Category: Economic Development and Prosperity

300 New Affordable Childcare Spaces Coming to Victoria

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

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

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

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

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

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

Subject to Provincial funding, the plan is as follows:

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

Compact living doesn’t shrink quality of life

Photos from inside a new apartment building in downtown Victoria. This building was approved in 2012 – the first new rental building approved in the City in the last 30 years.

There have been questions from certain corners of our community on the need for rapid densification – why do we need so many new buildings? Should we pull up the metaphorical drawbridge and protect Victoria from newcomers because we think it’s the only way to preserve the quality of life for people who already live here? There are many good reasons to answer no. I’ll highlight two and outline how a growing city and its neighbourhoods can be places where quality of life and well-being are enhanced, for everyone. I love my neighbourhood too.

At a recent talk in Victoria, the Governor of the Bank of Canada highlighted Canada’s aging workforce; as a result, currently two thirds of labour force growth comes from immigration. By 2025, he said, all labour force growth will come from immigration. This couldn’t be more true than in Victoria where we have an aging population with many people moving out of the labour force in the coming decades. These people will want to stay in Victoria and enjoy the quality of life they have here.

So, like the rest of Canada, though perhaps more rapidly, Victoria’s labour force will grow through immigration both from other provinces and other countries. This growing labour force – necessary to support those who are retiring – need places to live. That is a key reason that all this new building is necessary.

A second reason is climate change. In early March I was invited by Mayor Iveson in Edmonton to an urgent weekend meeting of mayors from around the world. The 800 scientists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) were meeting in Edmonton the following week and Mayor Iveson wanted us mayors to help shape the conversation.

The materials provided in advance of the gathering and the speakers at the opening plenary made it crystal clear: We have little time to take radical action with regard to climate change or we lose the battle. And, cities are both the cause and the solution to the problem.

The president of the University of Alberta cautioned, “Cities need to change quickly; the window is closing.” Aromar Revi, Director of the Indian Institute for Human Settlements warned us that we are now 1 degree above the pre-industrial average and we have less than 15 years to stay below 1.5. Bill Solecki the Founding Director of the CUNY Institute for Sustainable Cities put it starkly. “We have all the knowledge we need,” he said, “but at our core, we can’t acknowledge that we have to fundamentally change the way we live in cities.”

Changing the way we live in Victoria in order to take bold climate action means more compact living and more people living in all our neighbourhoods. This can happen without changing their character too much through gentle density, houseplexes, tiny homes, townhouses and more. It means more people living within walking distance of goods and services available in village centres, resulting in less traffic and pollution. It also means inclusion, diversity, new neighbours and a denser web of social relationships.

On major corridors and downtown the changes we make to how we live in order to save the planet are more visible. There are more tall buildings. But what we can’t see from the outside is that almost all of these buildings are being built with vertical backyards: playgrounds on the third floor, lush, green community gathering spaces on the roof tops, one building even has an multiple birdhouses!

We don’t need to trade in quality of life even as our city grows to accommodate a changing labour force and a changing climate. What we do need is to have real dialogue rather than name calling and finger pointing. “NIMBY” is not a helpful term as it doesn’t take seriously the concerns and fears that people have – we all want to maintain the incredible neighbourhoods we’ve built together. Nor is it helpful to have a drawbridge mentality – this makes young renters and others feel unwelcome, and prevents us from adapting to changing times.

As our city grows and changes everyone will win because ultimately we all want the same thing – to be happy and healthy, to be prosperous, to feel safe, to breathe clean air, to feel that we belong to something greater than ourselves and to know that our children will have good futures.  We’re all in this together.

A version of this article first appeared in the Victoria News here.

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.

 

 

Triathlon Canada Opens New National Performance Centre in Victoria

 

June 21 2017 – For Immediate Release

The City of Victoria and 94 Forward delivered the ultimate house warming gift to Triathlon Canada in the form of a new National Performance Centre, along with a major financial injection into the national body’s high-performance program. The announcements come as Triathlon Canada begins a new era by officially taking up residence at the Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre in Victoria.Mayor Lisa Helps and the City of Victoria are providing stability to Triathlon Canada with a long-term lease for office and training space at the arena, while 94 Forward has committed to providing a major boost in its base funding over the next two years – a necessary requirement for rebuilding the high-performance triathlon program in Canada.

“I’m pleased to be able to welcome Triathlon Canada’s high-performance athletes and support staff to Victoria,” said Mayor Lisa Helps. “Victoria is synonymous with triathlon, and has been since the sport’s inception. With an ideal natural environment, and a new Crystal Pool training facility on the horizon, it is only fitting to have the national federation make Victoria its home base in Canada.”

