Statement on Homophobic Threats and Cancelling of Family-Friendly Drag Show

Raising the pride flag at City Hall.
Raising the pride flag with from left to right, Pride executive director Deidre Rowland, Pride president Britton Kohn, and city councillors Charlayne Thornton-Joe, Sarah Potts and Stephen Andrew.

In June, Canadians from coast to coast to coast come together to celebrate Pride month. Here in Victoria we do the same. After two years of not being able to gather in person for Pride events and the annual parade, Victorians are keen to come together again to celebrate. On Friday at City Hall we raised the Pride flag to mark the beginning of Pride week in the City of Victoria.

Over the past week, a local coffee shop with deep roots in the community that was to host a family-friendly drag show this weekend was targeted with hateful and homophobic phone calls and threats of violence to people planning to attend the event. The event was cancelled as a result.

On Friday as we gathered as a community to raise the pride flag, I dressed in drag as an act of solidarity to say, and to show, that all forms of love and all forms of gender expression are welcome in our community, and are celebrated.

These threats of violence have no place in our community. Pride month is about celebrating love and the right we all have in a free country like Canada for everyone to love whom they choose, to express their gender how they choose and to feel safe in all places and spaces to do so.

Pride month is about celebrating and honouring diversity, celebrating inclusion and making space in our community for love in all its forms. That is what makes us strong as a community. In these uncertain times, we need to come together as a community and hold each other up, not tear each other apart.

To all 2SLGBTQ+ members of Victoria’s community, and all our allies, know that you are loved, and that that love will always prevail over fear and hate and anger. Happy Pride.

To find out more about this year’s pride events check out the Pride Society website.

More Affordable Housing, More Quickly – Victoria Makes First of Three Big Housing Moves

Renderings of Cool Aid’s Crosstown Building at Douglas and Burnside. Affordable housing buildings like this one can now get under construction more quickly with new legislation the City of Victoria adopted Thursday evening.

At a public hearing on Thursday evening, speaking in favour of Victoria’s proposal to allow affordable housing and co-ops to be built more quickly, Irene from Vic West said when she thinks about the character of her neighbourhood, its the people in her neighbourhood thinks of. Irene wasn’t alone. She and others talked about the need for diversity in their neighbourhoods – for artists, young families, immigrants and refugees, for a range of people to be able to call all of Victoria’s neighbourhoods home.

Everyone who took the time to come to City Hall in person, call in, or record a video spoke in favour of the bold policy move proposed by City staff. Non-profit housing providers shared that this change in legislation will enable them to move projects forward more quickly, with more certainty, and that this certainty will help attract federal and provincial funding.

I’m so proud of Council for unanimously adopting the expedited affordable housing legislation to accelerate construction of new affordable housing in the city. Projects by non-profit, government or co-op housing organizations will no longer require rezonings or public hearings when they are consistent with the City’s Official Community Plan and related design guidelines.

This will get more affordable homes built more quickly for families, workers and people who need it the most. It’s the first of three big moves that I hope Council will make, to improve the housing development process and make homes more affordable, more accessible and more attainable for people living in the city. The next two big moves are, one, prezoning land for rental housing, and two, creating Missing Middle Zoning to make it as easy to build houseplexes and townhouses as it currently is to build a single family home.

With the change we made on Thursday evening, Victoria is the first municipality in B.C. to approve a city-wide accelerated process for qualifying affordable housing projects. Projects that meet all the necessary criteria will be permitted to build up to the maximum density in the City’s Official Community Plan.

We may not be alone for long. Saanich Councillor Susan Brice has given a notice of motion to Saanich Council for April 25th. What this means is that Saanich will consider Brice’s proposal to adopt the same approach in Saanich as we have in Victoria, opening up large swaths of land in the regions two largest cities for faster affordable housing development.

This quick uptake by our neighbour is inspiring. And I think it’s the exact kind of move that the Province is hoping to see from local governments – learn from each other and work together to get more housing built more quickly. Minister Eby, Attorney General and Minister responsible for Housing provided some generous comments in support of Victoria’s decision:

“Cities taking steps to speed up approvals for new public and affordable housing makes it easier, cheaper and faster for the province and the federal government to respond to the housing crisis by building the homes that are desperately needed. Because of the scope of our housing investments, having a partner at the municipal level who facilitates quick approvals helps get doors open sooner for people living in the streets and parks, and also for people who simply need a more affordable place closer to work. A special thank you and recognition are due to Victoria’s Mayor and City Council for taking this important and meaningful step to accelerate approvals of affordable housing.”

Now all City approvals for affordable housing will be delegated to staff, including development permits and variances. This change is expected to cut about nine months off current timelines for a typical project, and even more for others. This time savings will result in a significant cost savings for affordable housing developers and co-ops, and the governments that fund them.

Let’s take for example a typical non-profit housing development with a construction cost of $20 to $25 million dollars. With residential construction cost inflation running at more than one per cent a month, according to Statistics Canada’s building price index, this would save approximately $2 million off a typical affordable housing project. This savings can provide deeper affordability in new buildings, or be invested in future affordable housing projects.

Jill Atkey the CEO, of the BC Non-Profit Housing Association, also took the time to call into the public hearing from Vancouver. In a follow up statement she noted that, “There are three key factors that put affordable housing projects at risk once they enter the municipal approvals process: time, cost and uncertainty of approval. Victoria City Council removed all three of those barriers and now shines as an example to other municipalities serious about affordable housing in their communities.”

