which they are entitled. Traditionally available in-person, this service is now available over the phone, and through webinar, where possible.

The Canada Revenue Agency fully expects that many community organizations are considering whether to significantly reduce or perhaps cancel the provision of services provided under the Community Volunteer Income Tax Program. Additional efforts to encourage individuals to file their tax and benefit returns electronically, or where possible, through the File My Return service, will be put forward.

Role of Financial Institutions

The Minister of Finance is in regular contact with the heads of Canada’s large banks, and continues to encourage them to show flexibility in helping their customers whose personal or business finances are affected by COVID-19. The Superintendent of Financial Institutions has also made clear his expectation that banks will use the additional lending capacity provided by recent government actions to support Canadian businesses and households.

In response, banks in Canada have affirmed their commitment to working with customers to provide flexible solutions, on a case-by-case basis, for managing through hardships caused by recent developments. This may include situations such as pay disruption, childcare disruption, or illness. Canada’s large banks have confirmed that this support will include up to a 6-month payment deferral for mortgages, and the opportunity for relief on other credit products. These targeted measures respond to immediate challenges being faced across the country and will help stabilize the Canadian economy.

Mortgage Default Management Tools

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) and other mortgage insurers offer tools to lenders that can assist homeowners who may be experiencing financial difficulty. These include payment deferral, loan re-amortization, capitalization of outstanding interest arrears and other eligible expenses, and special payment arrangements.

The Government, through CMHC, is providing increased flexibility for homeowners facing financial difficulties to defer mortgage payments on homeowner CMHC-insured mortgage loans. CMHC will permit lenders to allow payment deferral beginning immediately.

Support for Businesses

The Government of Canada is taking immediate, significant and decisive action to support Canadian businesses facing financial hardship as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

On March 13, 2020, Minister of Finance Bill Morneau, Governor of the Bank of Canada Stephen Poloz, and Superintendent of Financial Institutions Jeremy Rudin outlined a coordinated package of measures to support the functioning of markets, the resilience of our financial sector, and continued access to financing for Canadian businesses. These actions will significantly increase the availability of credit to businesses of all sizes, sustain liquidity in key financial markets, and provide flexibility to businesses experiencing hardship.

On March 18, 2020 the government and its partners announced further measures to support businesses. These actions are part of Canada’s whole-of-government response to COVID-19, and the significant stimulus program developed to stabilize Canada’s economy, support businesses and to protect Canadians.

Supporting Canadian Business through the Canada Account

The government is changing the Canada Account so that the Minister of Finance would now be able to determine the limit of the Canada Account in order to deal with exceptional circumstances. The Canada Account is administered by Export Development Canada (EDC) and is used by the government to support exporters when deemed to be in the national interest. This will allow the government to provide additional support to Canadian companies through loans, guarantees or insurance policies during these challenging times.

Helping Businesses Keep their Workers

To support businesses that are facing revenue losses and to help prevent lay-offs, the government is proposing to provide eligible small employers a temporary wage subsidy for a period of three months. The subsidy will be equal to 10% of remuneration paid during that period, up to a maximum subsidy of $1,375 per employee and $25,000 per employer. Businesses will be able to benefit immediately from this support by reducing their remittances of income tax withheld on their employees’ remuneration. Employers benefiting from this measure will include corporations eligible for the small business deduction, as well as non-profit organizations and charities.

Flexibility for Businesses Filing Taxes

The Canada Revenue Agency will allow all businesses to defer, until after August 31, 2020, the payment of any income tax amounts that become owing on or after today and before September 2020.  This relief would apply to tax balances due, as well as instalments, under Part I of the Income Tax Act. No interest or penalties will accumulate on these amounts during this period.

The Canada Revenue Agency will not contact any small or medium (SME) businesses to initiate any post assessment GST/HST or Income Tax audits for the next four weeks. For the vast majority of businesses, the Canada Revenue Agency will temporarily suspend audit interaction with taxpayers and representatives.

The Liaison Officer service offers help to owners of small businesses to understand their tax obligations. Traditionally available in-person, this service is now available over the phone and will be customizing information during these challenging times by ensuring small businesses are aware of any changes such as filing and payment deadlines, proactive relief measures, etc.

Ensuring Businesses Have Access to Credit

The Business Credit Availability Program (BCAP) will allow the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) and Export Development Canada (EDC) to provide more than $10 billion of additional support, largely targeted to small and medium-sized businesses. This will be an effective tool for helping viable Canadian businesses remain resilient during these very uncertain times. BDC and EDC are cooperating with private sector lenders to coordinate on credit solutions for individual businesses, including in sectors such as oil and gas, air transportation and tourism. The near term credit available to farmers and the agri-food sector will also be increased through Farm Credit Canada.

The Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI) announced it is lowering the Domestic Stability Buffer by 1.25% of risk-weighted assets, effective immediately. This action will allow Canada’s large banks to inject $300 billion of additional lending in to the economy.

The Bank of Canada also took a series of actions to support the Canadian economy during this period of economic stress, enhance the resilience of the Canadian financial system, and help ensure that financial institutions can continue to extend credit to both households and businesses. This included cutting the interest rate to 0.75% as a proactive measure in light of the negative shocks to Canada’s economy arising from the COVID-19 pandemic and the recent sharp drop in oil prices.

Supporting Financial Market Liquidity

As a further proactive and coordinated measure to bolster the financial system and the Canadian economy, the government announced on March 16 that it is launching an Insured Mortgage Purchase Program (IMPP). Under this program, the government will purchase up to $50 billion of insured mortgage pools through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC). This action will provide long-term stable funding to banks and mortgage lenders, help facilitate continued lending to Canadian consumers and businesses, and add liquidity to Canada’s mortgage market. Details of the terms of the purchase operations will be provided to lenders by CMHC later this week.

