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

 

 

 

 

 

2030 is the New 2050 – Climate Emergency Declaration, and How Hard it is to Lead

Tomorrow, along with two colleagues, I’m bringing a report to the Capital Regional District Parks and Environment Committee to ask the CRD board to follow Vancouver and other cities around the world and declare a climate emergency. We’d like the CRD to take a leadership role in achieving carbon neutrality by 2030. Making climate emergency declarations is easy. Taking climate action is hard.

Two examples are top of mind from the past week. Here’s the first: As part of Council’s Climate Leadership Plan, the City is building an all ages and abilities bike network and associated pedestrian improvements to give people an easy, safe and convenient alternative to the car. This will help reduce the city’s GHG emissions by 18% over the next two decades.

The city has engaged in detailed consultation on the design of the next corridor, a two way separated cycle track coming off of the Johnson Street bridge, running along Wharf St and through to Humboldt St. Part of the design work – to increase safety for people walking and biking – requires the removal of a tree that was planted in the middle of the road at the Humboldt and Government intersection.

I love that tree! A few years ago, the City along with the Downtown Victoria Business Association, Viatec and a local company, Limbic Media, adorned the tree with lights that moved to the sounds of the city. We called it the innovation tree. We closed down the street, had a party, hired a band and danced in the street while the lights in the tree danced to the music

As part of the design consideration of the intersection at Humboldt and Government,  our staff team considered the following issues: vehicle turning movements, traffic impacts, pedestrian safety and amenity, parking considerations, cost of design and impacts to rebuilding curbs and sidewalks, right of way and property constraints, underground infrastructure location, safety and sight lines, public realm, aesthetics, bike lane design requirements, tourism impacts, public requests, business concerns, bus and logistic vehicle requirements, emergency vehicle requirements, planning and downtown design standards.

Screenshot 2019-01-23 21.50.56
Intersection re-design at Humboldt and Government Streets.

Staff presented the design to Council, and discussed tree impacts and trade offs when they sought Council’s approval. Here is the public staff report to Council from May 2018. It was always clear that this tree would be difficult to avoid due to the limited right of way at this location, and the volume of foot and motor vehicle traffic. In May, Council made the difficult decision of approving the design and removing the tree.

The trade off is the removal of the tree, for improved pedestrian and cycling safety, a new public plaza in the inner harbour, and two new trees planted in the plaza. But the real trade of is increased safety and connectivity for people of all ages and abilities who will now be able to get safely from the Johnson Street bridge all the way to Vancouver Street. This means that more people will have the option of traveling safely without a car.

A maple tree sequesters 400 pounds of CO2 over 25 years. A typical passenger car emits 4.6 metric tonnes (10,141 pounds) of CO2 per year. Taking one car off the road is 635 times more effective in reducing green house gases than saving a single tree.

This decision is what courageous climate action looks like. And it’s especially difficult when our long-term decisions seem counter-intuitive to our residents in the present. But it’s necessary if we are serious about significantly reducing our green house gas emissions. We also are making significant commitments in our 2019-2022 Strategic Plan to protect and enhance the urban forest (blog post to come!)

The second example: Last Thursday night at a Council meeting, a proposal came forward for an existing two-story building at Belmont and Haultain to have a story added to it and an increase in the number of rental units from two to five, all of which were to be two and three bedroom units. Because there is retail on the ground floor and the addition of new residential units, the City’s policy required 14 parking spots. It is impossible to get 14 spots on the site at the same time as retaining the building. The applicant was applying to vary the parking requirement from 14 spots to three.

To make up for the shortage of parking, she offered to purchase a car-share car to be parked at the building, buy all the tenants life-time car-share memberships, give a $100 car share gift certificate to each of the units, and give each of the tenants $400 towards the purchase of a bicycle. Yes, really!

Fifteen neighbours came and spoke against the project. While some had concerns about the design and massing of the building, most of the concerns related to the parking variance and how it would impact their parking on their street and in the village centre. It was clear in listening to them how much they love their neighbourhood. This made it extra difficult for me to move the motion to support the proposal and to speak in favour.

When it comes to climate action, this is an ideal project. It is a project for the future. It preserves an existing building. It’s rental housing with the significant provision of sustainable transportation amenities so tenants won’t have to have a car. The building is also right on a future corridor of the all ages and abilities cycling network. And on a bus route. It doesn’t need 14 parking spots.

Council didn’t support the project and referred it back to the developer to work with the applicant and staff. What kind of signal are we sending about how serious we are about taking climate action?