Nearly half of Victoria’s 27,000 renter households are spending more than 30 per cent of their income on rent. Recent reports from BC Housing indicate a wait list of more than 1,100 individuals and families in Victoria in need of affordable housing. The Capital Regional Housing Corporation has had a wait list of over 2,500 for many years now.

Clearly we have a lot of work to do. My hope is that Victoria’s policy innovation will spur an unprecedented building boom in non-profit and co-op housing. We’ve created certainty which will leverage investment from provincial and federal partners. In addition Victoria can use city-owned land to partner with non-profits and co-ops. And we can purchase additional land for affordable housing and create additional partnerships. All of these actions taken together will help to create a much needed post-COVID housing boom in Victoria for now and for generations of Victorians to come.

The World is Coming Apart at the Seams, and What We Can Do About It – A Dose of Inspiration

This might be a bit of a heavy read, and it’s a bit rambly about all the challenges we’re facing. But there is some practical inspiration and hope at the end of the post. Feel free to skip right to that section if you don’t want a re-hash of everything that is wrong with the world right now.

It feels as if the world came apart at the seams this summer. I read CBC news every day, both BC and national. I also scan the Globe and Mail and the New York Times. I read for information, but also for the metanarrative – what’s going on in the really big picture? How do all these headlines and stories fit together?

I wonder if others also see how bad things actually are and how all the problems we’re facing as a human society are interconnected, or at the very least related. The climate crisis. The housing crisis. The labour shortage. Worker burnout. Racism and colonialism. And more.

The pandemic and climate change are the most obvious. BC’s State of Emergency finally came to an end after 16 months and then, weeks later, BC was in another State of Emergency because of the wildfires. Is the new normal a State of Emergency? This is a real question.

In the interior, last summer’s tourist season was ravaged by COVID-19. This summer it’s COVID-19 and climate change. And nurses in the interior (and elsewhere) are quitting their jobs because of the stress and continuous state-of-emergency conditions. In Alberta, nurses are being forced to work overtime to deal with a rise in COVID-19 cases. Nurses and doctors are exhausted. Firefighters are exhausted. What if everyone just gets too tired? Who will take care of us then? Who will back fill?

Our population growth via immigration has stalled because of COVID-19, but even when we begin to welcome newcomers again, where will they live? Canada has one of the worst housing supply situations of any OECD country. So even if we let immigrants in by the thousands to fill the massive labour gap that we are facing in many industries and professions, there are no homes for them. There isn’t currently enough housing in the country, province or city for people who are already here.

In Victoria last summer, we also felt the negative effects of COVID-19. Those without homes and living in poverty experienced the giant gaps in the social safety net and ended up living in parks. And we also experienced a lack of tourist travel which had negative impacts on our local businesses.

This summer, tourists are flocking to Victoria rather than to other parts of the province that are too smokey. Our restaurant staff are so stressed as there aren’t enough workers to cover shifts; they’re often working shorthanded, or many are new and being trained all at once. Last year, restaurants had limited capacity because of COVID-19. This year some have limited capacity because of lack of staff; they have to close on certain days or cut hours. Everyone is hiring but no one can find enough workers. Why? Because the workers can’t find housing that is affordable, and, in many cases, they can’t find any housing at all, even if they make a really decent salary.

A friend told me over dinner recently that a few years ago, BC Assessment began to assesses the value of multi-unit residential rental properties differently and that rental buildings are now being valued at the income that they could be earning rather than the income that they are earning.

What this means is that even if a building owner is charging tenants rents that are below market, their buildings are now assessed / valued at how much they would be worth if they were charging market rents. For example, if a building owner has tenants that have lived in a building for a long time and are paying less than what they would if they moved in today, or if a building owner supports a single mom with kids by giving her a break on rent, their buildings are still valued at the maximum rents they are able to charge. They are penalized for providing below-market housing.

How is having a building that is “worth more” a penalty? Because as the assessed value of a building goes up, this means property taxes for that building go up and the below market rents can’t cover the property taxes. My friend tells me that some of his friends – long-time building owners – are putting their buildings on the market because they can’t afford to keep them more affordable.

These buildings are being snapped up by Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs), the mandate of which is to deliver as high as possible rate of return to their investors. Some of the investors in REITs are public sector pension corps. We want teachers and nurses and city workers to have good pensions; but we also want them to be able to afford housing now.

We also want our small local businesses to survive and thrive coming out of the pandemic. And yet, Amazon is opening a distribution centre near the airport to distribute Amazon goods up and down Vancouver Island. When our small businesses are still struggling.

Housing shortage. Labour shortage. Exhausted workers on the front lines. Housing crisis. Pandemic that looks like it’s here to stay. And climate change wreaking havoc. Something’s going to give. Something is giving. The world is breaking apart at the seams.

What do we do? Do we become bystanders? No. What is my role? As a human? As mayor? It’s exhausting sometimes when every decision that is good for the climate crisis or for the housing crisis feels like a giant fight. Think the Richardson Street bike corridor. Think the proposed rental building at 1475 Fort Street, sent back to staff for a third time rather than moving forward to create new housing.

Is this a blog post or a journal entry?