The IMPP enhances the already substantial set of measures announced on March 13 to support the economy and the financial system. CMHC stands ready to further support liquidity and the stability of the financial markets through its mortgage funding programs as necessary.

Further, the Bank of Canada has announced that it will adjust its market liquidity operations to maintain market functioning and credit availability during the current period of uncertainty in which conditions are evolving rapidly.

The Bank of Canada also announced that it will broaden eligible collateral for its term repo facility to include the full range of collateral eligible under the Standing Liquidity Facility, with the exception of the non-mortgage loan portfolio. This expansion of eligible collateral will provide support to funding conditions for financial institutions by providing a backstop to regular private funding.

The Bank also announced that it stands ready, as a proactive measure, to provide support to the Canada Mortgage Bond (CMB) market so that this important funding market continues to function well. This would include, as required, purchases of CMBs in the secondary market. Similar to the increase in Government of Canada bond buybacks, this will support market liquidity and price discovery.

Economic Response Plan – Cost and Implementation

Economic Response Plan – Cost and Implementation
Measure 2020-2021 Cost/Impact Implementation
Emergency Care Benefit Up to $10 billion Early April
*requires Royal Assent
Emergency Support Benefit Up to $5 billion Early April
*requires Royal Assent
GST Credit $5.5 billion By Early May
*requires Royal Assent
Enhanced Canada Child Benefit $1.9 billion May
* requires Royal Assent
Temporary Business Wage Subsidy $3.8 billion Immediately
Supporting legislation to follow
Canada Student Loan Payments $190 million Early April
* requires Royal Assent
Support for Indigenous Communities $305 million April
*requires Royal Assent
Support for people experiencing homelessness (through Reaching Home) $157.5 million April
*requires Royal Assent
Support for women’s shelters and sexual assault centres including on reserve $50 million April
*requires Royal Assent
Lower Registered Retirement Income Fund Minimum Withdrawal Amounts $495 million Immediately
Supporting legislation to follow
Total $27.4 billion  
Other supports    
Flexibility for individual and corporate taxpayers (tax payment deferral until September) $55 billion Immediately
Business Credit Availability Program (BCAP) through BDC and EDC $10 billion + Immediately
Credit and liquidity support through financial Crown corporations, Bank of Canada, OSFI, CMHC and commercial lenders (e.g., Domestic Stability Buffer, Insured Mortgage Purchase Program, Banker’s Acceptance Purchase Facility) In the range of $500 billion Immediately

 

It’s Our Responsibility As Non-Indigenous People to Show that Reconciliation Is Not Dead

Photo credit: Colin Smith

This blog post is being written just as CBC announced that Wet’suwet’en, Canada, and British Columbia have reached a proposed arrangement

On Friday afternoon I visited the youth staying at the legislature. They are there to defend their lands, rights, and Indigenous title. I stood in circle with them and listened to their passion, their concerns and their fears.

I went to see them in part because I was on a panel on Friday evening at the Victoria Urban Reconciliation Dialogues hosted by the Victoria Native Friendship Centre. One of the questions that panel host Shelagh Rogers said she’d be asking us is about the role of Indigenous youth in the future of reconciliation. So I went down to the legislature to learn.

A key part of my role as mayor is to support and nurture our young people, the leaders of today and the leaders of tomorrow. When I heard these Indigenous youth say that they are afraid, when I heard them say that our country has failed them time and time again, when I heard about the sacrifices they are making – putting their own lives on hold and at risk – I am moved to speak up.

As non-Indigenous allies, we must speak up against the racism that is rearing its head in response to Indigenous people standing up across the country. We must denounce racism in all its forms. We must call it out. There is never, ever, any excuse or any “good reason” for racism.

When I met with the youth on Friday they told me that they think reconciliation is dead. I can see how they feel this way – it took more than two weeks of protests across the country to get everyone around the table in Wet’suwet’en territory just for the conversation to begin. And along the way there were arrests and further displacement of Indigenous people from their homelands. In a so called era of reconciliation, it shouldn’t have taken this long and it shouldn’t have been so difficult for the conditions for dialogue set by the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs to be met.

What I want to say to the youth is that it is our responsibility as non-Indigenous people to show them and their elders and all Indigenous people that reconciliation is not dead.

We do this by telling the whole truth about the history of our country: that it was built by the removal of Indigenous people from their lands, the tearing apart of Indigenous families, the obliteration of Indigenous laws and ways of knowing the world. We acknowledge that all of these things are still happening today and we do everything in our power to change this. Reconciliation is not dead as long as we are willing to name the colonial and painful truth of Canada’s origin story.

Reconciliation is not dead if we as non-Indigenous community members are committed to decolonizing Canada, to working together to create a new story. This means being committed to honouring Indigenous rights and title and ensuring that Indigenous legal orders can exist side by side with the Canadian one. For me, reconciliation is not dead but it is really, really difficult and painful work, for everyone.

After participating in the Victoria Urban Reconciliation Dialogues this weekend, I am also hopeful. As Shelley Cardinal, the president of the Victoria Native Friendship Centre said in her opening remarks on Friday evening, “Now when the discomfort is here is not the time to abandon each other, it’s the time to walk together.” And as Tsartlip Nation member and MLA Adam Olsen said in his opening remarks, at times like these “We need to call each other in, not call each other out.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wet’suwet’en conflict puts “rule of law” in context

Wet'suwet'en Actions_GuilleIndigenous youth gathered in circle at BC Legislature.                     Photo credit: Jason Guille

This past week has been very challenging as a settler, ally, mayor and Canadian. Across the country, on the island, and here in our city, there have been protests and blockades in support of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs who assert authority over 22,000 square kilometres of land in northern BC, their homelands and traditional territories. Coastal GasLink also asserts authority to build a natural gas pipeline and their authority has been backed by the courts and enforced by the RCMP.

