Provincial Budget Puts People and Strong Economy First, Tackles Reconciliation and Climate Change

Blog post families picture.jpg

Yesterday the Province released its budget which puts people and a strong economy first, and makes significant investments in climate action and reconciliation. Affordability, economic prosperity and inclusion, and bold action on climate change and reconciliation are key priorities for Victorians. I’m grateful that the Province’s budget reflects our values as a community.

The investments announced will help to make life more affordable for families in Victoria. And they are also key investments to help keep Victoria’s economy sustainable and make it more inclusive. Affordability is a critical issue for our residents and business community, particularly the most vulnerable and working families who are struggling to make ends meet.

The new BC Child Opportunity Benefit will provide important and unrestricted funding for families with children until the age of 18. This will help to strengthen the social fabric of our communities. Parents won’t have to make hard choices between sports equipment, or ballet lessons and putting food on the table; children will have opportunities for more enriching experiences.

New funding for people living in poverty and for mental health and addictions will ensure that our most vulnerable residents finally get the help they need. And the elimination of interest from all BC student loans will set young people on a more affordable life path.

The Province’s historic $902 million investment in the CleanBC plan will help British Columbians to take serious climate action and reduce carbon pollution. In order to reduce carbon pollution in Victoria by 16%, we need to retrofit buildings at a rate of 2% per year. Whether the $41 million energy retrofit incentives in the budget will be enough to push people to action or whether bolder action still required is yet to be seen. But the budget offers a good first step.

Reconciliation is also a key element in the Province’s budget in two important ways. The most obvious is a new revenue sharing agreement between the government and BC First Nations which will see $3 billion in gaming revenue transferred to First Nations over the next 25 years, including $300 million in the next three years. This will create more autonomy for First Nations communities to invest in their communities as they see fit. There is still more work to do to have true economic reconciliation, but this gesture in the budget is a good next step.

The less obvious but equally important focus on reconciliation in the budget is that for the first time ever, relatives who are caring for children will receive the same funding as foster parents. This will help to keep Indigenous children with their families where they belong, and out of foster care.

For those interested in the details, you can read the full budget here. This chart is a good summary of  how the Provincial government raises revenue and how it spends it.

graphic-b-c-budget-revenues-and-expenses.jpg

And for those wanting a deeper analysis, Wednesday’s printed version of the Times Colonist has great and detailed coverage of the budget. Some of their online coverage can be found here and here.

 

Please Vote in the PR Referendum – The Future Is In Our Hands

We’re in a really exciting month in British Columbia’s history. We get to chose our future! How we vote in this referendum will determine how representative our government will be of the diversity of British Columbians.

Today I filled out my ballot. In this video I walk you through the process – and I show you how I voted.  Please join me in voting, whichever way you lean. And mail in your ballot before the end of November. Let’s use democracy to choose democracy! For a very helpful video that explains the three different proportional representation systems, watch the video below mine.

 

 

Please Vote Yes for A Citizen’s Assembly on Amalgamation

Learn all about Citizens Assemblies by watching this video! Peter McLeod facilitator of the Duncan North-Cowichan Citizens Assembly outlines the process.

In November 2014, the City of Victoria, along with many others in the region, put a question on the ballot asking residents about amalgamation. Victoria’s question was “Are you in favour of reducing the number of municipalities in Greater Victoria through amalgamation?” The overwhelming response was, “Yes”.

After the election we waited for the Provincial government to take some kind of action. The action was a long time coming; it resulted in a study and report that looked at the current state of regional services. Nothing on amalgamation.

Interestingly, it was the District of Saanich’s citizen-led governance review that has moved us a little bit closer towards an actual exploration of the topic, at least for Saanich and Victoria. Saanich’s citizen panel recommended that Saanich invite all willing municipalities to participate in a provincially-funded citizens assembly on amalgamation. So far, only Victoria has expressed an interest.

A citizens assembly is where a randomly selected group of people are brought together in a process facilitated by a neutral “process expert” to explore a difficult topic. Duncan and North-Cowichan recently convened one to explore the costs and benefits of amalgamation. A citizens assembly process in Victoria and Saanich is a good way to address the advantages and disadvantages of amalgamation.