I thought this morning that maybe it’s a culmination of feelings built up over a few days of summer holiday reflection. It’s the same way I felt sometimes as a teenager – despair that we humans were destroying the planet and no one was really doing anything about it. I rode my bike and took the bus to school and became a vegetarian for a time. I did my best, but it didn’t really matter, because look at how the adults were treating the planet.

Now I’m an adult with an eighteen-year-old in my life who feels much the same was as I did. What are we doing as adults?

We can’t house people. We can’t properly care for people with mental health and substance use challenges; the latter are dying in larger numbers than people are dying of COVID-19. We can’t provide our essential workers with any relief as we lurch from State of Emergency to State of Emergency. We can’t adequately or quickly enough address systemic racism, the ongoing impacts of colonialism and the grief of residential school survivors and the families of those who never came home. We want to save the old growth forests, but we still fly to Mexico for vacation.

All of this while the province literally burns down around us.

Despair. Fear. Disconnection.

But thankfully, this isn’t all.

I’ve spent the last few months reading Margaret Wheatley’s, Finding Our Way: Leadership for an Uncertain Time. Almost every page has a folded corner. It’s from 2005. I bet her 2017 book, Who Do We Choose to Be? Facing Reality, Claiming Leadership, Restoring Sanity, has more recent insight for the even more precarious and uncertain time we are in now.

But still, in Finding Our Way, she shares wisdom that I turn to in despair. Wisdom that offers a path forward through connection, love, and hope-through-shared-action.

There are three elements in the book that give me not only hope, but the ability to see more clearly and to act more deliberately, both as a human and as mayor.

Wheatley says that we need to become better systems thinkers, to “see a system and its web of connections.” How is climate change related to COVID-19 related to the housing crisis related to the worker shortage related to worker burnout related to racism and colonialism related to disconnection?

She suggests when we’re trying to make change, to start small, do something that makes a difference and see who notices. The point is to find the connections in the system that we don’t know are there. Wheately says that when we do something like that – take a small action in the direction we want the world (or our street or community or neighbourhood) to move, people show up, “We didn’t know there was any connection between us, but their response makes the connection clear” (207). We then understand those connections better and can use them to take the next action.

To be better systems thinkers we also need to expect that there will be unintended consequences to the actions we take. We need to be able to identify these quickly, reflect on them, and then to take a different action next time. Systems thinking also requires seeking out different interpretations. “The more interpretations we gather,” Wheatley says, “the easier it is to gain a sense of the whole” (208).

Second, Wheatley says that we need to find less aggressive ways to work through problems. She points out that even how we talk about problem solving is aggressive. We “attack a problem,” “tackle the issue,” “get on top of it,” “wrestle it to the ground,” “take a stab at it” (182).

What she recommends instead is this:

“To step aside from aggressive responses to problem solving requires a little used skill: humility. Humility is a brave act – we have to admit that we don’t have the answer. We need more information, more insight. This kind of humility is rare in competitive, embattled organizations and communities, but it is what we need to find real solutions. One wise educator put it this way: ‘Humility is admitting I don’t know the whole story. Compassion is recognizing that you don’t know it either'” (184).

I think about social media here, how it is a platform for sheer aggression. What would Facebook, Twitter etc be like if – instead of posting with such certainty and then defending positions – people shared what they were grappling with, or struggling to understand. What if social media became a platform for humility and compassion.

The third kernel of wisdom I’ve gleaned and would like to share is probably the most important, and indeed the two approaches above are not possible without it: listening.

Wheatley writes:

“Our natural state is to be together. In this time when we keep moving away from each other, we haven’t lost the need and longing to be in relationship. Everybody has a story. If no one listens we tell it to ourselves and we go mad. In the English language the word for health comes from the same root as the word for whole. We can’t be healthy if we’re not in relationship. And whole is from the same root as holy. Listening moves us closer; it helps us become more whole, more healthy, more holy” (219).

What she recommends is that we “all play our part in the great healing that needs to happen everywhere.” She asks us to, “think about who you might approach – someone you don’t know, don’t like, or whose manner of living is a mystery to you. What would it take to begin a conversation with that person? Would you be able to ask him or her for an opinion or explanation, and then sit quietly to listen to the answer? Could you keep yourself from arguing or defending or saying anything for a while? Could you encourage the person to just keep telling you his or her version of things, that one side of the story” (221)?

Thinking like a system, approaching problems less aggressively, and listening. There are no quick fixes or easy solutions to the complex issues we are facing right now. Yet in a time of despair and disconnection, in a summer where it feels like the world is coming apart at the seams, these are three tools that I can use – maybe tools that we can all use – to help stitch the world back together again, creating it anew at the same time. To become more whole, more healthy, more holy.

Clover Point, Parks Sheltering and Indoor Sheltering – Mayor’s Sunday Email – February 28 2021

Hello everyone,

Thanks for your emails over the past couple of weeks. I really appreciate hearing from all of you and want to ensure you get a timely response, so I’m writing you back all at once. I may not address the details of your email precisely, but I want you to know I’ve read them.

I’m going to take a bit of a different tack than usual and provide a succinct summary of the issues and facts as I understand them. Interested in Clover Point? Skip to that heading. Interested in the plans provide 24/7 indoor sheltering opportunities as a pathway to permanent housing to everyone living in our parks over the next 31 days? Please skip to that heading. Want to receive a weekly email? You can sign up here (top right hand side). Interested in none of the above and just want a dose of inspiration from Rachel Naomi Remen’s Kitchen Table Wisdom? Skip right to the end.