The protests are not surprising. To expect anything other than a vocal show of solidarity with the hereditary chiefs would be to have blinders on to the current historical moment we are in as a country. It’s complicated to say the least.

The federal, provincial and local governments are all talking about reconciliation. At the City, we moved a statue of Sir John A. Macdonald from the front steps of City Hall that caused pain and suffering to Indigenous people. We’ve created the Witness Reconciliation Program and the City Family – an Indigenous-informed governance body – to guide the reconciliation process. And we’re hosting a series of difficult but important conversations at the Victoria Reconciliation Dialogues.

The Province – by unanimous vote – adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples into legislation. In his thoughtful statement on the protests earlier this week, Premier Horgan pointed to the complexity of implementing this legislation.

Trudeau in his mandate letters requests that minsters continue “supporting self-determination, improving service delivery and advancing reconciliation.” He directs “every single Minister to determine what they can do in their specific portfolio to accelerate and build on the progress we have made with First Nations, Inuit and Métis Peoples.”

What all of these reconciliation efforts will need to grapple with – and what the Wet’suwet’en situation has brought to light in a clear and practical way – are the multiple legal systems in conflict with one another. The Wet’suwet’en conflict between elected councils and hereditary chiefs isn’t the first and it won’t be the last. This a key issue. And this conflict is not new. It was created in 1876 with the adoption of the Indian Act, the reserve system and the imposition of elected band councils.

The residential school system tried to take the “Indian out of the child”, to erase culture, but it ultimately failed. Despite the harm and trauma that the school system caused, which are still felt across the country today, we see the proliferation of language revitalization programs, cultural resurgence, and youth – like those at the legislature this past week – proud to be Indigenous.

As the residential school system took aim at language and culture, the Indian Act aimed to obliterate thousands-year-old legal systems that had a different understanding of rights, responsibilities and relationships. But it didn’t succeed, entirely.

In 2018 the University of Victoria launched the world’s first Indigenous law program. Students of the four-year degree program graduate with professional degrees in both Canadian Common Law and Indigenous Legal Orders. What we’re seeing alongside a cultural resurgence is the rise again of Indigenous legal orders and an assertion of their rightful place in establishing law and order in the lands we know as Canada.

In this context, the protests are not surprising. They are the result of tectonic plates of different legal systems grinding against each other.

When served with an injunction to clear the rail tracks near Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, Andrew Brant said, “The [injunction] doesn’t mean anything; it’s just a piece of paper. To us, that is not our government; that’s not our law, so when they serve it to us, it’s just a piece of paper.”

If we continued to look only through a Canadian/colonial legal lens it would be easy to dismiss Brant’s point of view. It would be easy to dismiss the protests here in Victoria and across the country. It would be easy to point to the 20 band councils along the Coastal GasLink pipeline route and say that they have approved it and are seeking benefits for their communities.

This is true and important and clearly established within one legal order. And goodness knows economic opportunity for First Nations communities is a good thing. At the same time, to completely dismiss the established authority of hereditary chiefs in Wet’suwet’en territory or elsewhere puts one legal order over another. And pits Indigenous people against each other.

Moving statues, passing UNDRIP and giving strong mandate letters to Ministers are all important steps. For reconciliation to be successful we must find a way to have Indigenous legal orders side by side with the Canadian one. Until this is resolved – and it will take years, if not decades – we can expect the protests and resistance to continue.

This piece was originally published in the Times Colonist here.

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

 

 

 

Why 16-Year-Olds Should Be Able to Vote in Local Elections

At the recent Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities convention, the City of Victoria brought forward a motion calling on the Provincial government to lower the voting age to 16 for local government elections. (See full text of motion below). The motion passed with a strong majority of delegates in support.

I’ll share what I said at the microphone urging delegates to vote yes. I’ll also share the story of one of the youth behind the #Vote16BC Campaign in her own words. Her story is just one reason why I support their cause.

Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish girl who has inspired youth around the world, is a good person to start with. Greta is the ideal voter and politically engaged citizen. She understands the importance of using resources prudently and planning for the long term. She’s thoughtful and well-spoken. She has the courage to stand up for her convictions. And she’s able to mobilize people to action.

There are 16 and 17 year olds in all of our communities in British Columbia just like Greta. They are wise, thoughtful, and forward-thinking. Many of them have recently been moved to action, organizing, demonstrating and urging us adults to clean up our act on climate change. We have a responsibility to let them shape their own future by doing more than protesting in front of the legislature.

Influencing positive adult behaviour begins in youth. When blue boxes were first introduced, one of the key areas of focus for blue-box education was the classroom. Get kids recycling at a young age, the thinking went, and build a life-long habit of recycling. So too with transit. The City of Victoria will be providing free transit to youth 18 and under in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but equally importantly, to nurture life-long transit use.

The same argument can be made for voting. Imagine if each fall in the year of a municipal election, grade 11 and 12 students reviewed and discussed the issues and wrote papers on a muncipal election topic. What if they organized all candidates debates – as happened at Vic High in 2014. And then imagine if on the Saturday of the election, they gathered as a class and went to cast their ballots. Maybe they’d bring their parents with them!

This civic education is good for democracy. And with voter turnout in local elections at an all-time low and with democracy on shaky ground around the world, it could use a boost right now. Enabling willing 16 and 17 year olds to vote in local elections is one small step in strengthening democracy and building a life-long practice of civic participation.