Citizens assemblies are a good way to work together in a deep and meaningful way. Peter McLeod, the consultant who led the Duncan North Cowichan process said, “The problem isn’t that we ask too much of people, it’s that we ask too little.” A citizens assembly that explores the costs, advantages and disadvantages of the amalgamation of Victoria and Saanich will create a genuine opportunity to harness the intelligence, energy and goodwill of the community.

But it will do more than this. The larger benefit of a citizens assembly is that while it will contribute to settling the amalgamation question – at least between Saanich and Victoria – it will also give us a new tool for citizens and governments to work together to solve complex problems in an efficient and effective way; these processes never last more than a year at the very most.

Finally, a citizens assembly is an chance to practice more civil public dialogue when discussing heated issues. It’s a true opportunity for deliberation. It requires listening to other points of view, putting ourselves in each other’s shoes. A citizens assembly is an opportunity to remind ourselves as a community that compromise does not mean capitulation and that changing one’s mind after listening to another perspective is not a sign of weakness.

The next step in the process is for Saanich and Victoria to meet together and determine a clear ballot question that will be asked by both on October 20th. My hope is that we’ll get an overwhelming “Yes” and that the citizens of our two communities can begin a rich, deliberative, thoughtful process and make some recommendations on the topic of the amalgamation of Victoria and Saanich, one way or another.

Originally published in the Victoria News.

Inspiring Town Hall – Citizens Assembly on Amalgamation

Sometimes we just need a little push before talk moves to action. Saturday’s town hall on how to use a Citizens Assembly to explore the question of amalgamation was that final push for me. I’m more motivated than ever for Sannich’s Mayor Atwell and I to meet with Minister Robinson and lay a path for a Citizens Assembly to explore the question of amalgamation. Both Councils have requested this; the time for action is now.

The event, hosted by Amalgamation Yes, featured North Cowichan Councillor Maeve Maguire and Mona Kaiser, a member of the Citizens Assembly which was convened to explore amalgamation between North Cowichan and Duncan. In her opening remarks Shellie Gudgeon of Amalgamation Yes encouraged us all not to think of “yes” or “no” but for now, Amalgamation Maybe. For those of you interested in the process, read on! For those wanting even more details, please take the time to watch the presentation and Q and A session in the video.

In 2015, North Cowichan and Duncan came together and requested that the Province fund a Citizens Assembly to explore the question of amalgamation. With the Province’s go ahead and funding confirmed they convened a small committee with two elected officials from each area. According to Macguire there was no agenda outside of a fair process.

They hired MASS LBP to assist them, and off they went. There were 10,000 invitations sent out; 277 people expressed interest in participating; 147 could attend all events – which was a prerequisite for participation; and 36 people were selected. There was even gender distribution, fair distribution among neighbourhoods and age distribution within neighbourhoods and a set number of First Nations participants. Both Councils agreed to the criteria and then after that, it was out of their hands.

Kaiser, one of 36 residents selected for the Citizens Assembly, said she learned about her neighbours and local history, how local government works, and about the shared values and differences across their region. It is so valuable to spend time with people who think differently than you, she said.

The Citizens Assembly had a four-month mandate to examine amalgamation between the two areas. Both Maguire and Kaiser spoke of the brilliance of the approach and how it could be used to solve other complex problems and increase citizen knowledge and engagement. Participants received technical advice, financial information and presentations from community and business groups to assist in their deliberations.

After months of work, the Citizens Assembly presented to both Councils and the public and recommended amalgamation of the two areas. Both Councils had to agree to the recommendation in order to move forward to a referendum. Next step is further First Nations consultation by the Province and then the Province will hold a binding referendum on amalgamation of the two areas.

Lessons learned? Make sure we get a clear road map from the Province on what the steps will be after the Citizens Assembly reports. And don’t interfere with the Citizens Assembly process; once it is set up, just let them do their work. As Kaiser said, “Having a whole bunch of people in the room [beyond the 36 appointed] is not the the most effective – the voices get louder not deeper.”

