Election 2019 Candidates Listening Session: Focus on the Future

 

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“Choose forward.” “Not left. Not right. Forward together.”  “In it for you.” “It’s time for you to get ahead.”

Looking carefully at the slogans of the four main political parties in English Canada, it’s clear that this October’s election is about the future. Thankfully campaigns are about more than slogans. In my experience they’re about three things. First, listening. Second – based on what you hear – creating a shared vision for the future. And third, getting people who support that vision to go to the polls on election day and check your name.

But it begins with listening. This is why the City of Victoria has worked with some of its partners in delivering prosperity – the Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Victoria Business Association, Destination Greater Victoria, and the Greater Victoria Harbour – to host a listening session for all candidates today from 5:30-7:30pm at the Victoria Conference Centre. This event is free and open to the public.

I won’t try to top Jack Knox’s insightful piece in yesterday’s Times Colonist. He does a good job outlining the purpose of our event: “Candidates will each get a couple of minutes to speak at the end of the forum, but the real idea is for the would-be members of Parliament to listen, not talk.”

As mayor I don’t endorse candidates or even quietly campaign for any party. What I will be campaigning for in this election is for the future of our city and our region. I’ll be highlighting priorities shared by our residents and business community about how to create good jobs, good homes and a sustainable community. These priorities – affordable housing, childcare, transportation, climate change, reconciliation and the labour shortage – will be laid before the candidates tonight. They are key to ensuring an inclusive, affordable and prosperous future for our city and for our region.

Please take the time to read through the details. There’s great background information here put together by the partners hosting tonight’s event as well as clear recommendations for the candidates.

Affordable Housing
Greater Victoria has a shortage of affordable housing – for both rental housing and
home ownership. This is an issue that affects Greater Victorians’ ability to find a place to live, as well as the continued growth of the regional economy. The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $1,406.00, with rent increases outpacing wage increases. The Greater Victoria vacancy rate is 1.2%, which means many families are struggling to find adequate housing.

Greater Victoria has one of the highest benchmark prices for home sales in Canada. As of April 2019, the benchmark price for a home sale was $690,000. Rental housing and home ownership are out of reach for many residents.

The City of Victoria and Capital Regional District (CRD) are tackling the affordable housing crisis. Some of the initiatives are partnerships with other levels of government. For example, the CRD, Province and federal government are funding the Regional Housing First Program, which provides housing to those experiencing homelessness and are ready to live independently with ongoing supports as well as for working people.

Recommendations for candidates:

  • Continue to implement the National Housing Strategy. The budget for this program could be expanded in order to encourage partnerships with local governments and non-profit housing providers.
  • Create tax incentives to encourage private sector investment in the construction and operation of purpose-built rental housing stock.
  • Expand the support of culturally appropriate indigenous housing options.
  • Accelerate funding for the 2017 National Strategy to End Homelessness from a 10-year roll-out to a 5-year roll-out. This strategy should continue to adopt a “housing-first approach” and offer support to those that need it. Efforts must include work to
    destigmatize mental health and addictions, as well as better integrate prevention,
    treatment and recovery options.

Child Care
The 2016 Canada Census data reveals a gap between Greater Victoria’s regional population of children and number of child care spaces. The most acute gap is for infants and toddlers where there is roughly one licensed child care space for every eight children. This gap is also likely to expand. Between 2011 and 2016 Greater Victoria’s population of 25 to 39 year-olds grew by 9%, while the population of children under 11 also grew at the same rate. According to the Province of BC, there are licensed child care spaces for 18% of children aged 0-12 in the province.

A deficiency of affordable, high-quality child care spaces in Greater Victoria is having a direct impact on employers and workers. Workers are reducing their hours and modifying their shifts to compensate for the lack of child care. This is adding to the shortage of labour at a time when Greater have the lowest unemployment rate in the country.

A shortage of early childhood educators contributes (ECEs) to the lack of licensed spaces. Child care operators can only offer as many spaces as they can staff. According to Child Care Resource Centre BC, average wages for ECEs as of April, 2018, are $14.00 for a worker to $26.00 for a manager. In a labour market where there are opportunities for higher wages with similar education and experience, it is difficult to attract people to careers as ECEs.

The Province is investing a billion dollars from 2018 to 2020 in wage enhancements for workers, and fee reductions for parents, including a pilot project for $10 a day child care, and capital investments. The federal contribution to child care in BC is only $153 million over the same three years – 15% as much.

