South Island First Nation Chiefs: “Please don’t lose sight of the young ones that we are honouring”

Along with other mayors, MLAs and MPs across the region, on Friday moring I was invited to stand with the nine chiefs of the South Island First Nations as they released and signed a letter calling for an end to the vandalism that is further dividing our communities and preventing healing from taking place.

The chiefs unequivocally denounced the tearing down of the Captain Cook statue and the vandalism to churches. They said that this was not done in their names or in the names of their nations. They told us that since this vandalism had happened, their young people and their elders had been subject to greater racism and their own properties had been threatened.

They asked those of us in attendance to work with them to create understanding and loving, caring communities. They said that we will get further along the path of reconciliation and towards healing together, arm in arm rather than by tearing down each other’s cultural symbols. “Na’tsa’maht”, some of the chiefs said. This means, “We are one,” in lək̓ʷəŋiʔnəŋ (Lekwungen). With generosity, love, and through ceremony, they called us in, asked us to witness and to share what we learned.

All the words and stories shared were powerful and I listened with an open heart – a heart breaking open with both grief and opportunity. But the most powerful moment of Friday’s event for me went beyond just the words.

At the opening of the ceremony, us non-Indigneous leaders were invited by the chiefs to walk in together with them, shoulder to shoulder, in a procession behind the lək̓ʷəŋiʔnəŋ Traditional Dancers, singing, drumming and dancing the Paddle Welcome Song. Despite everything that has happened and that is happening in our region, province and country – so much divide, so much racism, so much anger and hurt – they invited us to walk with them. In that moment, we were one. I will carry with me that feeling of profound oneness from Friday’s event as we continue to walk the difficult but healing path ahead.

Here is the letter from the Chiefs. Please share it with everyone you know.

“Dear South Island Community Members and beyond,

“We are writing you in a united voice of Nations to share our perspective on the recent events in the South Island and beyond, and to spread hope that we can work together for change, and a safer community.

“These events have brought violence and vandalism to our region and communities, the damaging of property including statues and totem poles is unacceptable. We are all residents of this region, and we need to respect each other.

“We are leaders of the South Island Indigenous communities, and these are acts are not ours, we do not support them, and we do not believe in dividing communities.

“These acts are not medicine, they fuel hate and inhibit the healing that is so deeply needed right now. The disrespectful and damaging acts we have seen are not helping, they are perpetuating hurt, hate, and divide.

“These actions go against our teachings and are not reflective on how we have been taught to carry ourselves. As a collective we feel the need to step in before things continue on a destructive path.

“We are writing this letter because we need to work together towards the goals that strengthen our community and bonds with each other.

“We ask all residents of Southern Vancouver Island and beyond to join us on the road to healing. We need to walk together, support each other, and demonstrate humanity. We honour those that have stood with us, those who are our allies, and those who have listened and supported us.

“All vandalism must stop immediately. Let us lock arms, walk together, and look out for one another. Please do not lose sight of the young ones that we are honouring, and please listen to our Elders and survivors.

In Friendship,
Songhees Nation
Esquimalt Nation
Beecher Bay First Nation
T’Sou-ke Nation
Malahat First Nation
Tsawout First Nation
Tsartlip First Nation
Pauquachin First Nation
Tseycum First Nation”

Canada Day, 2021, Victoria BC: When Our Neighbours are Suffering It’s Not the Time To Celebrate

Children’s shoes, stuffed toys, and 215 orange children’s shirts on the steps of the BC Legislature. The shirts were laid after a ceremony hosted for island nations by the Songhees Nation Tuesday June 8th.

This past week Council voted unanimously to move a planned Canada Day broadcast from July 1st to a broadcast that will air later this summer. It will be guided by the Lekwungen people and feature local artists and musicians and will explore what it means to be Canadian, in light of recent events.

While there has been strong local support for this decision, there has also been some backlash from across the country. The backlash tells me that we have a lot more work to do as a country to understand what reconciliation actually means. Reconciliation is about relationships. And it is place-based.

Victoria City Council didn’t #CancelCanadaDay. We weren’t responding to social media campaigns. And no one actually asked us to rethink what we had planned for July 1st.