Before diving into either topic, I just wanted to say that there’s sure a lot of passion and thoughtfulness in my email inbox from all of you these past few weeks. I appreciate the thoughtfulness, passion and the stories that you’ve taken the time to share. And I also really appreciate those of you who have said that you’ve never written to mayor and council before but felt the need to do so. Thank you.

What I find a bit harder to take are the personal attacks (there aren’t too many of those but important not just note the positive!). And also the fact that it’s becoming more difficult generally to have a difference of opinion without becoming enemies or falling into the I’m Right and You’re An Idiot (great book I highly recommend it, or skip the book and hear the talk) way of thinking. Making each other into enemies doesn’t get us anywhere and it makes it more difficult to resolve issues and solve complex problems.

Clover Point

  1. People love this place very much and there are strong feelings in the community – both in the city and the region – that it should be kept the way it’s always been.
  2. It’s been a parking loop since 1956.
  3. Before the sewage treatment construction began, the plan was to return it to a parking loop after construction finished.
  4. Before the sewage treatment construction began, the plan was for what is now the highly used multi-use trail that runs from Clover Point to Ogden Point be a bike path only.
  5. Near the end of the sewage treatment construction, staff recommended to Council that the path be for everyone – not just for people riding bikes – because we are in a pandemic and everyone needs more outdoor space. Council voted in favour of this recommendation.
  6. Staff saw that this new multi-use pathway quickly became much loved with hundreds of people using it on a daily basis. They thought it might be a good idea to create more pedestrian space at Clover Point, on an interim basis, since the new pedestrian space along the waterfront was being so well-used.
  7. Staff proposed to close Clover Point to cars and create parking, including accessible parking at the top of the loop as an interim treatment until a proper consultation plan for more permanent changes is undertaken, which is planned for 2023.
  8. When the City undertakes parks upgrades, we seek detailed input from the public generally over a two-year period. This leads to really great parks designs where people who have contributed see their ideas come to life. This was the case recently with Topaz Park, Songhees Park, Cecilia Ravine Park and sč̓əmaθən Peter Pollen Waterfront Park.
  9. Many of you have made some great suggestions for Clover Point that can be considered as part of the longer term planning process.
  10. When staff presented the original pedestrian-only design to Council on February 11th, Council voted to send it back to staff to come up with an option which would reflect the feedback we had all received from the community and to come up with a compromise.
  11. On February 25th staff came back to Council with a number of options including one that best represented a compromise among those who wanted the park to only be open to pedestrians and those who wanted nothing to change. This option creates new westward facing parking spots at the top of the loop and keeps half of the loop on the east side open for people in cars. There are accessible parking spots in both locations.
  12. As part of the discussion on the 25th, Council eliminated the proposal for painting of the pavement (except lines to separate pedestrians and cyclists) as well as eliminating the Orca play feature.
  13. Council voted 8-1 in favour of the compromise option.
  14. There are no permanent changes being made to the area. Everything that is being installed can be easily removed, with the exception of the new parking spaces at the top of the loop near Dallas Rd.
  15. The option that Council chose does not satisfy everyone and many of you are unhappy with this decision, with myself, and with Council. Some of you feel like we are changing the city too much, that we are “anti-car” and that we should just leave the city as it has always been.
  16. Cities around the world, from Paris, to Oakland,to Toronto, to small cities in Quebec and many others, are rethinking the purpose of streets, cities and city life, and are making decisions to get cities ready for the future. This includes accommodating increased density, greater populations, low-carbon transport, climate change mitigation and adaptation, and more places for more people.
  17. The interim changes at Clover Point, as well as the City’s bike network and complete streets approach that some of you who have written this week are also unhappy about, are directly in line with what other cities across the country and around the world are doing. Victoria is not leading and we are not any different. The bike network, complete streets and the interim design at Clover Point fit with the City’s Climate Leadership Plan as well as our Sustainable Mobility Strategy.
  18. Many of you have said that the myself and Council don’t care about seniors or accessibility issues, yet Victoria is one of the few municipalities in British Columbia that has taken the time to engage seniors and people with accessibility challenges and to have developed both a Senior’s Action Plan and an Accessibility Framework.
  19. We are not going to make everyone happy. Many of you who have written this past week about Clover Point are unhappy. I understand that. Change is hard. I don’t mean this in a patronizing way that some of you have heard it in. I mean it sincerely. Change is hard. It’s hard for me. It’s hard for Council. It is definitely easier to leave everything the same, as it has always been. There is less tension that way. Less friction. Less division. Less emails to read! 🙂 But also the job of leaders is to make the changes now that are necessary, if difficult, in order to get our city ready for the future.

Parks Sheltering and Indoor Sheltering
These points below are as direct as answers as possible to your questions, comments and concerns. I have been writing almost every Sunday since August to keep the community up to date on the parks and indoor sheltering situation. If you don’t find all the information you need here, please feel free to scroll through my blog .

