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.

 

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.

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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.