Each year the City organizes a Canada Day celebration to bring the community together for a diverse, multicultural celebration of our country. Last year because of COVID-19, an online one-hour televised celebration replaced an in-person community gathering. This year, we were planning a similar event – a diverse, multicultural celebration of Canada in the form of a one-hour TV broadcast which features local musicians and artists.

Staff recently met with long-standing Lekwungen participants in the Canada Day celebrations in preparation for this year’s event. They told staff that they wouldn’t take part in Canada Day celebrations this year, in light of the 215 children’s bodies at the Kamloops Indian Residential School discovered so close to July 1st, and the pain and trauma this is causing.

Here is what Lyla Dick, a lead singer in the Lekwungen Traditional Dancers told the Times Colonist:

“The group withdrew from the planned broadcast out of respect for her mother, a residential school survivor and the ‘backbone’ of the dance group, and all those who attended the schools. Dick said her uncle, who attended the Kamloops Indian Residential School, has been hit particularly hard by the discovery.

“‘Because what’s happening with our survivors right now is the years of suppressing all those memories, it’s like the wounds have opened back up … In our communities, we’ve known all along that there was losses throughout the years. I remember my grandpa hearing of his sister being pushed out the window … I remember stories of my mom’s brother, his punishment in Kuper Island. And mum today just told me about the punishments my dad received when he was in [residential school]. So it’s been known all these years, but not really openly talked about’.”

I had been discussing with staff how to incorporate recognition of the 215 children into this year’s Canada Day event somehow. But until I heard from staff that the Lekwungen people were too grief stricken to participate, I hadn’t considered recommending to Council that we rethink Canada Day this year. I’m not sure how I thought that somehow we could proceed with business as usual, even as the history of our country’s genocidal relationship with First Nations had been once again revealed in a way that is painful for the Lekwungen people, for First Nations across the country, and for many non-Indigenous Canadians.

The more I reflected, the more I understood that holding the usual Canada Day celebrations would be damaging to the City’s and the community’s reconciliation efforts. For the last four years, through the City Family, the Witness Reconciliation Program and the Reconciliation Dialogues, we’ve been building close, heart-based and healing relationships between the City and the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations. How could we have a celebration when our neighbours – on whose homelands the City was built – were suffering? And how could we hold a Canada Day celebration without the Lekwungen people who have been part of the event for the last decade?

As First Nations mourn, and in light of the challenging moment we are in as a Canadian nation following the discovery of the remains of 215 children, Council decided to take the time to explore new possibilities this year. In our decision, we noted that everyone will mark Canada Day in their own way this year, with some choosing to celebrate; that is the freedom that a country like Canada provides. But for Council, now is a time where the City can take leadership and provide an opportunity for thoughtful reflection and examination of what it means to be Canadian in light of recent events and what we already know about our past.

For a broader perspective, here’s an interview I did with CBC’s Carol Off on As It Happens Friday evening. (Interview starts at 1:47)

Statement on the Discovery of the Remains of 215 Children in a Mass Grave at the Kamloops Indian Residential School

Eddy Charlie speaking at Xe Xe SmunEem (Sacred Children)-Victoria Orange Shirt Day on September 30 2019, with Kristin Spray. Eddy and Kristin are founders of Xe Xe SmunEem-Victoria Orange Shirt Day which honours residential school survivors and those, like the 215 children whose bodies were discovered this week, who never came home.

On Monday, the City of Victoria is lowering the Xe xe Smun eem-Victoria Orange Shirt Day flag and the Canadian flag to half-mast to honour the 215 children who died at the Kamloops Indian Residential School, and whose bodies were recently found in an unmarked grave. We acknowledge the deep grief of families from the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Nation and families from the other Nations whose children attended the school and who never returned home. 

The flags will remain lowered from May 31 to June 8 for a total of 215 hours, one hour for each of the children who died. Council will also observe a moment of silence at the beginning of our meeting on Thursday. 

The discovery of the children’s bodies is a reminder to non-Indigenous Canadians that the grief and trauma of colonization is anything but in the past. These children’s bodies surfaced in the present and are a painful reminder to all residential school survivors and intergenerational survivors of their own pain, trauma, and need for healing. 