Mayor Helps’ efforts were applauded by Canada’s National Team and National Development Team triathletes – many who have relocated to Victoria to take advantage of Triathlon Canada’s newly created National Performance Centre.

Led by Olympic pathway coach, Jono Hall, and Paralympic pathway coach, Carolyn Murray, the National Performance Centre in Victoria gives athletes access to the facilities and sport science staff at Canadian Sport Institute Pacific, while training alongside the nation’s best swimmers, rowers, cyclists and track and field athletes at Saanich Commonwealth Place and Pacific Institute of Sport Excellence (PISE).

“Our high-performance program is at the heart of the Triathlon Canada Nation. Developing a competitive culture of excellence where athletes can take advantage of world-class training facilities and resources is core to building a successful daily training environment that will foster podium results for this group of dedicated individuals who share a passion to swim, bike and run,” said Kim Van Bruggen, Chief Executive Officer, Triathlon Canada.

Thanks to the City of Victoria, Triathlon Canada also opened the doors on Wednesday to a 1,000-sqaure-foot training space on the main floor of their new office headquarters that will be used as a strength and conditioning gym for all of Canada’s high-performance triathletes and coaches.

94 Forward, the legacy organization from Victoria’s Commonwealth Games, will provide the financial backing in each of the next two years to aid in the implementation of a high-performance program for Canada’s development-level athletes who are accepted into the National Performance Centre. 94 Forward has also implemented a matching program to further support Triathlon Canada’s fundraising efforts over the term of the agreement.

“We understand the financial support young Canadian triathletes need, and deserve, to access the tools required to support their drive to compete with the world’s best,” said John MacMillan, President, 94 Forward. “We believe investing in the development of Triathlon Canada’s National Performance Centre athletes will have a long-lasting impact that dives deep into the Victoria region. As we have witnessed with the sport of triathlon in Canada, medal-winning athletes spark participation, which ultimately leads to a deeper athlete pool and event hosting opportunities, which presents tremendous benefits for a community.”

“The support and leadership demonstrated by the City of Victoria and 94 Forward ensures the road to the Olympic and Paralympic Games for Canada’s triathletes will continue to go through Victoria well into the future,” added Van Bruggen, who also rolled out a new brand that will guide Triathlon Canada into the future.

Victoria’s Matt Sharpe celebrated the news with his Canadian triathlon comrades by challenging guests in attendance at Wednesday’s event to a mini-triathlon relay race.

“Having access to cost-effective, elite-level training facilities at home is what Canadian triathletes must have if we truly want to re-establish ourselves as world-leaders in the sport and bring home more Olympic and Paralympic medals,” said Sharpe. “The National Performance Centre model provides Canada’s triathletes with the advanced resources we require – not to mention surrounds us with elite athletes from other sports. I know athletes for generations to come will thank both the City of Victoria for helping establish this much-needed training environment, and 94 Forward for financially backing our mission for medals. Canada’s triathletes are truly grateful for their support.”

Triathlon Canada is the governing body of the sport in the country. Triathlon Canada’s more than 22,000 members include athletes, coaches and officials from the grassroots to elite levels. With the support of its valued corporate partners –Project, Training Peaks, Zizu Optics, and Polar – along with the Government of Canada, Canadian Olympic Committee, Canadian Paralympic Committee, and Own the Podium, Triathlon Canada develops Olympic, Paralympic and world Champions in all race disciplines. For more information on Triathlon Canada, please visit us at www.triathloncanada.com.

Megaphone – Change that works, one newspaper at a time

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Last week I had the pleasure of standing with Megaphone vendors during their annual “Big Sell” event in downtown Victoria. I joined the vendors on Douglas Street and saw first hand how hard they work and how vulnerable you have to make yourself in a business like street vending.

“Can we interest you in a Megaphone by donation?” I’d call out. Most people would just simply keep walking, sometimes without even acknowledging that we’d addressed them.  I wonder how it feels to experience this day in day out?  It felt so good when someone would stop and buy a paper and offer a kind word and a smile. Participating in the Big Sell event gave me a deep appreciation of the courage and tenacity of Megaphone vendors.

Megaphone is a magazine sold on the streets of Vancouver and Victoria by homeless and low-income people. Vendors buy the magazine for 75 cents and sell it for $2, keeping the profit and earning a sense of pride and dignity.  To start a business as a Megaphone vendor, low-income and homeless individuals need to complete a sales training session and are then provided with 10 complimentary magazines and the necessary gear to get started. Megaphone staff provide any necessary support to ensure vendors run a successful business.