Recommendations for candidates:

  • The federal Government should enable working parents to contribute to
    Greater Victoria’s regional economy by matching the level of investment in child care being made by the BC government.

Transportation
Greater Victoria has traffic congestion issues caused by several factors, including
a reliance on automobile traffic and geographic constraints related to its location on an island. Greater Victoria’s population is forecasted to grow, resulting in increased emissions from vehicles idling in traffic unless further investments are made.

The Province of BC is committed to transitioning to electric vehicles for private and commercial use. Greater Victoria can take the lead in spearheading this transformation. The federal government can also play a role reducing emissions in Greater Victoria by continuing to fund projects such as the Public Transit Infrastructure Fund, as well as incentives for businesses and individuals to make the transition to alternative forms of transportation.

Greater Victoria is also positioning itself to develop a smart cities and civic technologies cluster, focusing on areas that align with local academic/research priorities, Province of BC priorities (through the Ministry of Jobs, Trade and Technology’s Innovation Framework), and the Federal Government (through the priorities of Western Economic Diversification Canada and Canada’s Digital Supercluster).

Examples of these technologies could include (but not limited to): Internet of Things (sensors and data management), various application of Artificial Intelligence within
infrastructure to aid decision-making and responsiveness, Blockchain applications to address data security and land management, citizen participatory and response applications (smart wayfinding, technologies that aid citizens with special needs or with aging in place, and emergency response).

The majority of infrastructure management responsibility falls on municipal and First Nations governments. However, they lack the resources to go beyond basic maintenance and upkeep, and rarely move into deploying technological solutions that make infrastructure management more effective and responsive. Infrastructure Canada currently does not have any programs that aid in the capacity-building of modern infrastructure management solutions.

Recommendations for candidates:

  • Through the Standards Council of Canada, align manufacturers of electric vehicles on a common electric charging technology
  • Provide incentives for the electrification of commercial fleets including ferries, buses, trucks and couriers
  • Expand the number of electric vehicles charging stations in Greater Victoria and across Vancouver Island
  • Work with municipalities and First Nations in Greater Victoria to support a civic
    technology cluster strategy that will develop a best practice model of how municipalities and First Nations can better test, purchase and deploy new technologies

Climate Change
In October 2018 the scientists of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report giving the global community until 2030 to significantly reduce carbon pollution and to become carbon free by 2050. Cities account for 70% of greenhouse gas emissions globally. And by 2050, well over half of the world’s population will live in cities. In April 2019, Environment and Climate Change Canada released a scientific report that shows Canada is warming at twice the global average.

Cities in Canada are already starting to feel the effects of climate change and facing the fiscal consequences. Here in Victoria we are seeing more severe winter storms and hotter, drier summers. Seventy percent of public street trees that have been removed in the past few years have been removed because of disease and stress due to climate change.

Our Inner Harbour, a central feature of our downtown, is the point of arrival for many tourists and a source of pride for our residents. For this business and tourism district, higher sea-levels, especially when combined with storm-surge events, will mean huge economic cost.  It has been estimated that one metre of sea level rise in combination with a storm surge would result potential business disruption losses of Cdn $415,557 per day (based on annual averages).

Climate change mitigation and adaptation costs to cities are only expected to escalate in the coming decades across the country.

Despite the increased risks and costs that cities are already feeling and will continue to face, cities in Canada have had essentially the same funding formula since 1867. Cities receive approximately 8 cents of every tax dollar and the only means of revenue raising that cities have are property taxes, utility fees, and parking revenue. With the downloading of services to cities from senior levels of government over the past 150 years without any devolution of revenue-raising capacity, or predictable means of funding, cities are already pushed to the limit of their fiscal capacity. Mitigating and adapting to climate change has the potential to further tax cities fiscally with no way to offset these costs other than through property taxes

Recommendations for candidates:

  • Take an integrated, whole-of-government and multi-level government approach to climate action based on effective partnership between different levels of government and across sector silos
  • Develop a new fiscal formula that will enable cities to both mitigate and adapt to a changing climate
  • Formula should include predictable sources of funding tied to clear outcomes and / or a permanent increase of gas tax funding
  • Require cities to have climate action plans that detail how a local government will help the federal government to meet its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) agreed to through the Paris Agreement and provide funding to develop these plans
  • Encourage provincial governments to give cities more authority to deal with climate change including but not limited to making loans to business owners and homeowners for retrofits and collecting repayment through savings on utility bills; the potential to incentivize reduction in carbon pollution through business licence fees, the potential to explore congestion pricing; other powers that give local governments the ability to mitigate climate change that fit into the current sphere of influence – but not currently sphere of authority – of cities.