Taking meaningful action to address the ongoing, harmful legacy of colonialism requires more than symbolic gestures like the lowering of flags. It requires all non-Indigenous people and all levels of government to take action to recognize and honour Indigenous sovereignty, Indigenous laws, and Indigenous ways of knowing. The discovery of the children’s bodies should move us all to redouble our reconciliation efforts in real and meaningful ways.

To close with the words of Eddy Charlie, residential school survivor and founder of Xe Xe SmunEem-Orange Shirt Day in Victoria in a text to me today, “We all have work. Our old ones used to say, never think a path is perfect. The challenge is to stay standing together on that path. That goodness is all we need.”

Is Victoria A Welcoming City?

This booklet outlines the Welcoming Standard against which Victoria will be measuring itself and the goals we are aiming to achieve. It’s very short! Please take the time to read it and share it with everyone you know who might be interested in learning more about Victoria becoming a Welcoming City, or participating in the process.

The first year anniversary of George Floyd’s death is coming up at the end of this month. His murder at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer sparked international outrage. It brought the Black Lives Matter movement and the existence of systemic racism – everywhere, not only in policing – squarely into the mainstream as an issue that could no longer be ignored.

Creating a Welcoming City Strategy to address systemic inequities and make Victoria more welcoming is an action in both Council’s 2019-2022 Strategic Plan and the City’s economic action plan, Victoria 3.0. When the pandemic hit last spring – like much else that wasn’t part of core operations – Council put this project on hold. After George’s Floyd’s death and the response to it in Victoria and around the world, we felt the need to take urgent action.

For background and context, here is an excerpt from the June 9 2020 Committee of the Whole Report from Councillor Dubow and I:

“At the Council meeting on April 9, 2020, Council decided to put on hold a range of initiatives due to budget constraints from COVID-19 and revisit these on August 6th. The Welcoming City Task Force was one of these initiatives.

“Given the recent events in the United States and Canada as well as the well-organized and thoughtful responses of Victorians against racism in all forms and the desire to create a welcoming city for everyone, it is recommended that we proceed immediately with the Welcoming City Task Force. This will enable Council to harness the energy, creativity, passion and commitment currently evident in our community to make Victoria a welcoming and safe city for everyone. 

“The original proposed funding amount for this initiative was $50,000. This included engaging a consultant, in person meeting costs and stipends for Indigenous members of the Task Force as per the City’s protocol and compensation policy. Given that the meetings will all be held online, it is possible to reduce the budget.

“There is approximately $42,800 remaining in the Mayor and Council travel budget for this year, most of which will not be used given travel restrictions and lack of in person conferences. It is recommended that $40,000 be re-allocated to the Welcoming City Initiative.”

Council accepted our recommendation unanimously and a task force was struck.

The Welcoming City Task Force is co-chaired by myself and Councillor Dubow and is made up of people who reflect Victoria’s increasing diverse population. The members have been working hard with consultants and city staff for many months in preparation to launch an extensive public engagement process, which begins this week.

What is a Welcoming City?
The Welcoming Cities program began in the United States in 2009 as a deliberate way to create relationships between long-established residents and newcomers and to help develop a sense of belonging, connection, and community cohesion. Since then, it has grown into a global movement with the founding of Welcoming International and the development of the Welcoming Standard (pictured above). The Standard lays out the keys areas of civic life that need concerted attention and action in order to create inclusive communities:

  • Government Leadership
  • Equitable Access
  • Civic Engagement
  • Connected Communities
  • Education
  • Economic Development
  • Safe Communities

Not all the categories in the Welcoming Standard are within the jurisdiction of local governments. This is why Victoria’s Welcoming City Task Force includes representatives from other organizations like the Greater Victoria Public Library, newcomer serving agencies and Parent Advisory Council reps. The idea is to co-develop and co-deliver the Welcoming City Strategy together with the community.

Why Welcoming Victoria and How to Get Involved
Victoria is a culturally diverse place. According to the 2016 Census, close to 20 percent of Victoria’s population are newcomers, or people who are new immigrants or refugees to Canada who have settled in Victoria. They face significant social and economic barriers to integration into the local community and into Canadian society.  

Creating a Welcoming City Strategy means foregrounding the lived experiences of newcomers, people of colour, Black people and Indigeneous people to help inform the development of the strategy, so it reflects their needs and desires. We know that even on their own homelands, Victoria can be an unwelcoming place to Indigenous people. This needs to change. Important as well are the voices of long-established Victorians who have a role to play in helping to make Victoria welcoming, inclusive and resilient because of our diversity.