Vendor Week

The Big Sell event was part of the International Network of Street Papers Vendor Week celebration. It’s an is an annual celebration of the 10,000 street paper vendors around the world. Each one of these men and women – in 35 countries – is using their local street paper as a way to work themselves out of poverty.

During the first week in February, the international program of events, activities and social media action pays tribute to their hard work, as well as challenging perceptions of poverty and homelessness.

You can find out where Megaphone vendors sell in Victoria by using the mobile vendor finder app Please support them!

 

Where to Park in our Downtown

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From the Downtown Victoria Business Association

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Last week, the complexities of transportation editorial launched what the DVBA is currently partnered and working on. The initial 28 action items have now grown to 31 and we are working diligently to bring some or all of the ideas to fruition.

Part one was to produce an interactive map of every possible parking lot/structure and on-street parking space in the Downtown core that we will continue to update. Some of these facilities are privately owned and some are city owned. We have broken them up by parking type and added whether they are monthly, hourly, or weekly.

When you use our map you can click on the pins to get full details, including the number of spots, location and who manages the lot. We have also included how much it costs to park in each facility as well as the hours of operation where applicable and whether there is a waitlist or not for monthly parking. When you click the on-street parking lines, the map will zoom you into the streets themselves so you can conveniently see where the best parking areas are for your daily needs. This map is available in both a digital and pdf version on our website that you can print and carry with you as well.

The digital link will live on our website, so you can access it at any time – with the legend outlining the different kinds of parking on the parking home page.  Most people are unaware there are 16 parkades, nine customer parking lots, more than 40 surface parking lots, and over 1,000 on-street parking spaces in or within a short walk of Downtown Victoria.

Most people are also unaware of the fact Modo Co-operative is in three of our downtown parkades for use when you sign up with their program.

We are continuing to work behind the scenes to bring more private lots online as they become available and continuing talks with developers for public parking within their new buildings.

It is this kind of incremental change and information sharing that keeps the public up to date on where to go and how to get there.

We know how valuable your time is and we want to make it as easy as possible to continue to come downtown to work, shop and play. Our vibrant downtown economy is continuing to grow and we are here to support the businesses throughout the changes.

Parking is only ONE piece of our complex transportation system, but if we can make it one step easier to locate for consumers, shop owners, commuters and residents than it is one step forward in a positive and productive way.

Where to park in Downtown Victoria:
http://downtownvictoria.ca/play-downtown/parking-downtown-victoria

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Media Contact

Kerri Milton
Executive Director
Downtown Victoria Business Association
250-386-2239
kerri@downtownvictoria.ca

Task Force Seeks Input on Draft Action Plan: Good Jobs + Good Business = Better Community

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Date:  Thursday, January 19, 2017
For Immediate Release

VICTORIA, BC — The Mayor’s Task Force on Social Enterprise and Social Procurement is seeking input to help shape its draft action plan, Good Jobs + Good Business = Better Community, which will be introduced at the Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Victoria mixer tonight from 5 p.m. – 7 p.m. at the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority at Ogden Point.

The actions in the plan are meant to help people who are out of the workforce get to work, and to grow a strong, inclusive economy at the same time. The plan identifies three sets of recommendations that will strengthen the City’s procurement practices to maximize community benefit as well as support small business and social enterprise sectors. Using an ecosystem-based approach to community economic development, the draft action plan focuses to a large degree on efforts to get the unemployed, underemployed and marginalized into employment.

“The Task Force members believe that in order to truly build a sustainable economy, we must create an inclusive economy which provides opportunities for everyone to succeed, including those who are often left behind such as youth, First Nations people, those with mental health and addictions challenges, those without homes or with disabilities, and people released from prison,” said Mayor Lisa Helps.

The draft recommendations include: Leading Economic Change – make the mainstream economy more inclusive to ensure there is always an opportunity for everyone to prosper; Community Benefit Procurement – purchases should be leveraged to improve the economic, social and environmental well-being
of the community; and Social Enterprise Development – strengthen and grow businesses already doing business with community benefit in mind and grow the social enterprise sector.

Each of the three recommendations has a set of actions and tasks to be implemented over the next five years
to achieve prescribed outcomes. Leads and supports in the community to help achieve these outcomes are also proposed and include the City of Victoria, local organizations, agencies and business.

The Good Jobs + Good Business = Better Community draft action plan is available at victoria.ca/economicchange.

There are a variety of ways for the community to provide feedback, including completing an online survey, emailing input to economicchange@victoria.ca or tweeting to @CityofVictoria #EconomicChangeVic by Sunday, February 12, 2017. Public input will help inform the draft action plan that will be presented to City Council for consideration in March.