Reconciliation
There are nine indigenous nations residing in Greater Victoria. These indigenous nations have unique histories, cultures and economies.  There has been progress towards reconciliation and local indigenous nations have demonstrated a cultural and economic resurgence, but inequality, inadequate housing and social services, and limited economic development persist as obstacles to achieving full reconciliation.

Various levels of government have committed to reconciliation with indigenous nations. The provincial government has committed to a broad range of actions, program and recognition ceremonies. The Capital Regional District (CRD) has reinvigorated its Indigenous Relations Division – building relationships and proposing a governance structure that incorporates indigenous nations. The City of Victoria works with the Esquimalt and Songhees Peoples through the Witness Reconciliation Program, bringing together indigenous and non-indigenous representatives to bring forward ideas and propose actions for realizing reconciliation.

Recommendations for candidates:

  • Allocate funding targeted to affordable housing on indigenous lands.
  • Change federal legislation to enable greater economic autonomy for indigenous nations, including incentives for non-indigenous businesses to partner with indigenous nations, and changes to the criminal code to allow more indigenous-owned gaming establishments on indigenous lands.
  • Develop training on indigenous history and rights for all public servants, with an emphasis on local indigenous history relevant to each federal government staff location
  • Fully implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP)
  • Establish and support a national council for reconciliation. This would include local/regional indigenous elder advisors as an oversight body to reporting on federal government reconciliation progress.

Labour Shortage
As of April 2019, Greater Victoria had the lowest unemployment rate in Canada at 2.8 per cent. This is well below the national average of 5.9 per cent. A recent labour outlook study released by the Province shows there will be 903,000 job openings between 2018 and 2028 province wide, including the creation of 288,000 new jobs due to economic growth. The portion of these openings on Vancouver Island is 17 per cent, or 153,820 openings.

Recommendations for candidates:

  • Increase the number of immigrants selected for economic factors.
  • Ensure the immigration system is client-oriented and services are delivered as
    efficiently as possible. Coordination with provinces is important in delivering support programs.
  • Expand temporary foreign workers (TFW) programs to fill labour market gaps as a short term solution, but also with the objective that immigrants can utilize this program as a pathway to permanency
  • Improve foreign credential recognition, access to language training, settlement services and opportunities to gain meaningful work experience.
  • Greater Victoria has thousands of international students. By expanding work experience and co-op programs to include terms after graduation, there can be connection and integration into the regional workforce.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ambrose Place: Love and Decolonizing Housing, Health and Wellness

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I had an incredible experience earlier this week that I’m really excited to share. I was in a situation where I was expecting one thing and something completely different happened. In the space between expectation and experience, there was inspiration, love and great deal of learning.

I was invited by Fran Hunt-Jinnochi, Executive Director of the Aboriginal Coalition to End Homelessness, to tour Ambrose Place in Edmonton. She invited a dozen of us from Vancouver Island to join her to learn about the Indigenous-informed, culturally supportive housing site which includes a managed alcohol program. She wants to start a similar program on Vancouver Island, hopefully in the capital region, and she invited us to learn and to witness.

I was expecting a conventional facility tour and a series of PowerPoint presentations with governance models and funding charts. Instead, we began on Monday evening in circle with a local elder. He shared his songs with us and spoke for three hours about the importance of connection to one’s own spirit. “Human and spirit,” he said over again in many different ways as the sage burned and the day faded to night.

Tuesday, we learned about love and how a decolonizing approach to “harm reduction” works. Carola Cunningham, the CEO and founder of Ambrose Place said about the residents, “We just keep loving them. We’re all related.” Her staff who were there to share their experiences, echoed this. A staff member shared a story of a resident who told her that he was almost 50 years old and no one had ever told him they loved him. So now every day, at the end of their one-on-one meeting she says, “I love you.”