What next for our region? We’ll keep you posted as Mayor Atwell and I meet with Minister Robinson. I’d like to see a Citizens Assembly set to work before the summer. And I’d like to trust the wisdom of a randomly selected group of citizens to explore the question of amalgamation of Saanich and Victoria with no preconceived outcome, willing to listen, learn and explore the similarities and the differences between us, and willing to recommend a path forward one way or the other.

Tsunami Warning – Reflections and FAQs

Screenshot 2018-01-24 11.51.23

In the early morning of January 23rd some Victorians woke up to their cell phone or landline ringing with a VicAlert call, some received a text, some got calls from relatives or friends. And others slept through the whole thing and awoke wondering what they’d missed. I think what all of us felt was a little vulnerable and a little scared, with pictures in our minds of big waves engulfing entire cities.

I awoke from a very early morning phone call from our Acting City Manager letting me know that she had followed the City’s emergency management protocol and set up an Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) at Fire Hall #1. I hopped out of bed, got dressed and walked the three blocks to the fire hall to join the City’s senior leadership team in the EOC.

In order to be better prepared as a community and to understand the risks that face us, here are some thoughts, reflections and lessons learned. It’s a bit wordy but packed with important details. Please read and please share with your family, friends and neighbours.

What does a Tsunami mean for Victoria?
A tsunami in Victoria is not a big wave. The City has done tsunami modelling and it shows for the City of Victoria it is a slow water level rise, of approximately 1.5 to 3.5 meters. The maximum water level rise is 3.5 metres with a water flow speed of one metre per second. This means that the people who would be affected are those living within a maximum of two blocks of the ocean in low-lying areas pictured on the map above.

In comparison, the 2011 Tohoku earthquake in Japan had a maximum water level of 40 metres with a water flow speed of 12 metres per second.

What did the City do in the early morning of January 23rd?
Residents were notified of the warning through a number of channels including an emergency takeover of our website, social media and the VicAlert notification system.

Emergency responders were deployed and had started door-to-door notifications in the potentially affected areas based on our tsunami modeling. Victoria Ready volunteers were setting up a reception centre at the Fairfield Community Centre when we received notice at 4:30am the EOC that the warning – of the tsunami that had been predicted to arrive in Victoria around 5:50am – had been cancelled.

As Connect Rocket, the provider of the City’s VicAlert program put it in a tweet the next day, “Always lessons to be learned but @CityofVictoria got it right opting for targeted notifications. No benefit to anyone if evacuation routes become clogged by unnecessary traffic. These are tough calls and their team nailed this one.”

What is VicAlert and How Does It Work?
VicAlert provides you with important emergency information, such as imminent threats (e.g. severe weather, power outages, tsunami), AMBER alerts, and local incidents that affect specific areas of Victoria. The service enables emergency notices to be disseminated City-wide or to targeted areas, which can be helpful for neighbourhood-specific emergencies such as a gas leak.

When you sign up for VicAlert, you receive emergency updates and helpful instructions where you are, when you need them. You have the option to receive notifications by cell phone, landline, and email. Because emergencies can happen at any time, it’s a good idea to include the phone notification – and list your landline and cell phone numbers. A phone call in the middle of the night may wake you, while a text may not.

During the January 23rd tsunami warning notifications through VicAlert were only sent out to potentially affected areas. If residents selected to be notified only for certain neighbourhoods and didn’t receive a message, they were not in an area notified for evacuation. You can easily change your profile to select all neighbourhoods and receive all alerts in the future.

We are encouraging all residents to sign up for VicAlert in the wake of this warning, and suggest using both mobile and landlines where possible to ensure multiple methods of notification in the event of an emergency. Subscription to this service has increased from 6500 people before the tsunami warning to close to 50,000 people since.

In April 2018 a Province-wide “push” alert system that will automatically get in touch with each cell phone will be put in place by the Province. Here is a CHEK news story about that program.

Where do I go in an emergency?
The City of Victoria has identified potential buildings throughout the City that may be used for reception and group lodging centres. We don’t advertise these, as the locations will vary depending on the situation and suitability.  For example, after an earthquake these buildings will have to undergo damage assessments prior to their use and we do not want residents going to buildings if they’re not safe.  VicAlert, the City’s website, Twitter and local media will broadcast the appropriate locations for people to go depending on the circumstances.