The Task Force on Social Enterprise and Social Procurement was a recommendation of the Mayor’s Task Force on Economic Development and Prosperity, which with input from the community, developed the City’s economic action plan, Making Victoria: Unleashing Potential in 2015. The economic action plan identifies six engines to drive economic prosperity, generate jobs and raise household incomes. One engine that encompasses the rest is entrepreneurship and social enterprise.

“Creating Prosperity Through Economic Development” is a key objective of the City of Victoria 2015-2018 Strategic Plan for focus and investment. Appointed by City Council last April, the Task Force on Social Enterprise and Social Procurement is chaired by Mayor Lisa Helps and includes Councillor Marianne Alto and First Nations representatives, as well as leaders in social enterprise, community and economic development, and business. For more information, visit: victoria.ca/economicchange.

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For More Information:
Mayor Lisa Helps
Chair, Mayor’s Task Force on
Social Enterprise and Social Procurement
250.661.2708

 

Rock Bay Square – Hidden Entrepreneurs and Big Local Talent

When I say “Rock Bay” you think, Ellis Recycle? Rock Bay Landing Shelter? Heavy industry? Down and out? Think again.

Last Tuesday I had the delight of having my socks knocked off during a tour of Rock Bay Square with owner Bob Skene, his daughter Carolyn, and John Juricic, local entrepreneur and economic development keener.

Rock Bay Square is located at 2612–2630 Bridge Street. It was originally built in the early 1920s; the three original buildings have been made into one, and recently renovated. It was once part of a mill, with lumber floating up from the inner harbour. And now? It’s a hub for artisans, light manufacturing, tech, coffee roasting, local honey, and more. It’s a beacon of Victoria’s entrepreneurial future.

In a recent Douglas Magazine article I was asked, “What do we need to do to become a more entrepreneurial city?” My response, “This is what really gets me. We are an entrepreneurial city.” This became the title of the article. What we need to do is start with this premise – we are entrepreneurial – and to nurture this entrepreneurial spirit.

How? Rock Bay Square is a great example. Co-locate and incubate. Start-ups need affordable flexible space, a ready-made community to bounce ideas off, and the ability to grow in situ. If you’re like Toni Desrosiers (below) of Abeego and you just signed a deal with a major distributer in the UK it’s really handy to have a landlord willing to knock down a wall for you so you can expand your capacity without the hassle of moving.

If you’re an artist and you need a room of your own with good natural light, you can rent a space like this one for $300 per month.

Rock Bay Square, like Space Station, Space BarFort Tectoria, and The Dock Centre for Social Impact offer co-location and incubation. And they also have a key ingredient desired by the up and coming generation of Victoria entrepreneurs. They create community. What inspired me most was the sense of community among the businesses we visited. While they’re putting Victoria on the map internationally, they’re invested here.

Artist Rande Cooke smiling with coffee mug in hand (pictured at top), has been commissioned by clients from all over the globe. He asks me as we visit his studio, how can we make Rock Bay Square and all the entrepreneurial activity here more visible. And he offers to help. I accept enthusiastically and direct him here.

Aaron (below) at Second Crack Coffee Lab – a recently opened coffee shop right on Bridge Street – sees his shop not only as a community gathering space but also as an educational place and is working on a potential partnership with Camosun College.

Frontier Marketing Co. (below) strengthens charities through efficient and effective long-term fundraising. This growing Victoria social enterprise is currently working with about 20 charities across Canada. And here at home, they sub-lease their space, desk by desk, to other entrepreneurs looking for good company and affordable start-up space.

I’m buoyed by the creativity, diversity and business growth in this tucked away corner of Victoria. It’s a microcosm of Victoria’s future. We are an entrepreneurial city. As your mayor I’m committed to fostering a spirit of collaboration and a can-do attitude at City Hall to meet this entrepreneurial spirit and to raise it.

2015: Pathway to Prosperity

A recent and very well done Times Colonist series by Sarah Petrescu documented the economic hardships of many people in the region, from single moms to seniors. I’ve heard from these people.

Two days after I was elected, a long-unemployed woman sent me three different versions of her resume asking, now that I was mayor, could I help her find a job. Not long after, a short, hand-written letter arrived in the mail: “Hello Lisa, Please be sure that property taxes don’t increase, decrease would be better. I’m still paying with post-dated cheques for the last property tax. I am 83 years old and I find it very, very hard.”

During the election last fall, and since taking office, I’ve also heard from countless small business owners who are struggling. I’ve spoken too with downtown building owners who offer new tenants two to three months free rent and still can’t fill their vacancies because of the high rents they have to charge to cover property taxes. I’m also continually reminded by small business and building owners that it still takes a long time wading through City processes to get a small business open.