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Another staff member recounted her experience working at a hospital before coming to Ambrose Place. “The thing I love about working here is that we love our residents. When I worked at the hospital you weren’t allowed to love your patients. Here we are allowed to love them.” Another staff member told us that when she started working at Ambrose Place she had to get used to residents hugging her.

This tenderness, this Indigenous-centred, love-based approach continues through to end-of-life care. Ambrose Place was not originally set up for palliative care. Early on, one of the residents very close to death had gone to the hospital. He wanted to come home to die but they weren’t prepared. After he passed, Carola was determined that people should be able to die at home. And – just like much else that happens at Ambrose place – Carola made it so. “Now we do palliative care,” she said. “And we love people through to the spirit world.”

“In the regular system, at the hospital,” one of the staff members said, “when there’s a death and you cry, you’re seen as weak. Here we’re told, ‘Cry, let it out, tears are medicine.’ We accept our residents where they’re at. As staff we’re also accepted where we’re at.”

The longer people stay at Ambrose place, the more opportunity they have for sobriety, the closer their trauma comes to the surface. The residents work through their trauma in ceremony, in circle, and with an “Elders Review” – a practice where they walk through their lives chronologically with an elder and decide which parts they are ready to work on. What’s truly moving is that the trauma work doesn’t stop with the residents. Carola has created a social enterprise catering service and she uses the money to reinvest in trauma support for her staff.

Ambrose Place is remarkable. And it’s working. As it turns out, love and a decolonizing approach are saving the Alberta government a lot of money. In the first two years they were open, they saved $7 million in health care costs. Their residents have reduced their hospital days by about 90%. There has been a significant decrease in mental health and addictions emergency room visits. And this takes only health care into consideration. There’s currently a study underway to quantify the savings in policing and the justice system.

Niginan Housing Ventures, which runs Ambrose Place, has big plans for what’s next. Ninety-three percent of kids in care in Alberta are Indigenous. So Niginan is going to create a building for kids and parents together. Instead of removing the kids from their parents, they’ll remove the parents – but only to another part of the building. They’ll have “kookums” (grandmothers) and elders around to care for and love the children as well. By keeping everyone under one roof, they’ll ensure that the kids stay connected to their parents until the parents are ready to move back into a suite with their children.

A disproportionate number of people experiencing homelessness in Victoria are Indigenous. A disproportionate number of Indigenous children are in care in this country. Conventional approaches are not working to address these issues and are likely just making them worse. My key takeaway ­– and my reflection to the group in our closing circle – is that the decolonizing practices and loving ways of Ambrose Place have the power to transform the whole health and housing system, if only we are open to new ways of knowing.

 

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

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

Why is The Inclusion Project important?

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are lots of reasons for The Inclusion Project now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Reconciliation is a learning process for us all

This article was first published in the Times Colonist August 29, 2018, 12:17 AM.

Reconciliation with Indigenous communities is an important undertaking in Canada today. What reconciliation looks like, and how we build trust in order to move forward to create a future of equal opportunity and respect, is an uncharted journey guided largely by respect and a willingness to listen, to learn and to try.

To take action on reconciliation,  city council created the city family, a group of Indigenous and non-Indigenous members appointed in June 2017. The city family is a body of council and reports to council.

When city council voted to endorse the city family’s decision to relocate the statue of Sir John A. Macdonald from the steps of city hall and expressed a desire to work with the community to find a more appropriate public space for it, I knew that council had made the right decision. And I still think that today.

But now that I have had time to reflect on the process, I feel the need to explain some things that have weighed heavily on my mind.

As mayor of Victoria, I apologize for not recognizing that the city family’s process might make some people feel excluded from such an important decision. I didn’t recognize the great desire of Victoria residents to participate in reconciliation actions. The process going forward will enable this.

Reconciliation means following Indigenous leadership. It means listening carefully to how symbols and monuments that might be meaningful to many can create barriers for others. And it also means being in dialogue and creating opportunities for true learning and conversation among Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. But it is complex, and so we will make mistakes as we navigate and try to walk this road together.

I made a public commitment to bring the wishes of council and the public for a wider community conversation about reconciliation and a new location for the statue to the city family. I will do this. I have also arranged a meeting with the John A. Macdonald Society and invited the statue’s sculptor, John Dann. These conversations are also important steps in the reconciliation process.

I do not speak for the whole city family — I am but one member — but I can explain from my point of view why the statue needed to be removed from the steps of city hall even though we had not yet selected a site to publicly relocate it.