Get a Siren!
On the morning of January 23rd while people were still recovering from panic mode, we heard many cries for the City of Victoria to get a siren. The City of Victoria is not at risk like coastal communities on the open water are such as Tofino and Ucluelet where there are sirens in place.  We do not expect a large fast wave like we’ve seen in places like Thailand and Japan. As noted above, what the Tsunami modelling shows for the City of Victoria is a slow water level rise, of approximately 1.5 to 3.5 meters.

We have the resources in place to issue tsunami warnings without a siren due to the lower risk, the slow water level rise, and the length of warning time we will receive after an earthquake has occurred.  Our emergency responders have the capacity to go door-to-door and use loud speakers in the small areas within the City of Victoria that the tsunami modelling has shown the water level will rise to.

This approach has the benefit of notifying affected residents and businesses with personal instructions rather than a siren that would be heard by thousands of unaffected people and lead to confusion about what to do.

We’re all in this together!
The communities that do best in disasters are ones where people have a sense of connection, belonging and resilience. The false alarm on January 23rd is an invitation for all of us  to learn more about preparedness. It’s also a good opportunity for us to get to know our neighbours better and find out what their needs would be in an emergency. Where are the seniors who may need our help? The parents with young children? The people with limited mobility? Preparing for emergencies before they happen is a good opportunity to build stronger communities.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do 3 Things for Canada to Celebrate our Country’s Birthday!

Date: Wednesday, January 11, 2017
For Immediate Release

VICTORIA, BC — Imagine if every Canadian did three things for their neighbourhood, their nation, and their world this year. This would equate to more than 100 million acts of community building. To celebrate Canada’s 150th, Canadians are invited to give a gift of three things — three acts of service, large or small, to help their community. The City of Victoria is joining the 3 Things for Canada initiative to mark Canada’s 150th birthday this year.

“We are honoured and excited to be participating in a national campaign that inspires acts of community service to mark Canada’s 150th,” said Mayor Lisa Helps. “We invite Victoria citizens to do three things to support or improve their neighbourhood in 2017 and inspire others to do the same.”

3 Things for Canada is a national campaign created by the Mayor’s Civic Engagement Committee of The City of Calgary after a challenge from Mayor Naheed Nenshi to get all Canadians to become more involved in their communities.

“I am thrilled Victoria is joining us in our birthday gift to the nation,” said Mayor Nenshi. “If everyone just thinks about what they are passionate about and what they can do to help and then does just three acts of service, we can change the world.”

Examples of what people may choose to do include holding a neighbourhood BBQ or block party, getting to know neighbours at a coffee gathering, initiating a little library on a local street, volunteering for a non-profit organization, bringing a hot lunch to a senior in need, and more. Citizens are encouraged to be creative as they do these acts of service for their neighbourhood, their nation, or the world.

In addition to doing three acts of service, citizens are asked to share these good deeds and spread the word, whether it’s posting a photo, video or comment on the 3 Things for Canada Facebook page, using the hashtag #3ThingsforCanada on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, or sending a digital postcard to a friend.

In October 2016, Mayor Naheed Nenshi visited Victoria to participate in the Victoria Foundation-led panel discussion Wellness Matters: A Dialogue on Connection, Belonging and the Power of Well-being, moderated by Mayor Helps at the Victoria Conference Centre. At the event, Mayor Nenshi spoke of the success of his 3 Things for Calgary volunteer-based campaign, on which the 3 Things for Canada national initiative is based.

For more information, visit: www.victoria.ca/3thingsforcanada and www.ThreeThingsforCanada.ca

— 30 —

For More Information:
Mayor Lisa Helps
250.661.2708

Join Us for First Night – Downtown December 31st

img_0081

Join Us for Spirit of 150 Victoria – First Night, A Family Friendly, Multicultural Celebration at Victoria’s Inner Harbour

Date: Wednesday, December 28, 2016
For Immediate Release

VICTORIA, BC — Spirit of 150 Victoria – First Night will be the place to be on New Year’s Eve. On Saturday, from 5 p.m. – 9:30 p.m., Victoria’s iconic Inner Harbour will be the backdrop for a family-friendly, multicultural celebration, featuring festive lighting displays, live performances, local food vendors and spectacular fireworks to launch Canada’s 150th in 2017.