Our job as municipal leaders is so very difficult when it comes to climate change. We need to listen sincerely and we need to explain ourselves clearly. And then we need to have the courage to make decisions that may not be understood today, in the interests of ensuring that our community has a safe, resilient and sustainable tomorrow.

Read the full Emergency Climate Declaration report here.

 

Do we really love our children well? #climatestrike

Anyone concerned about the climate and looking for hope and inspiration has probably already seen this video. It’s Greta Thunberg, the Swedish girl speaking to the UN at the most recent Climate Conference in Poland. Since September, she has been walking out of class each Friday to draw attention to the climate crisis and the fact that adults, who should know better, are not taking the kind of action that a crisis demands. She has inspired other children around the world to strike with her.

She tells those gathered at the UN, “You say you love your children above all else and yet you are stealing their future in front of their eyes … Until you start focusing on what needs to be done rather than what is politically possible, there is no hope … We have come to let you know that change is coming whether you like it or not.”

When people tell her that she should be in school, studying to be a climate scientist to develop solutions she says, “The climate crisis has already been solved. We already have all the facts and solutions. All we have to do is to wake up and change.”

Her call to action has resonated around the world including here on Vancouver Island. A group of local students, organized by 12-year-old Rebecca Wolf Gage, spent the first Friday of December on a climate strike on the steps of the BC Legislature. They will strike the first Friday of every month to get us adults to pay attention and take action.

They have my attention. On Friday January 4th – not even a school day! – they organized a day-long education session for themselves to learn more about climate change and the actions they can take. Their program included guests from UVic Earth and Ocean Sciences, MLAs, and community organizers. I was lucky enough to join them.

ClimateStrikers1

I was so inspired to spend time with such a motivated, knowledgeable, and organized group of  young people from all over southern Vancouver Island. I brought them each a copy of the City’s Climate Leadership Plan and walked them through it. We spent the most time on page 17 (pictured below) where we went through the impact of each climate action.

They were enthusiastic to know that the biggest impact comes from reducing car use and converting to walking, cycling and transit. Fully 18% of emissions will be reduced if we make half our trips by walking and cycling and a quarter of our trips by transit. Why did they like this? Because they can take direct action! They will leave removing oil tanks and insulating their homes (also big emissions reduction impacts) to their parents.

Climate Leadership Plan Wedge

To help us bring our Climate Leadership Plan to life and to harness their energy, I invited them – for the first hour of their strike each month – to come to City Hall and meet with me. They said yes! We’ll work together to determine which actions they’d like to focus on in the coming month and how I can support them. I’ll be sure to report out what they come up with. We laughed together as I said to them, “I can see the headlines now, ‘Mayor encourages kids to skip school.'”

I hope the headlines will read, “Mayor encourages adults to listen to these kids.” “Mayor encourages all of us to take bold action.” Because that’s what’s necessary to ensure that when these kids are our age they look back at us, adults worldwide, and say, “They really did mean it when they said, ‘I love you.'”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inaugural Address 2018

It was an honour to be re-elected by the residents of Victoria. Today I was sworn in alongside my new council. Here is my inaugural address where I outline what we will do, why we will do what we do, and most importantly, how we will do this. Please pour yourself a cup of tea or glass of wine, and have a listen. Please feel free to share!

 

I want to begin by acknowledging that we are gathered this morning on the homelands of the Songhees and the Esquimalt Nations and I want to thank Councillor Gary Sam for the Blessing. And I want to thank the Lekwungen singers and dancers for drumming us and singing us into the chambers this morning. This blessing by the Councillor and the dancing and drumming and singing is evidence of the work of reconciliation that we’ve been doing over the past four years, and that we’ll continue to do for the next four years. Reconciliation is hard work, and it’s real work and it manifests in welcoming our friends from the Songhees into the Chambers this morning because we are always already on their land.

I’d also like to thank the outgoing Poet Laureate Yvonne Blomer for taking my challenge and writing a poem for us for today; I appreciate that. And Dean Ansley Tucker thank you also for very very inspiring words about the importance of hope, faith and love, and indeed in my remarks this morning some of that will actually be reflected.

On the first day of orientation – so we’ve all been together informally for the last three days, learning about what it means to run a city, what it means to govern – and on the first day of orientation I had some time alone with Council, which I requested, and the first time we sat together I asked the Council, Councillors, each of them, what do you love about the City of Victoria? And we all love what you all love about the City of Victoria.