This action was not, as many news articles have suggested, a symbolic or empty gesture. The statue in its original location was a barrier to Indigenous communities’ engagement with city hall. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission calls upon all levels of government to engage with Indigenous Peoples on reconciliation action. Without relocating the statue, we were not able to invite First Nations to city hall in good faith and respect.

Reconciliation needs to take place in the real world, not just in our hearts.

Macdonald shaped one of the greatest nations and strongest democracies in the world. When we look around the world today, we have a lot to be thankful for. Moving the statue does not erase this history.

The statue’s relocation to a more appropriate public place — and all the conversations that have taken place and will continue to take place — only serve to broaden our understanding of Canadian history.

It’s time to move forward together.

As we work through the process of reconciliation as a community, with the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations on whose homeland the city was built, we have the opportunity to create a more welcoming, inclusive city for everyone. And this is something I’ve heard loud and clear that all Victorians value.

Reconciliation and Removal of John A. MacDonald Statue from Steps of City Hall

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

Council set this process in motion through approval of the Witness Reconciliation Program in June 2017. As part of this process, decision making with regards to reconciliation (other than budgetary allocations) are made by the City Family with the Songhees and Esquimalt Chief and Councils as witnesses. Witnesses, in Lekwungen tradition, listen to the story of the family and give their input and guidance to find a good way forward.

Part of the conceptual framework endorsed by Council in June 2017 included the following language:

“For the City to do more than talk about Reconciliation, we must be prepared to question convention, learn from Indigenous custom and tradition, and risk doing things differently than our usual routines and processes. Our comfortable reliance on terms of reference, timelines, work plans, benchmarks, checklists and other conventional assessments of success and progress will not add value or meaning to this work, move it forward, or demonstrate our readiness to face and embrace the challenges of Reconciliation.”

This language in the June 2017 report outlined what might be considered a decision-making process:

“After each Witness Ceremony is complete, and the advice of the Witnesses offered and heard, the City Family will facilitate the actions needed to realize the ideas endorsed by the Witnesses.”

The City Family has been gathering since the summer of 2017. We gather once a month in my office at City Hall and share food and conversation. One time, recently, I suggested to the family that perhaps we could “come to you” and meet at the Esquimalt Nation or the Songhees Nation. Hereditary Chief Ed Thomas gently pointed out, “You don’t need to come to us. You are always already on our territory.” This is just one example of the many humbling and generous truth-tellings that has been shared during the process.

After a year of discussion, deliberation, truth-sharing, and seeking counsel from the Songhees and Esquimalt Chiefs and Councils on multiple occasions, the family decided on the first concrete action we would like to take as we continue the path of truth and reconciliation. We will remove the statue of Sir John A. MacDonald from the front doors of city hall so that the family members and other Indigenous people do not need to walk past this painful reminder of colonial violence each time they enter the doors of their municipal government.

In addition to being the first Prime Minister of Canada, John A. MacDonald was a key architect of the Indian Residential School system. In 1879 he said, “When the school is on the reserve, the child lives with its parents, who are savages, and though he may learn to read and write, his habits and training mode of thought are Indian. He is simply a savage who can read and write. It has been strongly impressed upon myself, as head of the Department, that Indian children should be withdrawn as much as possible from the parental influence, and the only way to do that would be to put them in central training industrial schools where they will acquire the habits and modes of thought of white men.”

I am ashamed to say that I have an undergraduate degree in Canadian history, a master’s in Canadian history and a half-completed PhD in Canadian history. It is not until we began this Witness Reconciliation Program that I learned about the role that Canada’s first prime minister played in developing residential schools, the effects of which are well known to be still felt today both by school attendees and their children and grandchildren.

The statue will be removed and stored in a city facility until an appropriate way to recontextualize MacDonald is determined. We do not propose to erase history but rather to take the time through the process of truth-telling and reconciliation as part of the Witness Reconciliation Program to tell this complex and painful chapter of Canadian history in a thoughtful way.

Members of the City Family have worked together to craft this language that will go on a plaque where the current statue stands. The witnesses – the Chiefs and Councils of the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations – have provided their input and approved the final wording:

In 2017, the City of Victoria began a journey of Truth and Reconciliation with the Lekwungen peoples, the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations, on whose territories the city stands. 