  1. The City and the Province along with outreach workers, housing providers, Island Health, and others are working to offer everyone currently living in parks a 24/7 indoor sheltering space by March 31st as a pathway to permanent housing.
  2. The move ins begin on Monday to the Save on Foods Memorial Arena. There are also spaces at the Youth Hostel, additional motel rooms at Capital City Centre that will be opening, the 30 Tiny Homes (subject to a temporary use permit hearing), and 24 new homes at Hockley House in Langford that rent at $375 per month. The Province is still working to secure more spaces by March 31st. Minister Eby has said they are going to “overshoot” so that no one is left behind.
  3. Those of you who are living outside who have filled out BC Housing applications will be given “offer cards” to let you know where you have an offer to move in. You will be provided assistance with moves. The Coordinated Assessment and Access table responsible for these offers is working hard to meet the needs that people have identified. People are free to refuse the offers of 24/7 indoor sheltering. Those who choose not to go inside will need to take their tents down every morning, as 24/7 sheltering will come to an end once all the offers have been made. My understanding is that most people who are living outside have filled out housing applications and want to move inside.
  4. This Thursday Council will consider changing the bylaws back to 7pm to 7am sheltering, once everyone has been offered indoor space. We will also consider keeping Central Park and Centennial Square as no camping zones. I support all of these proposals.
  5. For those who having been living in the parks during a global health pandemic when everyone has been told to stay at home, I know this has been difficult. It is not safe for people to be living in parks, as parks are not homes. There is no sense of security for those of you who live in tents with no privacy, no four walls, no door to lock, nowhere to truly rest. We hear you and that is why we’re working hard with the Province to meet the goal we set to get you inside on the pathway to permanent housing.  
  6. For those of you who have been living near parks where people have been sheltering since the outbreak of the pandemic, and for those who love our parks and especially Beacon Hill, I also know this has also been very difficult for you. It’s sometimes scary for some, disturbing for others, heartbreaking for others, and angering and frustrating to some. We hear you, and that’s why we’re working hard as noted above.
  7. Some of you have said it was a mistake to allow 24/7 sheltering during the pandemic. As noted, it has been difficult for everyone but I disagree that it’s a mistake. A global pandemic was declared. Shelters closed. Couch-surfing ended. Bubbles got small. And people had nowhere to go. Dr. Henry advised on June 8th 2020 in a memo to all mayors in British Columbia that encampments should not be cleared unless there were safe indoor spaces for people to go. At this time, she has not rescinded her advice or sent any further memos.
  8. Some of you are frustrated that bylaws aren’t being followed or enforced. Our bylaw staff are in parks daily working with the people who are living there to achieve compliance. There are 200 people living in nine parks. The City’s bylaw officers are doing their very best balancing the needs of people forced to live outside in the middle of a global health pandemic and keeping parks available for everyone to use. Their work is very difficult.
  9. Some of you don’t feel safe in parks and wonder what we are doing about crime in parks. VicPD officers are available to respond to calls as needed just as in other parts of the City. Council has also approved additional funding for police to accompany bylaw.
  10. Some of you have said that you feel completely safe using Beacon Hill Park and other parks and don’t want people who are poor and living outside to be seen as dangerous or criminals when they are really just vulnerable.
  11. Some of you have said it’s impossible to end homelessness, and there are too many people with too many challenges out there. I’ve felt this way too. There have been decades of neglect and under investment in housing and supports, treatment and recovery and care for those who need it. But with the federal and provincial governments prepared to once again invest heavily in housing and treatment, we will turn a corner on this important issue in the next couple of years.
  12. Some of you have addressed the need for a civilian response in parks rather than bylaw and police. The City is working with our Community Wellness Task Force as well as Island Health and VicPD to create such a response team with clear roles and responsibilities for different parties.
  13. Some of you have sent creative ideas for indoor sheltering from purchasing cruise ships to sleeping pods. Thanks as always for your suggestions. Right now we are ruthlessly focused on solutions that can be achieved by March 31st and at the same time c planning, processing and constructing permanent housing. There are hundreds of units on the way.  

A Dose of Inspiration
I find it helpful through these challenging times to maintain a connection to the world-that-is-bigger-than-each-of-us. Rachel Naomi Renen’s Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories That Heal is a reminder of wholeness and connection. She writes, “We are all here for a single purpose: to grow in wisdom and to learn to love better. We can do this through losing as well as by winning, by having and by not having, by succeeding or by failing. All we need to do is to show up openhearted for class.”

Here’s to openheartedness.

With gratitude,

Lisa / Mayor Helps

The Mayor Helps – New Podcast Created by Victoria Business Owner

It was the middle of pandemic, and Dave Hatt, owner of the WetCleaner – Victoria’s only non-toxic dry cleaner – saw a steady drop in business. As people began to work from home, they were more likely to be wearing sweats than suits. He saw his fellow small business owners also struggling. Rather than just sit around waiting for customers (who are thankfully now starting to return), he started a new venture, the Tunderin Podcast Network @TunderinMedia

He’s go a series of podcasts focused on small business, including TheMayorHelps. At first I wasn’t sure why he’d want to create a podcast featuring a mayor. But I said yes anyway! And I’m so glad I did. Each week we bring on local business people who pop into zoom, tell us a little bit about their businesses and then ask me a question. We also have a longer segment featuring change makers from across the country. And a state of the city where Dave grills me on current events in Victoria.

The flexibility of the show, and the fact that it happens weekly allows us to invite guests on to address issues of emerging concern in our community and across the country.