I support the Vote 16 BC Campaign for these reasons. But I also support it because of Nahira’s story. And the stories of countless other 16 and 17 year olds from across British Columbia who are organizing the #Vote16BC Campaign. They are counting on elected officials to vote Yes at the Union of BC Municipalities conference in Vancouver this September. And they expect that if a yes vote happens, the Provincial government will act swiftly and give them the right to vote.

Follow them on Twitter. Join them on Facebook. Sign their Petition.

Nahira’s Story

There are many ways we can convince the government that young people should have a say in our society. One way is through storytelling. It’s not only powerful, but storytelling also connects us in ways that facts cannot. I would like to share my story with you and why I want to lower the voting age.

My name is Nahira Gerster-Sim and I was adopted from China. Because of the one child policy, my biological parents felt they were not able to raise me. My adoptive parents brought me to Canada when I was two years old.

As a young child, I was always puzzled by the notion that a government would force a rule upon a society that would inevitably leave thousands of children stranded, starving and separated from their families. Why were they allowed to make that kind of decision for us, when it really only affected us negatively?

As I continued to make my way through elementary and now high school, I’ve been continually shocked at the number of times adults have made decisions about my future and wellbeing without consultation. And often they aren’t even in my best interest. Many of my friends feel the same way.

For example, the Vancouver School Board makes all the decisions about our schooling. What schools to close, how to evaluate students, what to teach. Yet, they never ask us what kind of an education system we think would be most beneficial to us. There is only one student rep on the school board, and she doesn’t have a vote.

What’s more, the government is burning money and resources on pipelines and big corporations that are going to destroy our planet, instead of spending its money looking at renewable energy plans and sustainable actions. Ultimately, they don’t have to deal with the consequences of their actions on the earth – we do.

In the 21st century, teenagers are taking the world by storm. We are fighting for justice and equality on various issues including gun control, sustainability, racism, and so much more. But even so, adults and other authorities still see us as pushovers – unintelligent, just pawns in whatever society they want to create.

But I don’t see it that way and I hope you don’t either. I see young people as a voice for change, the future of a better world. At sixteen, we are able to drive, join the army and get married. Doesn’t that mean that we are also well enough informed and educated about local and national issues?

I want to lower the voting age so that I can be a part of evolving our system, hopefully shifting our society to a more progressive viewpoint. I don’t want a political system where children can’t get even get their basic needs met because the government didn’t bother to think about anyone under the age of 30. Canada should value the opinion of its youth.

This is not a democracy if it’s not inclusive in the most generous sense.

I want to inspire youth so we have a voice powerful enough to make a difference. At 16 years old, I want to be part of what we call democracy. Hopefully, all of us together, we can change the political system.

Screenshot 2019-04-22 08.54.42

 

 

 

 

 

The Inclusion Project – Canada’s Inclusive Future and Newcomer Engagement Part 2: Covenant, Side By Side, and the Stories We Tell

Here is the my full keynote address from The Inclusion Project. This post and the one from last week are the written version. Please feel free to share. 

How do we create inclusion in the 21st century? We need a new approach, led by civil society. In The Home We Build Together: Recreating Society the British Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks lays out an important framework.  

I argued with the book in the margins from time to time as I don’t agree with all of his premises. In my younger years I may have dismissed it as “from another paradigm / too different” and stopped reading; but I’ve since realized that difference is a good teacher. It’s a key book in understanding how we can create and ensure belonging, empowerment and opportunities for collaboration, together. 

This is especially important in the current age of division, the rise of populism, in an era where facts matter less and the dangerous echo-chamber of Facebook can shape reality. And it’s particularly important given an emerging trend of people’s minds being made up before they have actual information and a culture developing of both closed-mindedness and closed-heartedness. This leads to things like mosque attacks and other intolerable hate crimes.

I’ll outline the thrust of his book because there is detailed, compelling argument and a strong call to action.

The key question of The Home We Build Together is the same question we are grappling  with here today at The Inclusion Project: “How do you construct a society that respects cultural and religious diversity while at the same time promoting civic equality, social cohesion and a sense of the common good?” 1

The concept of the common good is important.

Sack says fundamentally the problem we are facing is not a problem with the state, it’s a problem with society, civil society, it’s a problem with belonging. He puts it really beautifully, when he says, “The real arena of collective grace lies with us, the us-together  we call … society.” 2

How do we achieve / embody this collective grace?

Neither the state nor the market have the capacity to deliver inclusion. As Paola said earlier this morning, “Inclusion is not something we can leave for others to do.”

Sacks says (through a detailed reading of the Hebrew Bible that I won’t go into here) that we need a new social covenant where all “parties agree to respect one another’s integrity as free agents.” In a covenant, “the parties bind themselves to one another in an open-ended bond of mutuality and loyalty. They agree to share a fate.” 3

This is critically important for The Inclusion Project. What fate do we all want to share? What do we want to create together with our differences as assets? What can we create as a whole that is greater than each of us?

What is the common good?

Sacks argues for covenant as a way of thinking about contemporary society. It’s important to explain what he means. He “distinguishes between social covenant and social contract. Social contract is an arrangement between self-interested individuals a “covenant is about creating a ‘we’ out of multiple ‘I’s’.” 4

I think that a new covenant is at the heart of The Inclusion Project that we’re here working on today. It’s the idea that “all of us must come together to ensure the dignity of each of us. Covenant is the politics of the common good.” 5 As George said earlier this morning, a covenant is not about including, about who includes who, rather it is a shared commitment to dignity in diversity.

A covenant is a shared commitment to a common good. And this shared commitment can only be undertaken – and must be undertaken – by civil society.