“We invite the community to bundle up and join us downtown to enjoy the free family-friendly festivities and ring in Canada’s sesquicentennial together,” said Mayor Lisa Helps. “Victoria’s Inner Harbour is rich with First Nations history, and with the City of Victoria having declared 2017 a ‘Year of Reconciliation’, it feels right to begin our reconciliation there on the eve of Canada’s 150th.”

The City of Victoria in partnership with the Greater Victoria Spirit Committee is hosting the event, made possible by $224,000 in funding from Canadian Heritage’s Canada 150 Fund. The City of Victoria is one of 19 municipalities across Canada to receive support from the Canada 150 Fund, designed to create opportunities for Canadians to participate in local, regional and national celebrations that contribute to building a sense of pride and attachment to Canada.

“I would like to thank Canadian Heritage and our many sponsors for making Spirit of 150 Victoria – First Night possible,” said Alan Lowe, Chair of the Greater Victoria Spirit Committee. “We have an exciting line-up of multicultural festivities planned that end early enough for families to enjoy, while enabling others to visit downtown venues after the fireworks to ring in the New Year.”

Fronting Government Street, the First Night Main Stage will be stepped back from the corner of Belleville and Government Streets, between the Royal BC Museum and the Legislature Building.

Emceed by local radio personality Robyn Burns and Vancouver film producer Bruno Baronet, Spirit of 150 Victoria – First Night will kick-off with a First Nations Welcome Ceremony and performances by the Lekwungen Dancers and the Esquimalt Singers and Dancers on the First Night Main Stage, followed by École Campus View Elementary School’s children’s choir singing the bilingual version of the Canadian anthem.

The First Night Main Stage will feature a diverse range of regional and local talent. Headlining the First Night celebrations will be Vancouver-based Dear Rouge, the husband and wife Juno winning duo of Drew and Danielle McTaggart. Their song, “I Heard I Had” peaked in the top 10 of the alternative and rock charts in Canada.

Also taking the Main Stage will be BC resident and Cuban-born, Alex Cuba. Harnessing the sugarcane-sweet melodies and pop-soul hooks, Cuba has won multiple awards including two JUNO Awards and a Latin Grammy Award.

Franco-Manitoban band, Jérémie & The Delicious Hounds, from St. Boniface, will also grace the stage. New to the Winnipeg music scene, these dedicated Francophone musicians gather the sounds of their instruments and their eclectic tastes around leader Jérémie Brémault’s smooth, smoky voice, dynamic range, and earnest stage presence. The Hounds have an inclusive style, and the band pools together into a symphony of soul, funk, reggae, and blues-rock.

Creative projections on buildings surrounding the Inner Harbour and lighting displays will provide a welcoming, illuminated event. In addition to the Main Stage performances, family-friendly activities will include Victoria Harbour Ferries performing a special, festively-lit evening ballet in the Inner Harbour, and the trials bike demonstration featuring the Beshano Bike Trials Club. Children will have the opportunity to meet larger-than-life illuminated puppets roaming the festivities. Canada 150 tattoos and flags will also be available.

The community will be able to warm up with a hot drink and enjoy a delicious meal or snack from one of a dozen of Victoria’s most popular food trucks along Belleville and Government Streets. Spirit of 150 Victoria – First Night will culminate with spectacular fireworks at 9 p.m. set to music over Victoria’s Inner Harbour, timed with fireworks in the nation’s capital viewable on large screens. The event will end at 9:30 p.m.

Transit will run on its usual Saturday schedule on New Year’s Eve, and service will be free after 6 p.m. Additional buses will be added to the regular service to assist those who wish to head home after the firework show.

“The entire Commission and I are happy to support people celebrating the New Year with a free and safe ride home,” said Susan Brice, Chair of the Victoria Regional Transit Commission. “I hope everyone in Victoria has a great time ringing in 2017, and I look forward to another productive year of collaboration in delivering transit solutions for our city.”