 The members of the City Family – part of the City’s Witness Reconciliation Program – have determined that to show progress on the path of reconciliation the City should remove the statue of Sir John A. MacDonald from the front doors of City Hall, while the City, the Nations and the wider community grapple with MacDonald’s complex history as both the first Prime Minister of Canada and a leader of violence against Indigenous Peoples.

 The statue is being stored safely in a city facility. We will keep the public informed as the Witness Reconciliation Program unfolds, and as we find a way to recontextualize MacDonald in an appropriate way.  For more information please visit www.victoria.ca/reconciliation

The statue will be removed on Saturday August 11th and the plaque installed immediately. After an appropriate amount of time has passed (as determined by Elders from the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations) a cleansing, blessing and healing ceremony will be held in the space where the statue formerly stood. In the longer term, as determined by motion of Council in late 2016, a piece of art representative of Lekwungen culture will likely go in this space.

For the full City Family Story and documents that will be presented to Committee of the Whole tomorrow please head here and see item I3.

New housing for Indigenous women facing homelessness

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This is a project I’ve been working on with the Aboriginal Coalition to End Homelessness for a very short time! It’s good to see it come to fruition so quickly.

The Government of British Columbia is partnering with the City of Victoria, Atira Women’s Resource Society and the Aboriginal Coalition to End Homelessness, to build new modular housing for Indigenous women, with 24/7 support services.

“Having access to a safe, stable place to call home is crucial for anyone who is experiencing, or is at risk of, homelessness,” said Selina Robinson, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing. “Indigenous people are over-represented amongst the homeless population. And homeless women, especially those who are Indigenous, can face tremendous risks. That’s why I’m really pleased to see this project moving ahead.”

Once operational, each of the 21 homes will include a bathroom and kitchen. Residents will also benefit from:

  • 24/7 on-site staff support, including daily meal services, employment training, and culturally specific and life-skills programming;
  • Health and wellness services, including mental-health and addictions treatment;
  • A shared amenity space and access to laundry facilities; and
  • Custodial and maintenance services.

“Indigenous women are the strength of their communities, families and culture, but for too long they have also been victims of violence, homelessness and poverty,” said Scott Fraser, Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation. “By providing a safe, secure home and culturally appropriate support services, as we are with these new supportive homes in Victoria, we are sending the signal that government and its Indigenous partners are here to help Indigenous women in the spirit of reconciliation, and ultimately, in respect for their culture, history and traditions.”

“The need for housing in Victoria has reached a critical level,” said Rob Fleming, MLA for Victoria-Swan Lake. “These new modular homes will provide Indigenous women in need with an affordable and safe place to call home, while accessing the support services that they need to reach their potential.”

Neighbouring residents and businesses will have an opportunity to learn more about the project at an open house. Open house details will be announced in the coming weeks.

The temporary housing will be operational for approximately five years, and will be on the 800 block of Hillside Avenue, as part of the Evergreen Terrace complex.

“Indigenous women are more likely than other women in Canada to experience both violence and homelessness,” said Lisa Helps, mayor of the City of Victoria. “This housing at Evergreen Terrace provides the opportunity to interrupt those trends, and bring culturally responsive, safe, and affordable stability to the lives of Indigenous women in Victoria, while building community.”

“We are thrilled to be involved in this critically important project that we believe will help address the root causes of homelessness for Indigenous women, which are the loss of children and connection to culture and land,” said Janice Abbott, CEO, Atira Women’s Resource Society. “In addition to providing the immediate safety and security of stable housing, we will work with the Aboriginal Coalition to End Homelessness and the female tenants to help rebuild those connections. We truly believe that if we can find a way to support women in parenting their children and provide children with the opportunity to be raised in their families, we can help eliminate homelessness and violence against Indigenous women.”

Pending municipal approvals, construction is anticipated to begin in fall 2018, and will be complete by March 2019.

“The Aboriginal Coalition currently supports Indigenous women through a program called the Indigenous Women’s Circle, geared towards strengthening Indigenous self-identity, providing life skills and food security and building a sense of family and community. We are very pleased that through the modular housing project, we can now also offer a safe space for the women to call home,” said Fran Hunt-Jinnouchi, executive director, Aboriginal Coalition to End Homelessness. “The women we support face multiple barriers, are often caught up in the chaos of domestic violence, and are at high risk. Culturally supportive housing has the potential to transform lives. I am optimistic and excited about the possibilities.”