Sacks writes: “There are two ways of getting other people to do what we want. We can force them: That is the answer of power. Or we can pay them: That is the answer of the market. But neither involves treating other people with dignity and respect … Covenant is a third possibility. We create co-operation not by getting you to do what I want, but by joining together in a moral association that turns You and I into ‘We.’ I hope you help me, because there are things we care about together. Covenant is a binding commitment, entered into by two or more parties, to work an care for one another while respecting the freedom, integrity, and difference of each.” 6

I don’t ’t want to go on and on in this theoretical way. But I want to emphasize that we need a fresh approach to inclusion and a renewed commitment to a common good and covenant offer us one way of thinking.

How do we do this?

I will continue with Sacks for just a moment as I move to the third part of my talk and to where I think we can go from here.

Sacks sites the 1954 research of Muzafer Sherif and his famous Robbers’ Cave Experiment. (Please read the link for information or watch the video of my talk.) In a strong and moving revelation, Sacks asserts that the key to remaking civil society and a strong social fabric is not dialogue; it is doing or building things together. It “is a paradigm-shifting insight,” he says. “Side by side works better than face to face.” 7

We must do something together, build something together if we are going to have true inclusion, empathy, understanding and a shared vision of the common good that we can commit to. As Sudhir said this morning, we can’t just talk about diversity and inclusion, we must do it.

What do we need to do? What does this mean for us here today? For our communities?

We must work side by side to solve shared problems – and certainly we have enough of them. Racism and lack of inclusion, global migration and resettlement, which we’re focused on today, also climate change and affordability. A key take away from today’s dialogue is to create opportunities for working side by side.

Here are some that I know have already happened or are happening (Please watch the video of my talk for more detail and colour):

  • Members of the Victoria Police Department are going to hockey games with members of Indigenous street community
  • Members of the Victoria Police Department are playing soccer with members of the Muslim community
  • Victoria’s Sikh community organized a protective human chain around the mosque during Friday prayers
  • Ramadan dinner at City hall. Planning for this year, we talked about hiring staff to clean up but then remembered the experience of cleaning up together last year.
  • City of Victoria Youth Council, racialized minority and non-racialized-minority youth organizing Cultural Fair (12-4pm at City Hall May 25th).
  • Employment Opportunity Exchange
  • The South Island Prosperity Project and Indigenous Member Nations
  • Welcoming City Initiative

To wrap up. Ruth said in her introductory remarks that this gathering is about authentic stories and turning those stories, through listening, into action. I think that’s one of the themes that’s emerged for me this morning – the importance of story. One of the things that’s that really important, that’s come out here, is that the stories we each tell matter. The former Prime Minister of Canada, the Honourable Kim Campbell, came to speak in Victoria a few years ago as a fundraiser for Bridges for Women. And she said something that I have not forgotten, and it resonated here again today. She said, “Stories are the unit of human understanding.”

My opinion, my feeling and my experience here today is that really it is civil society and not the market or the state where inclusion is going to happen the most quickly and most wholeheartedly.

The questions that I want to leave all of us with are: What kind of covenant do we want to make with each other? My sense is that the covenant that we want to make with each other has something to do with honouring and holding up each other’s stories. As we honour and hold each other stories up, what kind of shared fate do we want to create together? And what is our collective definition of the common good where the dignity of each is recognized?

The Inclusion Project – Canada’s Inclusive Future and Newcomer Engagement Part 1: Why Now, and Reconciliation

Inclusion Project.jpeg

Last Saturday I was honoured to attend and also to provide the keynote address at an important community-led event called The Inclusion Project. Created by recent newcomer from Nigeria, Ruth Mojeed, with the support a small organizing committee, the event was an opportunity for participants to dialogue and grapple with the difficult questions of diversity, equity and inclusion. Follow up steps from the inaugural event include developing a charter on diversity, equity and inclusion for stakeholders across sectors. Stay tuned here. This blog post and next week’s as well, is a written version of my address. You can watch the full video of my talk here.

Why is The Inclusion Project important?

We pat ourselves on the back in Canada and in our region for being inclusive, tolerant and welcoming. Indeed compared to some places in the world this is the case. But it’s also the case that despite how progressive we think we are there is still racism and discrimination in this country and in this region. While this maybe be hard to hear, it’s important to say, and it’s important for me as a community leader to say.

I know there is still racism and discrimination in our region because of my experience during Ramadan last year. Each year we have Rabbi Kaplan come to City Hall and light the menorah for Hanukkah. We invite the media as well as councillors and senior staff and treat it like a formal protocol event. Since the Quebec mosque shooting, I have developed a closer relationship with the Imam and the Muslim community and it occurred to me that we might want to have a protocol event around Ramadan in the same way we had for Hanukkah.

Near the beginning of Ramadan last year we hosted the Imam, councillors and the media in my office. But we took it one step further. In order to build solidarity, empathy and mutual understanding, Council committed to fasting with the Muslim community during one day of Ramadan and we invited the community to fast with us. At the end of our day of fasting we co-hosted – with the Imam and members of the Muslim community – an iftar or fast-breaking dinner at City Hall so we could eat together and learn from each other.

I won’t repeat here some of the racist backlash that occurred because I won’t use this platform to amplify hate speech even while condemning it. But there were some surprising and vitriolic emails that came my way as a result of this invitation and event. Because there is still racism in our country and in our region.

But there’s another reason that The Inclusion Project is important. And that’s because while there are still racist attitudes and hate crimes, people are also yearning for connection, belonging, and a way to show empathy and solidarity. After the Quebec Mosque shootings in 2017 we organized a vigil on the steps of City Hall. Despite very short notice, there were thousands of people in attendance – so many people that the street was spontaneously closed and the sound system was far too small for the gathering. No one had anticipated such a crowd.