I’ve featured two episodes here. Just below, a great conversation with Ruth Mojeed in Victoria with the Inclusion Project. And above, a recent conversation with Brent Toderian, 21st century urbanist and former Head Planner at the City of Vancouver. You can find all the episodes here. Watch. Enjoy. Subscribe. And share!

Taking a Break from Twitter: The Stories We Tell About Our City Matter

Screenshot 2020-07-19 10.00.27

On Friday we announced the first step in the creation of the Ocean Futures Innovation Hub. This is one of the first actions in Victoria’s new economic plan, Victoria 3.0. The City is working together with the South Island Prosperity Partnership, the Association of British Columbia Marine Industries, Ocean Networks Canada, and companies large and small to create a future focused innovation hub in the downtown.

This is an exciting project! It will create jobs and a more resilient diverse economy coming out of the pandemic. It’s industry led and City supported. It’s a really good news story for our city and our region.

And, we got pretty good media coverage from a wide variety of media outlets in the region after we sent out the press release on Friday. Happy to see the results of our collective efforts so well received and positively profiled, I pinned one of the news stories to my Twitter profile.

As soon as I had posted, a whole bunch of comments about homelessness and tenting came into the feed. And comments on my performance as mayor.

On Saturday morning, I posted this picture to Twitter with thanks to the folks at Aryze who – using a tactical urbanism and placemaking approach – created this beautiful and functional piece of installation art in the Gorge Waterway. They installed it near the much-loved community swimming hole off of Banfield Park in Victoria West. IMG_6863.jpeg

And again, the same response. People jumping into the Twitter feed with comments that were negative and focused on homelessness and tenting and me, and not at all related to the great community effort underway.

I can take criticism. You don’t sign up for a job like this if you can’t. But the reason I’ve deactivated my Twitter account, is that the stories we tell about our city matter. And the mayor’s Twitter feed tells a story.

I use Twitter to support business-led efforts to recover from the pandemic and look to the future, like the Ocean Futures Innovation Hub. I post to support citizen-led efforts to spruce up the harbour and create a sense of joy and place. I post to support Destination Greater Victoria and the Downtown Victoria Business Association whose member businesses are working so hard right now, some just to survive. And to profile all the amazing arts and culture events that are happening, despite the pandemic. And to support our local non-profit sector which is working so hard to support members of our community who may be struggling right now.

And when I post these things and people immediately pile on with negativity and comments that are irrelevant to the matter in the post, it does a real disservice to these business-led and citizen-led efforts. It creates an ongoing negative story about our city. And this shouldn’t be the only story, when so many people are working so hard every day to stay positive and to create positivity during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

There is a homelessness crisis right now, in the city and across the province and country, and its made worse by the pandemic. It’s having a negative effect on so many people, those who are homeless and those who are housed. We’re working hard every day to  manage the crisis and we’re working with the wonderful ministers and staff at the Province to resolve it, to get people housed with the supports they need.

But there is more to Victoria’s story. A recent article in Western Investor highlighted Victoria 3.0, which they called “an ambitious blueprint for sustained post-pandemic recovery.” The vision is that “Victoria is a future-ready, globally fluent influencer and innovator. We will use our status as a small powerhouse to create a strong and resilient economy that meets our needs now and anticipates the future.” After quoting our vision they wrote, “We are betting this is more than posturing: Victoria is for real and should be a leading light out of the pandemic darkness.”

And there’s Build Back Victoria, a program that has seen a surge in patios in the downtown and in village centres. It’s made-in-Victoria vibrancy that is business-led and City supported and is helping businesses to recover and hire back staff.

And there’s all the amazing stuff happening in the local arts and culture sector – another key element of Victoria’s story. Throughout the pandemic our Arts, Culture and Events team at the City have been working hard with the arts and culture community so they can continue to do the great work they do. We need arts, culture and everyday creativity more than ever. There’s an inspiring array of events and activities here.

So I’m taking a break from Twitter to give all these community efforts the opportunity to shine, without detraction on my Twitter feed. I’ll be back at some point when the time feels right. To those who are still on social media, I’d like to encourage you to use it to make someone’s day, to share joy and kindness because goodness knows, this is what the world needs right now.

For those who need me, there are still lots of ways to say in touch! You can email mayor@victoria.ca, phone or text at 250-661-2708, speak with Council directly, or come to one of my Community Drop Ins, which have gone virtual during the pandemic.

 

 

 

City to Ask Supreme Court of Canada to Rule on Municipal Power to Regulate Business Use of Plastic Bags

Plastic Bag Press Conference.jpeg

Earlier this week at the Union of BC Municipalities conference, the City held a press conference attended by local elected officials from across the province. We announced our intention to ask the Supreme Court of Canada to hear the City’s appeal with respect to plastic bags and the authority of local governments to regulate businesses in line with the values of the community.

In July, the BC Court of Appeal overturned a lower court ruling and set aside the City’s Checkout Bag Regulation Bylaw, which regulated businesses providing checkout bags to customers and included restrictions on the use of plastic checkout bags. The Court of Appeal ruled that the purpose of the bylaw was the protection of the natural environment and that it required approval from the Province of BC prior to being enacted.

After careful review, the City has decided to ask the Supreme Court of Canada to review the Court of Appeal decision to clarify a municipal government’s power to regulate unsustainable business practices that negatively impact the community.