Once the facility is operational, a 24/7 contact line will be available to answer questions and address neighbourhood concerns. In the meantime, questions and comments can be submitted to: communityrelations@bchousing.org

Our Thoughts Are with the Esquimalt Nation upon Chief Andy Thomas Sinoopun Passing

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Today, we lost a great man and leader, Chief Andrew Thomas/Sinoopun of the Esquimalt Nation.

Chief Thomas was a champion for his people. Grappling with the ongoing legacy of colonialism, he became dedicated to ensuring a prosperous future for the youth of his community.

He was also a very personable, funny and committed man who will be greatly missed by everyone on Victoria City Council and the entire community.

I have been honoured to know Chief Andy Thomas over the course of my time on City Council and particularly through our Witness Reconciliation Program and City Family. He was an inspiration to me and to Council, and his legacy will live on as we continue to walk together on this new path of truth and reconciliation.

Chief Andy said to us “Reconciliation is your work, your responsibility. We will work with you, guide you and share the labour but it is your burden to carry, and you must do what is needed to put that burden down, piece by piece.”

As a City and as a community we will continue to do this work in this spirit.

On behalf of City Council and the City of Victoria, I extend sincere condolences to the entire Thomas family at this difficult time.

Wholehearted Support for Songhees Games Bid

Something remarkable happened in Victoria recently. Late last Monday morning I walked into the Songhees Cultural Centre on the lower floor of the Steamship Terminal Building in the inner harbour. I’m not sure what I was expecting. But I was thrilled to see such a packed room. And happy to see so many of my colleagues; there was a least one elected official from each local government across the region.

We were there with local business leaders, media, and community members to throw our wholehearted support behind the Songhees Nation in their bid to host the 2020 North American Indigenous Games.

The North American Indigenous Games were created in the 1990s as a catalyst to support the health and wellbeing of Indigenous youth through sport and cultural activities. The Games today are a symbol of respect, friendship and athletic achievement. The event serves as a powerful opportunity to showcase the rich Indigenous cultures from across North America and to foster understanding.

Teamwork and the practice and rewards of discipline and dedication are transformational experiences for anyone. These are particularly important for Indigenous youth for whom we must all work together as a community, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to ensure this next generation has a future full of cultural pride, optimism, opportunity, health and prosperity. Pride, success, celebration and harnessing the strength of their distinct cultures – these are transformational experiences for everyone, but especially for youth on which the Games focus.

Bringing the North American Indigenous Games to Greater Victoria also makes great economic sense. The Games will be a significant economic generator and for the entire region. The Toronto games generated over $44-million for the regional economy. And we expect more delegates than Toronto.

Family members, coaches, and chaperones will come, along with 5000 athletes who will compete in the following sports: 3-D archery, Athletics, Badminton, Baseball (male), Basketball, Box Lacrosse, Canoe/Kayaking, Golf, Rifle-shooting, Soccer, Softball (female), Swimming, Volleyball and Wrestling.

The Songhees dream of hosting the Games is not a slam dunk by any means – Winnipeg, Halifax and Ottawa are all in the running. And the Songhees and their partners have a lot of work to do between now and the bid deadline of March 16th. But there’s something special happening here in the region that bodes very well for their bid: we are united as a region behind them

In his remarks at the event Chief Sam shared with us a word in the Lekwungen language, “NÉTSAMAÁT” which means “together we are one.” This North American Indigenous Games bid is a big deal in an era of reconciliation. It’s an opportunity for us as settler allies to stand with the Songhees and partner nations and to support them in any way we can.

And when they are successful in winning the bid we will celebrate with them, as a community. And when they host the games in 2020, we will stand beside them as they watch their young athletes compete with pride in their culture and with achievable aspirations and opportunities for a very bright future.

Originally published in the Victoria News.

Victoria Commences its Witness Reconciliation Program

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On January 1, 2017 at the City of Victoria’s annual New Year’s Day Levee, and in the presence of local First Nations, City Council proclaimed 2017 a Year of Reconciliation. Since that time, Council has been in conversation with the Chiefs of the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations on how best to approach the work of Reconciliation.

Together, the City and the Esquimalt and Songhees Nations have created a program reflecting Indigenous family witness ceremonies. The City’s Witness Reconciliation Program brings together Indigenous Witnesses from both the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations’ Councils and a City Family. The Program is meant to be a fluid process — one that is flexible, adaptable and evolves to foster a long-term relationship between the City and its Indigenous partners.