Phase one of the engagement begins this week with small workshops for people to share their experiences and needs in each of the Welcoming Standard areas cited above. At the same time, everyone is invited to share their stories between now and May 30th on the City’s Have Your Say platform. Do you feel a sense of welcome and belonging? What would help to make you feel like you belong and are able to flourish in Victoria? The Welcoming City engagement will be up Tuesday so if you go there as soon as you read this post on Sunday evening, you won’t see it yet – please check back later in the week!

The information gleaned in the workshops and on the story portal will be used to generate a community survey that will go live in early June. Whether you’re a newcomer or a long-time resident, please take the time to fill out the survey. You’ll also find it on the City’s Have Your Say platform in June.

The input from public engagement will help to inform the development of a Welcoming City Strategy that will be presented to Council in the fall. Once adopted, the implementation of the Welcoming City Strategy will be led by the City’s newly formed Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.

The success of the strategy will be in the quality of the inputs we get during the public engagement period. For those who are new to Victoria and/or racialized minorities who don’t feel welcome here, who experience racism, who need us to do better as a community, thanks in advance for the courage to tell your stories and share your experiences. We can and must do better. For those of us who are non-people of colour, non-Black and non-Indigenous, we have work to do to unpack our privilege and examine our shared role in making Victoria more welcoming.

I thank the hard-working, courageous, and delightful task force for their work to date, and I look forward to the next steps in this important and necessary process.

It’s Our Responsibility As Non-Indigenous People to Show that Reconciliation Is Not Dead

Photo credit: Colin Smith

This blog post is being written just as CBC announced that Wet’suwet’en, Canada, and British Columbia have reached a proposed arrangement

On Friday afternoon I visited the youth staying at the legislature. They are there to defend their lands, rights, and Indigenous title. I stood in circle with them and listened to their passion, their concerns and their fears.

I went to see them in part because I was on a panel on Friday evening at the Victoria Urban Reconciliation Dialogues hosted by the Victoria Native Friendship Centre. One of the questions that panel host Shelagh Rogers said she’d be asking us is about the role of Indigenous youth in the future of reconciliation. So I went down to the legislature to learn.

A key part of my role as mayor is to support and nurture our young people, the leaders of today and the leaders of tomorrow. When I heard these Indigenous youth say that they are afraid, when I heard them say that our country has failed them time and time again, when I heard about the sacrifices they are making – putting their own lives on hold and at risk – I am moved to speak up.

As non-Indigenous allies, we must speak up against the racism that is rearing its head in response to Indigenous people standing up across the country. We must denounce racism in all its forms. We must call it out. There is never, ever, any excuse or any “good reason” for racism.

When I met with the youth on Friday they told me that they think reconciliation is dead. I can see how they feel this way – it took more than two weeks of protests across the country to get everyone around the table in Wet’suwet’en territory just for the conversation to begin. And along the way there were arrests and further displacement of Indigenous people from their homelands. In a so called era of reconciliation, it shouldn’t have taken this long and it shouldn’t have been so difficult for the conditions for dialogue set by the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs to be met.

What I want to say to the youth is that it is our responsibility as non-Indigenous people to show them and their elders and all Indigenous people that reconciliation is not dead.

We do this by telling the whole truth about the history of our country: that it was built by the removal of Indigenous people from their lands, the tearing apart of Indigenous families, the obliteration of Indigenous laws and ways of knowing the world. We acknowledge that all of these things are still happening today and we do everything in our power to change this. Reconciliation is not dead as long as we are willing to name the colonial and painful truth of Canada’s origin story.

Reconciliation is not dead if we as non-Indigenous community members are committed to decolonizing Canada, to working together to create a new story. This means being committed to honouring Indigenous rights and title and ensuring that Indigenous legal orders can exist side by side with the Canadian one. For me, reconciliation is not dead but it is really, really difficult and painful work, for everyone.