The BC Court of Appeal decision goes far beyond the issue of plastic bags. It strikes at the heart of the power of local governments to regulate business practices in line with 21st century community values. If the decision is allowed to stand it can potentially be interpreted to severely limit the power of local governments. This is why the City of Victoria is seeking leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.

The Court of Appeal decision – that the bylaw required provincial approval – runs contrary to a principle previously mentioned by the Supreme Court of Canada that law-making and implementation are often best achieved at a level of government that is closest to the citizens affected and therefore most responsive to their needs and to local distinctiveness.

At the press conference, two of my colleagues – who are also leading by creating business bylaws that reflect the values of their communities – shared their thoughts

“Large and small local governments across British Columbia are enacting bylaws that regulate the use of single-use plastics, in response to the strong wishes of their citizens and businesses. These local governments are not wavering in their commitment, but a review of the BC Court of Appeal decision is critical,” said District of Tofino Mayor Josie Osborne. “Most municipalities simply don’t have the resources to respond to legal challenges or take issues like these all the way through the court system, so I welcome the City of Victoria’s decision and deeply appreciate their leadership.”

“As Squamish works to develop a bylaw towards eliminating single use items, I wish to recognize the City of Victoria for taking continued leadership with the development of its original bylaw, and now as the City seeks leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. Local governments of all sizes across Canada are grappling with complex issues such as climate change, environmental degradation, housing affordability, economic disruption, policing, and the list goes on,” said Squamish Mayor Karen Elliott.

“We engage with our citizens, businesses and others to find local solutions that work in our particular circumstances, and that can potentially inspire other communities to act. As the government closest to the citizens, it is critical that our power to implement bylaws and regulations, in line with a community’s values and long-term goals, is protected to the fullest extent possible.”

The City believes that the Court of Appeal applied a very restrictive interpretation of municipal power to regulate business, which could potentially affect other municipal bylaws not only in Victoria but across B.C. and in other provinces that have similar municipal legislation. Therefore, this case raises issues of general importance and warrants consideration by the Supreme Court of Canada.

The City of Victoria’s Checkout Bag Regulation Bylaw came into effect on July 1, 2018 and regulated the types of checkout bags that could be offered by businesses to customers. The bylaw was developed with extensive input from local businesses, industry and the community during a two-year engagement period. The implementation of the City’s checkout bag bylaw in 2018 was enthusiastically embraced by both businesses and customers and was used as a model by a number of other B.C. municipalities.

The bylaw was challenged by the Canadian Plastic Bag Association, an industry lobbying group, that alleged the bylaw was not a valid business regulation but rather an environmental regulation that required provincial approval prior to adoption by the City.

The Association’s challenge was dismissed by the BC Supreme Court in June 2018 when the judge found that the bylaw was, in fact, a business regulation and that any environmental effect of the bylaw was merely incidental and secondary to its main purpose to regulate business checkout transactions. In July 2019, the BC Court of Appeal overturned the lower court’s finding when it concluded that the bylaw was an environmental regulation.

Victoria has made sustainable business practices the new norm.  Since the bylaw’s introduction, the community eliminated 17 million plastic bags from the waste stream which will result in both short-term and long-term cost savings for waste management.  Although the Checkout Bag Regulation Bylaw has been set aside and has not been in effect since the Court of Appeal decision on July 11, most businesses in Victoria continue to operate as if the bylaw was still in effect – a testament to the wide community support of the bylaw.

Under the Supreme Court of Canada rules, the court decides whether or not it will hear the appeal. The City’s deadline to apply is September 30. It normally takes between four and six months for the decision on whether or not the Supreme Court of Canada will hear the case.

 

Open Letter to Victorians: Let’s Choose the Future Together

An Ocean Networks Canada (ONC) camera like this one (left) allows for real time monitoring of the seabed (right). ONC has cameras like this one deployed all over the west coast, sometimes in partnership with First Nations communities. See more of their incredible photos here.

As I’ve been reading the headlines and letters to the editor over the past few weeks, I’ve felt a bit worried about the conversations we’re having about our city. Many ping-pong table related debates. And of course the endless stream of letters for and against bike lanes.

All these headlines and letters have been swirling around me as I’ve been immersed in reading and workshops on the role of cities and city economies in the 21st century. I’ve been doing this because I believe everyone in Victoria deserves a good job, a good home, and a sustainable community and that the City has a role to play in making these things happen.

This fall, my office will be leading the development of Victoria’s second economic action plan. We’re making this plan in order to facilitate an environment in which Victoria is an attractive place to invest and to start and grow a business. We’re doing this because we want high-value jobs for Victorians in a global economy with a rapid pace of change, when automation is on the rise, and where there is ample economic opportunity and job-creation potential in responding to the climate crisis.

In 2015, we created the City’s first economic action plan, “Making Victoria: Unleashing Potential.” Almost all of the actions in that plan have been achieved. Successes include a decrease in retail vacancies downtown, an increase in the number of net new business licences, a low unemployment rate, and the amount of development underway.

Our second plan, “Victoria 3.0,” needs to be even more focused and more ambitious. We need to use our status as a capital city and position Victoria as a globally relevant and globally fluent small powerhouse. This will help us to create the jobs of the future and an inclusive, sustainable, and high-value economy for the long term.

An ambitious and focused economic action plan will achieve three key goals at the same time as the City continues to support economic development and job creation in general.