We love the people who live here, and how the people here are dedicated to making the community better. We love the natural environment. We love our great little neighbourhood streets, and we want to keep them that way. We love our small town becoming a small city. We love our small businesses. We love that our city is human scale, and that it’s easy to get around. We love downtown and we love Chinatown. We love that this is a place where so many people want to call home. And we love the potential. Our job, as a Council, working alongside all of you here today, and alongside those who have never set foot into City Hall, and everyone in between, is to nurture and steward all of these things that we love, at the same time as the city grows and changes.

So that was the introduction, the reminder of my address will be in three parts. The first part is what we will do, the second part is why we will do what we do, and the third part, and really what is most important to me, is how we will do what we do.

There are four key things that we need to do and we all heard this very loud and clear when we were out knocking on doors and listening in the community. The first is to tackle affordability in a meaningful way. We are, as we all heard and we all know, in the midst of an affordability crisis which means this is an opportunity, and indeed a mandate, to act. There are three main approaches to affordability that we’ll take.

The first is housing on all fronts. You will see bold ideas rolling out from this fine group of people behind me and I’d encourage you to question these ideas to make them better and stronger. Ideas like buying land for housing, larger garden suits, movable tiny homes, inclusionary housing policy, creative partnerships with other levels of government and other entities, doing more with the land we already have, co-ops, community land trusts and more.

But secondly, affordability is more than just housing. Affordability means things like affordable childcare for workers and families and that’s something you’re going to see us working on. And affordability also means making transportation more affordable. And the thing that I love, and I think most of Council, or probably all of Council, would agree with is that transit, walking, and cycling are not only low cost, they are also low carbon.

The third approach to affordability is making sure that taxes and fees are affordable so that we’re not asking our residents and our businesses to live beyond their means.

The second big challenge that we have as city, province, country and indeed as a globe, is climate change. Probably many of you in this room read the IPCC – the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – report when it came out midway through the election campaign, and it was a very stark warning to all of us and hopefully a motivational document, not just a warning, that we basically have twelve years as a human society to keep the temperature of the planet from not rising more than 1.5 degrees.

And this, as I said, is a serious warning and a wakeup call. So what does this have to do with Victoria? Cities around the world have a key role to play in terms of addressing climate change and cities contribute fully seventy percent of all greenhouse gas emissions on the planet. Cities around the world are leading and Victoria must lead too. In our city, fifty percent of carbon emissions come from buildings, forty percent comes from transportation, and ten percent comes from waste. So like affordability, we must act boldly.

One of the things I’d encourage you to do is to read the City’s Climate Leadership Plan. Please read it and please join us. One percent of emissions in the city comes from the City’s operations. Ninety-nine percent come from the community. And so in order for us to truly succeed we need your leadership. One of the things I would like to roll out in the new year is a Climate Ambassador Program, where we, you, select one child, one youth, one adult, and one elder from each neighbourhood and they become the neighbourhood Climate Ambassadors, to lead and inspire change on their own streets, schools, and workplaces.

And there’s a real opportunity globally – we’re working with the City of Heidelberg in Germany – to potentially co-create a conference in Heidelberg in May 2019 on climate neighbourhoods. And again, we love our neighbourhoods, our neighbourhoods are the structure of this city and I think if we come together as neighbourhoods with this Climate Ambassador program we are really poised to lead. And with our human scale, compact city with people who care profoundly about the climate and climate justice, we know that now is the time to act.

The number three challenge and opportunity for us here and all of you is to ensure continued prosperity, inclusion, and wellbeing. We are so lucky in Victoria to have such a strong small business community, it is amazing. And the thing about businesses in Victoria that I love is business and community are two sides of the same coin. There’s nothing that divides us. And so we need to build on our current economic strength on our current prosperity, and at the same time as making sure that there is room in the economy for everyone.

And this is why in the past term, and hopefully in this term, the City will continue to play a leadership role in the creation of the Vancouver Island Community Benefit Hub, which really focuses on economic inclusion for marginalized people, as well as why the City will continue to play a role in the South Island Prosperity Project which we were a founding member of in 2016.

And it’s a key reason why the city needs a long-term jobs plan. When we got the five year report on the Official Community Plan from 2012 – 2017 we saw only a 2% increase in jobs, about 1100 jobs. Whereas by 2041 we need to create 10,000 new jobs that will be household sustaining jobs and so that’s one of the things we will be working on in this term. We have also heard from the business community that transportation and affordable housing are their key issues. So if we take care of the first two that I listed, we are also serving the business community and serving the community.