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“We look forward to working together with the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations on a new path of Reconciliation,” said Mayor Lisa Helps. “As we have learned from Esquimalt and Songhees Chiefs, Reconciliation begins with listening and deepening understanding, and is a living process of collaboration, imagination and action. Recognizing the depth of our work together, and the need to respect Indigenous traditions in doing that work, we understand that 2017 is the first of our years of Reconciliation.”

The Witness Reconciliation Program will focus on building and nurturing the relationships needed to facilitate trust and demonstrate the City’s ongoing commitment to doing the work for as long as it needs to be done.

“Reconciliation is a journey honouring the truth and reconciling the future. It is about respect, both self-respect for Aboriginal people and mutual respect among all Canadians. Reconciliation must become a way of life,” said Songhees Nation Chief Ron Sam. “Songhees Nation welcomes the opportunity to work with the City through the time needed to nurture our current and future relationship, to take action, together, in the spirit of Reconciliation, and with respect for our traditional ways.”

Esquimalt Nation Chief Andy Thomas acknowledged the City’s commitment to an ongoing course of truth-telling, reconciliation and action, and the City’s willingness to embrace a different way of working together. “Esquimalt Nation expresses their openness to continue working with the City on a meaningful reconciliation process,” said Chief Andy Thomas.

The Indigenous Witnesses will be the Chief and Councillors of the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations, who have been chosen by their people as leaders. The Witnesses will provide guidance and oversight for the Program, coming together two to three times a year in a traditional Witness Ceremony to hear, reflect, comment and advise, witnessing and guiding how the Program moves forward.

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The City Family will meet regularly to collaboratively generate ideas that lead to a program of actions. This program will be presented to the Witnesses through a Witness Ceremony. The City Family will initially be comprised of Songhees representative Brianna Dick, Esquimalt representative Katie Hooper, noted artist Carey Newman, Camosun College Indigenous Studies Chair Janice Simcoe, Mayor Lisa Helps, Councillor Charlayne Thornton-Joe and Councillor Marianne Alto. Staff support will vary as needed, starting initially with Director of Parks, Recreation and Facilities Thomas Soulliere and Manager of Executive Operations Colleen Mycroft.

After the advice of Witnesses is heard at each Witness Ceremony, the City Family will facilitate actions to realize the ideas endorsed by the Witnesses. Subsequent Witness Ceremonies will provide an opportunity for reflection and to look forward to future actions.

“As a corporation, we have not done this kind of work before,” said City of Victoria Councillor Marianne Alto. “The work is new to us and so will be the way we do the work.”

The first Witness Ceremony took place this morning at the Royal BC Museum, timed with the start of the Aboriginal Cultural Festival that runs until Sunday.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC’s) Calls to Action, findings and materials will provide context and a framework for the City of Victoria’s Witness Reconciliation Program, its participants and its work. The Program will consider how the City might respond to the five recommendations highlighted by the TRC for municipalities, and will also work to realize, on a local scale, the TRC’s mandate to tell Canadians what happened in the Indian Residential Schools, create a permanent record of what happened in the Indian Residential Schools, and foster healing and reconciliation.

Photo credit: Heather Follis

Year of Reconciliation Proclamation

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Whereas for thousands of years the Lekwungen people have lived, loved, raised families, fished, hunted and traded on these their traditional territories, and;

Whereas much more recently the City of Victoria was founded upon these territories, and;

Whereas the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report set out 94 Calls to Action, many of which can be actioned by municipalities, and;

Whereas the City of Victoria has adopted some of these Actions to begin a journey of reconciliation between settlers and the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations, and;

Whereas reconciliation begins with listening, with truth telling, and with acknowledging past wrongs, and;

Whereas reconciliation can be painful, uncomfortable and re-traumatizing, and;

Whereas reconciliation means honouring the truth, reconciling the future, and taking meaningful action for change, together, on shared terms, to create a bright future;

Now Therefore I do hereby proclaim 2017 as the Year of Reconciliation, on the Traditional Territories of the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations, in the City of Victoria, the Capital City of the province of British Columbia.

CHEK News and the Times Colonist both provided great coverage of the Proclamation at City Hall today. Thank you.