One, we’ll build on the strengths of UVIC’s Ocean Networks Canada and all the ocean and marine related businesses in our region and create a 22nd-century-oriented ocean science and marine economic cluster. Ocean science and technology is a key space where Victoria is well positioned to lead globally.

Second, we need to learn from other cities that have created ‘innovation districts’ (hubs of cross-sector collaboration, commercialization of new ideas and job creation) and establish one of our own that is global facing, anticipates and solves the problems of the future and creates high-value jobs.

Third, we need to form economic development and innovation partnerships with other relevant small powerhouse cities around the world.

Of course issues like bike lanes, plazas and ping pong tables are important and help to create a safe, healthy and sustainable community. But the frame has to be wider than this. The role of cities in the 21st century has changed fundamentally. Cities are increasingly the primary locus of innovation, prosperity and problem-solving. Cities are the scale at which global problems can be seen and fixed.

Victoria can not only learn from the challenges other cities have faced and the innovative solutions they have created, Victoria can also lead.

In their compelling and provocative book, The New Localism: How Cities Can Thrive in the Age of Populism, Bruce Katz and Jeremy Nowak say that cities must invest in place, find global economic relevance, work on inclusion and social cohesion, and develop creative mechanisms to finance the future.

They write that city leaders must “combine substantive knowledge of issues with a keen understanding of the interplay between markets, civics and politics. This,” they say, “is a far cry from the days when cities were seen as the backwater for pothole politicians and second-tier business leaders.”

In a global economy increasingly anchored by cities, I believe Victoria has a role to play in fostering a high-value and inclusive local economy that makes our city strong and sustainable. In order to do so, we must look up and see that there’s more to discuss than ping pong tables and bike lanes. We must look out and learn from other cities.

And we must look to the future and share a vision of Victoria as a small powerhouse, a future-ready and globally-fluent capital city. My challenge to Victorians is to share ideas that will help this vision come to life.

This piece was originally published in the Times Colonist here.

No Social License for Single-Use Plastics in Our Communities

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Photo complements of Karebags, a local company that sells bags wholesale to businesses in Victoria and donates a portion of profits each month to a local charity.

A lot has happened since the B.C. Court of Appeal ruled against the City of Victoria’s plastic bag business regulation bylaw. What’s been thrilling in the weeks following the ruling is to be working closely with three amazing woman mayors in B.C. who are also taking strong leadership on single-use plastics.

Mayor Josie Osborne of Tofino and her council adopted a bylaw recently (but before the court ruling) banning both plastic bags and straws. Mayor Karen Elliott in Squamish and her council are working to regulate single-use plastics. And perhaps most boldly of all, Mayor Kathy Moore and her Council in Rossland approved a bylaw almost identical to Victoria’s, even after the Court of Appeal ruled against Victoria’s ban.

We’re going to be keeping the “Plastic Bag Association of Canada” (whoever that may be – Google and you won’t even find them) very busy.

Last week we were all happy to see the Province launch its own consultation on single use plastics. Jointly, Mayors Elliott, Moore, Osborne and I released the following statement:

“As mayors of communities that are taking a leadership role to reduce single use plastics, we are delighted to see the Province launch a consultation period to hear from British Columbians on this important issue. We’re encouraged that the Province will also take a leadership role to reduce needless waste across the Province.

“Our communities have enthusiastically embraced the reduction of single-use plastic items. We have adopted bylaws or are in the process of doing so to prohibit single-use plastic bags. We’ve done this because single-use plastics and other single use items present a huge problem and big expense in solid waste management, which is a local government responsibility. In Victoria, over the last year 17 million plastic bags were diverted from the landfill, a cost savings to landfill operations.

“We are keen to work with the Provincial government to establish a clear role for local governments, our residents and businesses to move towards a sustainable, zero-waste economy and environment. We are confident that by working with the Province over the next few months, local governments will be able to offer our experience and expertise that will help the government develop and implement strong policies to reduce unnecessary single-use items across British Columbia.”

In the meantime, in Victoria we’re looking at all our options. Last Thursday Council asked our solicitor to report back in early September on the advisability of the City seeking leave to appeal the Court of Appeal decision to the Supreme Court of Canada. And in a brilliant suggestion from staff, we have asked our Director of Engineering and Public Works to bring forward a public report on the process for, and resource implications of, developing a comprehensive bylaw for the protection of the natural environment that would regulate, prohibit, and impose requirements in relation to single-use plastics and other products.

We are also currently holding workshops with community stakeholders to reduce or eliminate items that quickly become waste after one or few uses; items like cups, food and take away containers, straws and cutlery. These workshops are to help the City develop its Zero Waste Strategy. This strategy will introduce programs that shift our community towards a circular economy and systems where nothing is wasted, where needless materials are avoided and products are always reused or managed sustainably.

We are doing all of these things because wasteful single-use materials impose several direct and indirect costs:

  • Financial impacts to cleanup operations from pollution and obstructions to local waterways, City waterworks and sewers
  • Cost of landfill operations and extended life of landfill to continue to deal with wasteful practices
  • Environmental impacts to local wildlife, ecosystems and natural resources
  • Social impacts, such as household affordability

It’s going to take all levels of government working together some time to create a sustainable, zero-waste economy and environment. In Victoria we’re not waiting. The majority of Canadians support a ban on single-use plastics, and our residents and businesses are demanding action. We will continue to take it.

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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