The fourth thing that we need to work on because we have a mandate from you, is a Citizen’s Assembly. People in Victoria and Saanich voted yes to exploring the potential – lots of exploring, lots of potential –  of the amalgamation of the District of Saanich and the City of Victoria and that’s going to be the interesting process for all of us. The Citizen’s Assembly will be a randomly selected group of citizens who will work independently and come together to make a recommendation to their councils.

So very broadly, that is part of the what that we will be doing in the next four years.

But why? Why will we do these things?  Interestingly, because this is the very purpose of local government. Our City Solicitor Tom Zworski read a section of the Community Charter to us, as solicitors do, in our orientation session. He read Section 7 and I’m just going to quote from one portion of it: “The purposes of a municipality include,” and there are four – I’m just going to read one, “Fostering the economic social and environmental wellbeing of its community.”

So our very purpose is to ensure that through everything we do, we’re enhancing community well being. That’s our job. And so, one of the key commitments this term is not only working to enhance wellbeing but also measuring. How are we doing? Are the actions that we are taking actually increasing individual and collective wellbeing?

Now, thankfully we don’t have to invent any measuring tools. The economists and others have been putting their minds to this; for a long time, the only way to measure progress was through measuring the economy. If the economy is doing well, everybody must be doing well. Well, we know that this is not true and so our commitment this term is to measuring wellbeing and ensuring we are making investments through the city’s budget that are actually going to increase peoples wellbeing and connections with each other and with this place.

So that’s the what, and that’s the why but most importantly is how, and the how is most important because if we get this wrong we are going to fail miserably at all of the important work that I already outlined that we need to do.

So how are we going to do this work? There are four things, four ways.

The first is to develop with you and the wider you, who are at work or school or not here today, a four year strategic plan just as we did last time that will clearly outline what you can expect from your Council in the next four years and what we’ll do this term. What I think we probably learned from last term, what we could have done last term (that’s why we have more terms so we can do more things) is to outline very clearly in the plan from its inception, what kind of engagement we’re going to be doing on which topic and how and when and why. And so Council already on Tuesday will be digging into the creation of our four year strategic plan, we’ll roll up our sleeves, we’ll work very hard to see if we can get it right and then in December and January there’s an opportunity for all of you to weigh in to share with us your thoughts and ideas because it’s really important that we get this plan right.

So that’s the first how and there’s an invitation there for you to join us.

Second important how, is really cultivating a sense that we are all in this together. That City Hall and the community have the same interest: to make life better for all of us in the community. And the we – who is this we all in this together? Council, staff residents, business owners, immigrants, refugees, visitors, all of us. And from our point of view here at City Hall, what we need to do, and again this is a lesson learned from last term – we need to look first from the perspective of the community and then from the perspective from City Hall. And we need to value the expertise of our staff – and we have fantastic staff here; I was reminded of this as they all made their presentations to the new council, we have fantastic staff here with a wealth of expertise. We need to value the expertise of staff alongside the expertise that people have from living on Linden street or living in Burnside Gorge or running a business on Wharf Street. When we co-value this expertise, it allows us to co-develop and co-create the city based on shared expertise.

The third how and I think probably you’ll all agree, this is one of the most important ones, is that we really need to restore civility and decorum to public dialogue. And I don’t just mean in election campaigns I mean always. I mean every day. I mean when Council comes out with what might seem like a wacky idea or one of your neighbours says something that you think, “Really?”, that we first always respond with curiosity and generosity. That we give each other, that we give Council, that we give new ideas the benefit of the doubt. That we assume the best of intention and that we show up to a consultation or an engagement session without our minds made up.  And that means all of us [gesturing to Council], as well not only all of you. Because if we cannot do this as a society – and this is not just Victoria, this is around the world – if we cannot do this as a society, we are not going to be able to solve the biggest problems that we have.

Now thankfully you elected an amazing Council and we are already working in this way together. I have to admit I was surprised and delighted that in three short sessions together, we have come up with a Declaration of Principles and Values about how we’re going to work with each other and how we’re going to work with you and even though it hasn’t been officially approved because we haven’t been official until just a few minutes ago, Council has given me permission to share this with you this morning. And I’d like to just stress to you that this document was arrived at through dialogue, deliberation and indeed by consensus.