How can we make 2015 a pathway to prosperity for residents and our small business community in the City and the region?

Concrete Stepping Stones
I will make two commitments to you as we move forward. First, we’ll actually do stuff. We’ll move from idea generation, to concrete plan with timelines for change, to implementation, to regularly measuring our successes and failure and improving accordingly.

We’ll fail sometimes. And when we do hopefully the failures will be early and fast so we can learn and improve before we’ve wasted your time and money. Be patient with us. And give us feedback. My second commitment is that I’ll listen to it.

Here are just a few short-term, concrete steps towards increased prosperity and affordability I’d like the Council to take immediately after finishing its strategic planning process. The beauty of the planning process and of drawing on the wisdom and experience of the Council members is that even more good ideas will emerge.

  1. Create an Economic Development Task Force
    We don’t need more studies or strategies on economic development. We need action. Section 142 of the Community Charter enables Councils to create Select Committees to “consider or inquire into any matter and to report its findings and opinion to the council.” One member of the select committee must be a council member; the rest can be members of the public.
    I’d like Council to create a time-limited, task specific Select Committee called the Economic Development Task Force. I’d like this committee to have a March to August mandate and to report to Council in September. The committee will be tasked with advising Council on the best way to create an Economic Development Office at City Hall and with developing a mandate for this office.The mandate for the Economic Development Office may include but is not limited to filling downtown vacancies, attracting new companies, attracting more well-paying, family-sustaining jobs in a variety of sectors, supporting green and clean economy initiatives and supporting sustainable and innovative real estate development. The Office will have clear and measurable goals. City Staff will be tasked with developing a business plan for sustainable funding to this office. Start-up funding can come from the City’s Economic Development Reserve Fund. This proposal is subject to the will of Council; I’m committed to working with Council to refine the idea and to seek their input and wisdom.
  2. Continuously Improve our Small Business Processes
    Small businesses are the lifeblood of Victoria’s economy and key to generating local prosperity. Taking a business from idea to startup is a huge undertaking. I’d like to see the City make business start-ups and expansions as easy as possible by helping and enabling. This is a big endeavor and will require comprehensive action, part of which can be implemented through an Economic Development Office. In the meantime, City Staff have been working with our small business community. Here are two small pilot projects and successes that reduce red tape and decrease processing time. I’d like to see many more of these.
  3. Authorization Method for Inspections for Plumbing Permits 
    Soft launch: November 2014 Full launch January 1, 2015 On November 19 City Staff hosted a first ever contractors breakfast. They sent over 200 invites, and all the major local plumbing contractors attended. The new authorization method allows the plumbing inspectors to accept a declaration from the plumbing contractors without on-site inspections. This method would allow staff to better manage inspection activities and to allow construction to continue without delays due to inspections.
  4. Electronic Submission of Sign Permits
    Soft launch: Summer 2014 Full Launch November 2015
    Need a sign permit for your small business? City staff started accepting sign permits electronically in the summer as a pilot. Customers were given a choice of electronic or paper submission. Most preferred the electronic method and now, almost all sign permits are processed electronically saving both time and trees.
  5. Implement an Affordable Housing Pilot Project
    At the end of this four year term I’d like to be able to say with confidence, “Victoria is a place where there is always an opportunity for everyone to prosper.” But as I said in a recent Vic News article looking into the year ahead I think affordability and prosperity are two sides of the same coin. If you don’t have a home, you can’t have an opportunity to prosper.
    Many people and organizations in the City and the region are working hard on affordable housing. Here’s a small policy pilot project I’d like to see implemented in Victoria and, colleagues willing, in Esquimalt and Saanich too. There’s not any one idea that can solve the affordable housing crisis. Here’s another tool for the toolbox.
  6. ‘Ten by Ten’ affordable housing pilot project
    Work with 10 building owners (per municipality) who would commit to designating 10 percent of their units as affordable (i.e. not more than $550 per month for a one bedroom) for a period of 10 years and receive a corresponding property tax exemption that offsets the lost rent. There’s a precedent. The City already has a heritage tax exemption program. Every year the City grants millions of dollars of tax exemptions to private sector landlords who own heritage buildings. This helps to get these old buildings restored. Surely affordable housing deserves the same attention as heritage.  

Together in 2015, with these initiatives and others, we can begin to lay the pathway for prosperity so that Victoria is a place where there’s opportunity, for everyone. 

This blog post was written while listening to Glenn Gould’s moving interpretation of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, with a cup of ginger tea.