The Inclusion Project is also important now because our region is changing. Between 2011 and 2016 there was a 38% increase in racialized minorities. This is a tremendous opportunity in many ways, including economically. Integration of newcomers to Canada into our community through economic inclusion not only enhances a sense of connection and belonging and makes us a more diverse and resilient community. But also, a report from the 2017 Victoria Forum notes that “though there are barriers to achieving these goals, it was found that a one per cent increase in ethno-cultural workplace diversity led to one per cent increase in productivity and 2.4 per cent increase in revenue.”[1]

There are lots of reasons for The Inclusion Project now.

***

In order to build Canada’s inclusive future and to move The Inclusion Project forward, we must begin with reconciliation. If we do not treat Indigenous people and their lands and nations with respect and if we don’t honour their fundamental rights, how can racialized people from around the world who make Canada their home believe that there is hope of true inclusivity? We cannot have inclusivity, belonging, and empowerment if we do not work towards reconciliation.

Reconciliation must be Indigenous-informed and respect Indigenous practices, world-views and ways of knowing. Reconciliation is not a goal, it is a process and a path that we walk together.

In 2017 the City of Victoria began a formal process of reconciliation with the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations, the Lekwungen speaking peoples on whose homeland the City was founded. When the City first approached the Nations, it was in a very colonial way, asking them to sit on a “reconciliation task force.” Through conversation we learned that a more Indigenous-focused approach would be a better way to proceed if we were sincere in wanting to pursue truth and reconciliation. In response, we formed a City Family and began a Witness Reconciliation Program.

As part of this process, decision making with regards to reconciliation (other than budgetary allocations) are made by the City Family with the Songhees and Esquimalt Chief and Councils as witnesses. Witnesses, in Lekwungen tradition, listen to the story of the family and give their input and guidance to find a good way forward.

After a year of discussion, deliberation, truth-sharing, and seeking counsel from the Songhees and Esquimalt Chiefs and Councils on multiple occasions, the family decided that the first important step in taking action on reconciliation was to remove the statue of Sir John A. Macdonald from the front doors of city hall so that the family members and other Indigenous people do not need to walk past this painful reminder of colonial violence each time they enter the doors of their municipal government.

Around the region and across the country one of the main reactions when we moved the statue was, “There was no consultation!” This reaction emphasizes the need for further work on understanding and reconciliation; it revealed the prevalence of colonial thinking, discrimination and the continued invisiblization of Indigeneous people in our region and country. A year of consultation with Indigenous people didn’t count as consultation.

Dr. Pamela D. Palmater is a Mi’kmaw citizen and a member of the Eel River Bar First Nation in northern New Brunswick and Chair in Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University said in a panel I attended recently, “If what you’re doing feels easy it is not reconciliation.”

Moving forward locally this year we will convene the Victoria Reconciliation Dialogues. In order to have an inclusive future we must grapple with what it means to literally inhabit someone else’s homelands.

At a national level the work of reconciliation is also important if we are serious as a country about creating an inclusive future. In February 2018 the Prime Minister said in the House of Commons:

“Instead of outright recognizing and affirming Indigenous rights – as we promised we would – Indigenous Peoples were forced to prove, time and time again, through costly and drawn-out court challenges, that their rights existed, must be recognized and implemented. Indigenous Peoples, like all Canadians, know this must change.”

The government is in the process of undertaking consultation that will result in legislation outlining the relationship between Canada and Indigenous Nations. In September 2018, the government published a preliminary draft report on work to date in and a proposed outline of legislation.

In a response paper, the Assembly of First Nations outlined its concerns with the government’s approach. The top two concerns are:

  1. The government is proposing that First Nations apply to the federal government for recognition as a nation and the government will decide whether to accept that application to then advance negotiations. Such an approach is not consistent with self-determination when one government sets the criteria for recognition and then makes the determination for another.
  2. Recognition is premised on Crown recognition rather than affirmation of Indigenous Peoples pre-existing, inherent legal rights.

The approach proposed by the government will not lead us on a path to an inclusive Canada. It also does not demonstrate to newcomers to our country that we take rights seriously, that we are truly a welcoming society.

Next week’s post: The Inclusion Project – Canada’s Inclusive Future and Newcomer Engagement Part 2: Covenant, and Side By Side.

 

[1] Bessma Momani, Mark Tschirgi and Adel Guitouni, “Diversity and Economic Prosperity,” in Canada@150: Promoting Diversity & Inclusion: Report of the Inaugural Victoria Forum, ed. Adel Guitouni, Saul Klein, Sébastien Beaulieu, (Victoria: University of Victoria, 2018), 24.

 

Quality of Life Focus for City’s 2019-2022 Strategic Plan and Budget 2019

Screenshot 2019-03-19 09.38.22.png

During the election campaign last fall when I was at community meetings, in living rooms, in small businesses and on doorsteps I heard loud and clear that quality of life and well-being are important to Victorians. I heard this from the very young, the very old and everyone in between.

That’s why in Council’s recently adopted 2019-2022 Strategic Plan and in this year’s budget we are making meaningful investments in livable neighbourhoods, affordable housing, senior’s and community centres and safer, more human-scale streets. I know from speaking with members of our business community that quality of life is key to them thriving as well – business owners and employees like all the amenities that come with living in a place where people’s health and well-being matter.

Over the past four years Victoria has enjoyed a period of unprecedented growth and prosperity. We are re-investing the benefits of a strong economy to improve life for people. The actions in our four-year Strategic Plan are focused on what our residents want and asked us to do, to make Victoria more affordable, create welcoming neighbourhoods, and to act now on climate change.