So the Victoria City Council 2018 – 2022 Declaration of Principles and Values

“In order to create a culture of deep respect, to build the relationships we need to do the work, and to aspire to be our highest selves even when it feels hard and when difficult decisions could stand to divide us, we are committed to:

 

  1. Governing with integrity, transparency and an unwavering dedication to public service.
  2. Welcoming diversity and fostering a spirit of inclusion and equity in everything we do.
  3. Leading with creativity and
  4. Deep listening and critical thinking.
  5. Assuming that everyone is here with good intention to make the community better.
  6. Nurturing a culture of continuous learning with each other, staff and the public.
  7. Working collaboratively and cooperatively with each other, staff and the public while welcoming a diversity of opinion and thought.
  8. Practicing generosity, curiosity and compassion.
  9. Being patient, kind and caring.
  10. Bringing a spirit of open-mindedness and open-heartedness to all of our work.
  11. Keeping a sense of humour and light-heartedness with each other.
  12. Reviewing these principles once a quarter with the same humility, honesty and candour with which we govern.”

So that’s our commitment to each other and that’s our commitment to you and I can’t tell you how wonderful it feels to stand in front of a group of people who in a very short time has agreed to this way of working together.

In closing, what do we require from you? We require the benefit of the doubt. We require powerful questions and generous challenges to the ideas we bring forward.  But most of all we require that you continue to be the people of Victoria that we identified at the outset that we love so much: passionate, committed and dedicated to making this place on earth that we all love, better … together … every day.

Thank you so much.

 

Thank you for choosing the future with me

Dear Victorians,

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

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

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

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

With love and gratitude,

Lisa

No Room for Bullying or Harassment at VicPD or Anywhere

The last few days have been difficult for me personally.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lessons Learned and Looking Forward

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

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

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

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

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

Looking Back

Here are three stories.

Gonzales Neighbourhood Plan

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

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

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

Fort Street Bike Lanes

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

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

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

Central Park

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

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

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

Looking Forward

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

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

Neighbourhoods are for everyone

Screenshot 2018-06-01 23.15.30.pngAffordable Sustainable Housing (ASH) concept developed by Fairfield resident Gene Miller.

In the Gonzales neighbourhood, posters are popping up on poles with a picture of a single family home about to be demolished by an illustration of a bulldozer with a wrecking ball with the words, “City Planners” written on it.

The text of the poster goes like this: “Do you like the look of your neighbourhood? City planners are not happy with it! We have an award winning 2002 Neighbourhood Plan that is meeting the objectives of providing valuable housing opportunities and gentle densification. City Council wants to push through a number of aggressive densifying changes that will permanently change your neighbourhood’s character. Reclaim your power to plan the future of your neighbourhood. It has been taken away by city developers that supported your mayor’s campaign.”*

The “aggressive densifying changes” referred to in the poster are the addition of some three story buildings along Fairfield Road and the incorporation of townhouses into the Gonzales neighbourhood.

Above these posters another poster has been placed. It reads: “It’s easy to oppose densification from your single family dwelling. Got privilege? For every young family that doesn’t get to live here, one must live in Langford and commute. Let’s put an end to this NIMBYism.”

How do we resolve this conflict? In addition to townhouses, Fairfield resident Gene Miller has put forward one concept that might help. He calls it ASH – Affordable, Sustainable Housing. One ASH building is 2000 square feet and occupies about 40% site coverage on a standard city lot.  ASH is small-footprint living – ownership or rental – up to 12 suites, in a modest building that looks like a traditional two-and-a-half storey house with four units a floor (approximately 500sf one-bedrooms). With less units per floor, larger units could be incorporated to create homes for families.

ASH delivers up to 12 ‘front doors’ – 12 individual, private entrances distributed around the building.  This creates a sense of ‘arrival at home’ that lobby-and-corridor buildings of any size cannot provide. Each ASH building looks individual and distinctive, and the house-like scale and appearance go a long way to promoting neighbourliness and a sense of continuity and community on the street and within the ASH building.

Implementing the ASH concept and other forms of gentle density means there will be a significant increase in density in Gonzales. This will create new homes for families. At the same time, the look and feel of the neighbourhood can be retained. Here’s an idea Council might want to consider in the future: to save hundreds of rezonings, the City could create an ASH entitlement in the same way we have a garden suite entitlement – on any single family lot an ASH could be built, as long as there’s a mix of unit sizes and some form of clearly defined affordability in each building.