VicPD officers and reserves will be greeting the public and ensuring Spirit of 150 Victoria – First Night is a family-friendly event that is fun for everyone.

“Our officers will be on site to support a safe, family-friendly kick-off celebration to Canada’s 150th year,” A/Chief Constable Del Manak said. “Our officers are looking forward to this historic event for our community and our country.”

Roads around the Inner Harbour will close at 3 p.m. on New Year’s Eve in preparation for the event to start at 5 p.m.

The public can learn more about what’s planned by visiting the event’s interactive website at Spirit150victoria.ca, the one-stop resource for all Canada 150 events taking place in the Capital Region in 2017. In addition to First Night, 11 days of multicultural programming are planned leading up to Canada’s 150th on Saturday, July 1, 2017.
ATTACHED: Schedule of Events and Road Closure Map

Staying Focused, Or How We Get Things Done

 

This past Thursday, at its Governance and Priorities Committee, Council met to review the City’s strategic priorities for the remainder of the 2013-2015 budget cycle. But it was also an opportunity for councilors to bring forward projects they’d been working on, that didn’t fit easily into our regular meeting business. Marianne Alto put forward a motion which required Council to make a really hard decision. Late Thursday night, as I was reflecting on the decision we’d made that day, it struck me what it takes for a governing body to set a goal and remain focused on that goal until it is achieved.

I don’t think we made a good decision last Thursday. Thankfully, the decision isn’t final until it’s ratified at our formal Council meeting this Thursday February 13th. So I’m taking this opportunity to lay out my thoughts about making a commitment to a goal, comprehensive decision making, and long-term thinking with the hopes that readers, including some of my Council colleagues, might consider this approach.

Here’s the story. (You can also watch the whole thing unfold for yourself here where the meeting is video archived.) Marianne Alto has been working with members of the Vic High Alumni Association who want to undertake a $5 million capital project to refurbish the Vic High track, bleachers, and field. Alto put forward a motion asking for the City to endorse the project in principle, to allocate staff and Council time to work with the school and the alumni association to explore and pursue other partnerships and to make a matching contribution of up to $250,000 in 2015. 

In the hour-long debate that ensued, city staff noted that a significant amount of staff time that would be involved, even just in negotiating a “joint-use agreement” to ensure that the refurbished facility would be open to the public. In addition, the City’s Director of Finance stressed that there was not $250,000 available in the 2015 capital budget and the money would have to come from somewhere. The Director of Finance also warned that even if the City endorsed the project in principle without providing any matching funds, we’d be in a bit of an awkward position when it came to writing letters of support for provincial and federal funding for the Vic High Alumni track refurbishment project.

Here’s the kicker. Last fall Council voted to keep Crystal Pool as a publicly owned and operated facility. This means that in order to refurbish or rebuild Crystal Pool, the City will need to apply for provincial and/or federal infrastructure funding should it become available. This means that the City would be in direct competition with Vic High if federal and/or provincial infrastructure grants for refurbishing or building recreation facilities become available.

After being amended at least four times and watered down to ensure that little staff time was spent on this endeavour, the motion – including a $250,000 matching contribution at some point in the future and support in principle for the project – passed 7 to 2. I voted against it as did Councillor Gudgeon. Most of the people who voted last fall to keep Crystal Pool publicly owned and operated (Fortin, Alto, Isitt, Madoff, Thornton-Joe) voted in favour of the Vic High project.

Here’s my thinking. This was a difficult decision. We want to honour the tireless work of the Vic High Alumni Association volunteers who are undertaking the capital fundraising campaign. And we’d love to have a newly refurbished track facility in Fernwood. I’d certainly like this, I live (literally!) two doors away from the site.

But we passed a motion last fall and made a commitment to the public to keep Crystal Pool publicly owned and operated. I didn’t even support that motion and have clearly articulated a creative hybrid vision for the future of Crystal Pool. But we made a commitment and we have to keep our focus as a Council on the goal of refurbishing or rebuilding a publicly owned and operated swimming pool. With limited infrastructure monies available from senior levels of government, we can’t approve projects that directly compete with each other. We can’t make decisions in silos. In order to get things done we need to be comprehensive in our decision making and keep the big-picture, long-term vision in mind.