In addition to continuing to invest in better City services for people, Council’s 2019-2022 Strategic Plan puts a priority on things that will make a real difference in people’s daily lives.

To make Victoria more affordable for families, the City is putting $1 million into the Housing Reserve Fund in 2019 and implementing a new suite of housing initiatives to increase the number of affordable homes for people in all stages and phases of life’s journey and to support renters.

To create infrastructure that will keep us all healthy, the City is investing in active transportation, street improvements and traffic calming, with more than $31.6 million over the next four years going to keep people moving around the city safely and efficiently.

To help them deliver high-quality services, Victoria’s eight community centres and three seniors centres are receiving a $234,000 boost to their annual base funding. Neighbourhood Associations will receive a total of $100,000 to support neighbourhood planning.

The City will also convene a Seniors Task Force to learn more about seniors’ needs and desires and to develop the City’s first Seniors Strategy. This will support seniors in remaining independent, healthy, active and socially-connected in the community.

A new investment of $858,000 annually will expedite implementation of the Urban Forest Master Plan, to maintain the trees we have and to plant new trees. In 2019, a total of nearly $3 million will go to maintain and enhance the urban forest, with the long-term goal to increase tree canopy coverage to 40 per cent.

The Strategic Plan and Budget were developed with broad public input. More than 1,500 people provided their ideas and feedback to Council in the budget survey and town hall meeting, and another 150 people participated in the Strategic Plan Engagement Summit to share their knowledge and experience to help Council shape the plans.

 The Goal of the strategic plan was also developed by the public: “By 2022, Victoria will be a bold, thriving, inclusive, and happy city that people love. We will be known globally for our climate leadership practices, multi-modal transportation options, innovative approaches to affordable housing, and for meaningful reconciliation with the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations on whose homelands our city was built.” Working together, side by side – council, staff and the community – we will achieve this.

Read the whole plan here.

Highlights of the 2019-2022 Strategic Plan

The 2019-2022 Strategic Plan includes more than 170 actions in eight strategic Objectives.

  1. Good Governance and Civic Engagement
  2. Reconciliation and Indigenous Relations
  3. Affordable Housing
  4. Prosperity and Economic Inclusion
  5. Health, Well-Being and a Welcoming City
  6. Climate Leadership and Environmental Stewardship
  7. Sustainable Transportation
  8. Strong, Liveable Neighbourhoods

In addition, Council has set the following Operational Priorities, reflecting the shared values of Council and  City staff, residents and the business community:

  • Heritage conservation and heritage designation
  • Nurturing and supporting arts, culture and creativity
  • Creating and maintaining a high-quality public realm
  • Continuous improvement with regard to open government
  • Meaningful and inclusive public engagement
  • Sound fiscal management
  • Accessible information, facilities and services

Objective #1 – Good Governance and Civic Engagement

  • Working with Saanich Council to develop and implement a Citizens Assembly process to explore amalgamation.
  • Offering free childcare at City Hall during public hearings.
  • Releasing closed meeting decisions and Council member expenses quarterly.
  • Working to regionalize police services and consider the possibility of a single, amalgamated police service for the region

Objective #2 – Reconciliation and Indigenous Relations

  • Working with First Nations and the community to create the Victoria Reconciliation Dialogues.
  • Reinstating the City’s Indigenous Artist in Residence program, providing the opportunity for a local Indigenous artist to develop artistic works and engage the community in dialogue and events.
  • Establishing an Indigenous Relations function and appointing Indigenous Elders in Residence to provide advice on City programs and operations will be considered in 2020 with guidance and support from the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations.
  • Exploring co-governance of Meegan (Beacon Hill Park) and shoreline areas with the Lekwungen speaking people.

Objective #3 – Affordable Housing

  • Investing $1 million in the City’s Housing Reserve Fund in 2019 and to acquire lands and partner with other agencies to end chronic homelessness.
  • Investing an additional $545,000 in 2019 on a suite of initiatives to encourage and incentivize more affordable homes for people, especially families, as well as look for further opportunities to speed up and simplify the development process for affordable rental homes.
  • Assigning a Tenant Housing Ambassador at City Hall to make it easier for renters to navigate the Tenant Assistance Policy, Standards of Maintenance Bylaw and other programs to support renters, being considered in 2020.
  • Considering grant programs for secondary suites and affordable garden suites, including those that are accessible and serve an aging population.

Objective #4 – Prosperity and Economic Inclusion

  • Convening the Mayor’s Task Force on Economic Development and Prosperity 2.0 to hit 2041 job targets.
  • Allocating more than $1 million in the City’s Festival Investment Grants over the next four year years ($270,000 annually) to create a vibrant city, strengthen downtown and enhance liveability.
  • Investing $1.5 million to support public art, festivals and events, including the City of Victoria Butler Book Prize, Indigenous Artist in Residence, Artist in Residence, and Poet/Youth Laureate programs.
  • Providing nearly $4.3 million each year to support economic development initiatives and make it easier to do business in Victoria, including the Business Hub at City Hall, the South Island Prosperity Project, the Victoria Film Commission and operating the Victoria Conference Centre.
  • Exploring ways for businesses in Victoria to become living wage employers.

Objective #5 – Health, Well-Being and a Welcoming City

  • Creating a Welcoming City Strategy to promote inclusivity, understanding and collaboration
  • Striking a Peer-Informed Task Force to identify priority actions to inform a Mental Health and Addictions Strategy, actionable at the municipal level.
  • Creating a city-wide Childcare Strategy and Action Plan.
  • Developing and implementing an Accessibility Framework to make City policies, services, infrastructure and facilities more accessible for all.
  • Increasing local food security with urban agriculture initiatives to foster food production on private land, support farmers markets and community gardens, food storage and distribution systems.