Victoria is growing. And as the single largest age demographic in the city according to the 2016 census – 25-29 year olds ­– start to have families, many of them will want to live in Victoria’s established neighbourhoods because they are amazing places. If we want a city that is inclusive and diverse, we must absolutely ensure that neighbourhood plans and neighbourhood residents make room for them.

*NB To put the statement in the poster in context, my 2014 campaign was funded 51% by corporate donations, 49% by individuals – the most even split of any candidate.

Originally published in the Victoria News here.

Why I’m Quitting Facebook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

2018: Here’s to Civil Public Dialogue, and a Posture of Hope

Think Before You Speak
Poster by Julian Gibbs-Pearce, Grade 5

I’ve decided to run for Mayor for one more term. In the past three years we’ve accomplished almost everything in my 2014 platform. In addition to lots of doing, we’ve created detailed, forward-looking plans that I’d like to see through to implementation. These include:

But in the meantime, long before beginning a campaign for re-election sometime in the summer, I need your help with a more pressing issue: I need your help in restoring civility to public dialogue – especially about big changes, new ideas, experimental pilot projects, and bold innovations.

When asked in a year-end interview by a Times Colonist reporter what I thought was the biggest issue facing Victoria, I didn’t say affordable housing, lack of high-speed transit from downtown to the west shore, or preparing as a coastal city for a rapidly changing climate. There’s a bigger challenge that threatens us: we’ve forgotten how to have hard conversations, to really listen to each other, to allow each other the space to speak, without quickly deteriorating into name-calling, accusations, and dividing our community into “us” and “them.” This is hurting us all.

In order to meet some of the big challenges facing Victoria and all other 21st century cities – globalization, population growth, increased cyber-connectivity, income inequality, loss of biodiversity, climate change – we need to be able to talk about solutions with clear minds and open hearts. We need to engage in what Michel Foucault calls “ethical dialogue” which means we need to listen to and understand other perspectives and to be willing to be changed by what we hear.

I feel that what’s happened in the last few years, in particular on social media – but also increasingly in the real world – is that we vehemently agree or disagree with something before looking at the whole picture, seeing a wider perspective. And because we’ve staked a public claim in a Facebook post or a Tweet, we feel that we can’t back down from our positions, we become rooted in our conclusions – which we may have jumped to with only a fragment of information.

This posturing paralyzes us as a civil society, it impoverishes our public dialogue and it ultimately tears us apart from each other as members of a shared community. It also keeps us further away from addressing the challenges I outlined above.

In The Well-Tempered City, Jonathan F.P. Rose makes a compelling case for diversity. “For an ecosystem to thrive,” he writes, “it must be sufficiently diverse, providing opportunities for multiple connections … If the elements of a system are too similar, something ecologists call ‘limiting similarity’, the variety of its interconnections is reduced, and it becomes more vulnerable to stress and volatility. Just as a healthy ecosystem integrates diversity into coherence, so too must a healthy urban metabolism.”

Affordable housing, bike lanes, downtown development, parking, transit, public art – there is a diversity of thought in our community on these important issues.

The coherence part is easy, we all ultimately 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, to know that our children will have good futures, to have a general sense of well-being. And as humans, we’re hard-wired to want the same things for others. No one wakes up and says, “I want to do everything I can to make my life and my community worse today.”

It’s how we communicate our different perspectives that seems so hard sometimes. But what if we were to take a deep breath before pressing “Post”, or getting up to speak at a public hearing at City Hall, or making comments at the Council table or to the media. What if we were to take a deep breath during political conversations around the dinner table or at the pub.

And what if during that breath we were to ask: Is what I’m going to say True, is it Helpful, is it Inspiring, is it Necessary, is it Kind? This wisdom comes from the son of a friend of mine, “THINK before you speak”, his poster for school (pictured above) said. My pledge for 2018 is to try to practice this. I’d like to invite you to do the same.

Why? Because it will make us stronger and more resilient as a community that shares this 20 square km slice of paradise here in Lewkwungen Territory on southern Vancouver Island. Because it will make room for complexity and wholeness. But most of all because it’s necessary if we want to build a prosperous, sustainable, affordable and smart city – our future literally depends on our ability to listen to each other better. We must move beyond cynicism and division in order to meet the many challenges we face.

In the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu in The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World, “Resignation and cynicism are easier, more self-soothing postures that do not require the raw vulnerability and tragic risk of hope. To choose hope is to step firmly forward into the howling wind, baring one’s chest to the elements, knowing that, in time, the storm will pass.”

Here’s to a hope-filled 2018 and to public dialogue that enriches us as individuals and as a community.