After participating in the Victoria Urban Reconciliation Dialogues this weekend, I am also hopeful. As Shelley Cardinal, the president of the Victoria Native Friendship Centre said in her opening remarks on Friday evening, “Now when the discomfort is here is not the time to abandon each other, it’s the time to walk together.” And as Tsartlip Nation member and MLA Adam Olsen said in his opening remarks, at times like these “We need to call each other in, not call each other out.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wet’suwet’en conflict puts “rule of law” in context

Wet'suwet'en Actions_GuilleIndigenous youth gathered in circle at BC Legislature.                     Photo credit: Jason Guille

This past week has been very challenging as a settler, ally, mayor and Canadian. Across the country, on the island, and here in our city, there have been protests and blockades in support of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs who assert authority over 22,000 square kilometres of land in northern BC, their homelands and traditional territories. Coastal GasLink also asserts authority to build a natural gas pipeline and their authority has been backed by the courts and enforced by the RCMP.

The protests are not surprising. To expect anything other than a vocal show of solidarity with the hereditary chiefs would be to have blinders on to the current historical moment we are in as a country. It’s complicated to say the least.

The federal, provincial and local governments are all talking about reconciliation. At the City, we moved a statue of Sir John A. Macdonald from the front steps of City Hall that caused pain and suffering to Indigenous people. We’ve created the Witness Reconciliation Program and the City Family – an Indigenous-informed governance body – to guide the reconciliation process. And we’re hosting a series of difficult but important conversations at the Victoria Reconciliation Dialogues.

The Province – by unanimous vote – adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples into legislation. In his thoughtful statement on the protests earlier this week, Premier Horgan pointed to the complexity of implementing this legislation.

Trudeau in his mandate letters requests that minsters continue “supporting self-determination, improving service delivery and advancing reconciliation.” He directs “every single Minister to determine what they can do in their specific portfolio to accelerate and build on the progress we have made with First Nations, Inuit and Métis Peoples.”

What all of these reconciliation efforts will need to grapple with – and what the Wet’suwet’en situation has brought to light in a clear and practical way – are the multiple legal systems in conflict with one another. The Wet’suwet’en conflict between elected councils and hereditary chiefs isn’t the first and it won’t be the last. This a key issue. And this conflict is not new. It was created in 1876 with the adoption of the Indian Act, the reserve system and the imposition of elected band councils.

The residential school system tried to take the “Indian out of the child”, to erase culture, but it ultimately failed. Despite the harm and trauma that the school system caused, which are still felt across the country today, we see the proliferation of language revitalization programs, cultural resurgence, and youth – like those at the legislature this past week – proud to be Indigenous.

As the residential school system took aim at language and culture, the Indian Act aimed to obliterate thousands-year-old legal systems that had a different understanding of rights, responsibilities and relationships. But it didn’t succeed, entirely.

In 2018 the University of Victoria launched the world’s first Indigenous law program. Students of the four-year degree program graduate with professional degrees in both Canadian Common Law and Indigenous Legal Orders. What we’re seeing alongside a cultural resurgence is the rise again of Indigenous legal orders and an assertion of their rightful place in establishing law and order in the lands we know as Canada.

In this context, the protests are not surprising. They are the result of tectonic plates of different legal systems grinding against each other.

When served with an injunction to clear the rail tracks near Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, Andrew Brant said, “The [injunction] doesn’t mean anything; it’s just a piece of paper. To us, that is not our government; that’s not our law, so when they serve it to us, it’s just a piece of paper.”

If we continued to look only through a Canadian/colonial legal lens it would be easy to dismiss Brant’s point of view. It would be easy to dismiss the protests here in Victoria and across the country. It would be easy to point to the 20 band councils along the Coastal GasLink pipeline route and say that they have approved it and are seeking benefits for their communities.

This is true and important and clearly established within one legal order. And goodness knows economic opportunity for First Nations communities is a good thing. At the same time, to completely dismiss the established authority of hereditary chiefs in Wet’suwet’en territory or elsewhere puts one legal order over another. And pits Indigenous people against each other.

Moving statues, passing UNDRIP and giving strong mandate letters to Ministers are all important steps. For reconciliation to be successful we must find a way to have Indigenous legal orders side by side with the Canadian one. Until this is resolved – and it will take years, if not decades – we can expect the protests and resistance to continue.

This piece was originally published in the Times Colonist here.

Election 2019 Candidates Listening Session: Focus on the Future

 

Screenshot 2019-09-11 10.37.46.png

“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.