Objective #6 – Climate Leadership and Environmental Stewardship

  • Taking serious climate action to reduce carbon pollution by 80 per cent and transition to 100 per cent renewable energy by 2050.
  • Working with the community to develop and implement a Zero Waste Strategy that will chart the course to a local economy where nothing is wasted.
  • Allocating $13.7 million in upgrades to the drinking water, stormwater and sewer system.
  • Implementing the BC Step Code and mandating electric vehicle charging capacity in all new developments.

Objective #7 – Sustainable Transportation

  • Providing a $975,000 increase in capital investment for street improvements, for a total of  $3.6 million in 2019.
  • Investing $450,000 in traffic calming initiatives to make local streets safer, and reduce the speed limit to 30 km/h on neighbourhood streets by 2021.
  • Investing $2.5 million in crosswalk upgrades or new installations at 18 locations to improve safety and encourage walking.
  • Fast-tracking completion by 2022 of the City’s 32-kilometre, AAA cycling network through
  • Providing free BC Transit passes for all Victoria youth, funded through new revenue raised by charging for Sunday on-street metered parking beginning May 1, 2019.

Objective #8 – Strong, Liveable Neighbourhoods

  • Investing $35 million in 2019 in the City’s parks, recreation and facilities, which includes 137 parks, 207 hectares of parkland, 90 hectares of natural landscape, 40 playgrounds, 23 tennis courts, 12 dog off-leash areas, 45 sports fields and 104 City facilities.
  • Expanding the LIFE program to provide low-income families with free year-round use of the Crystal Pool and Fitness Centre and ice skating at the Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre.
  • Exploring partnerships to create meeting space and a home base for neighbourhood associations that currently do not have their own community centre.
  • Providing $60,000 for the City’s Participatory Budgeting program to empower the community to direct investment in neighbourhoods, with youth-themed projects the focus for 2019, newcomers in 2020 and neighbourhood placemaking in 2021.

 

Cherry Trees, Urban Forest Management and Climate Change: The Facts

Cherry Blossom Trees.jpg

It is both dangerous to public dialogue and frustrating for everyone when one city councillor’s explosive opinion is taken as fact. The fact is that there is no plan to systematically remove cherry trees, never to plant another in the city. The cherry blossom trees are part of our charm as a city and are a welcome and delightful sign of spring to locals and visitors alike. In addition, they are a key part of our cultural heritage, a symbol of our strong connection with the Japanese community as well as with Victoria’s Twin City, Morioka Japan. Next year is the 35th anniversary of our twinning. I had been planning to propose the first annual Victoria Hanami Festival to mark the occasion.

Cherry trees have long been a high-profile part of the local urban forest and City Parks Staff believe they may continue to thrive in locations with appropriate conditions. Ornamental flowering cherry trees require a moderate to high available water requirement during the growing season. With climate change modelling showing drier, warmer summers, staff expect that they will not be a good species for all of the locations where they presently are growing. Staff continue to plant some cherry varieties where they may do well. These areas typically have good soils and more available water during the summer.  In 2017, the City planted 20 ornamental flowering cherries and 20 ornamental flowering plums as part of our tree planting program.

In response to the recent inquiries and media attention relating to the City’s management of the urban forest, it is important to share the wider context in which staff make decisions about which trees to plant where in light of the changing climate.

The effects of climate change over the past several years are being seen in many areas of the city.  Our staff have observed this, and in particular the professionals who oversee the urban forest have raised concerns about the impact of hotter, drier summers, strong winter storms, introduced insects, and the resilience of urban trees.

Over the past four years, staff have conveyed to Council necessary updates in operational practices intended to mitigate against risks and effectively steward the living assets under our care. Last week, Council asked our Director of Parks, Thomas Soulliere some specific questions about the additional investment in urban forest management and potential outcomes, including loss of ornamental trees.

During this exchange, Soulliere attempted to convey the staff experiences to-date regarding the importance of tree inspections, which are key to monitoring tree vitality and also to protecting the public (individuals and property) from trees in declining health. While the focus of his responses was the overall approach to implementing the approved City Plan, it seems as though some of his comments may have been interpreted to suggest that an entirely new direction was being contemplated. It is not.

To be clear, the City only removes trees on public property if:

  1. There is evidence the tree is causing significant damage or is endangering the
  2. The tree is dead or dying
  3. The tree is required to be removed to accommodate another approved initiative (ie. land-use change, infrastructure upgrade)

When trees must be removed, the approach to replanting always considers finding the most appropriate tree for a given location. For at least the past 15 years, staff have had to look at alternative species when planting or replacing trees. Gone are the days when a tree is replaced automatically with the same species that was removed.

Tree planting is a big investment and selecting a species that will establish and grow with good vitality in the location is an important, and at times challenging decision. Staff consider all of the restrictions of the site: physical space, soil volumes, overhead or underground services, soil quality, site exposure, expected available water, site levels of wind and sun, and aesthetics play a part in tree selection for a given location. Staff typically first consider the existing tree varieties on the boulevards, however, the street tree varieties have been changing and evolving on many streets for years.

If staff reached a point where their professional recommendation included an option to phase-out any of the iconic species of trees in the municipality, Council would certainly be engaged in a dialogue in advance.

What Council is doing is finally making a significant annual investment – $850,000 per year starting this year – in the Urban Forest Masterplan. The plan was adopted by Council in 2013 and never properly resourced. As as result of the investments, this year and in the coming years, staff will be able to take better care of trees on public land, plant more trees, plan for the future, and also turn more attention to retaining trees on private land, which account for two thirds of the urban forest canopy. This is a legacy we will leave for future generations.