Inspired Community Conversation

 

My office was jam packed last Friday. Over the course of the two-hour Community Drop In about 40 people came through. Most stayed for the whole time. I was wowed, as I have been since I started doing these drop ins, by the wisdom, compassion, generosity and hard work of Victorians.

Here’s how it goes: People pile in, pour themselves a cup of coffee or tea, slap on a name tag and find a seat. First thing I do is ask, “What’s the agenda?” the agenda is set by the people who come. Here’s the agenda from last Friday.

Everyone introduces themselves and says why they came, then we go through the agenda. I keep things moving so every topic gets covered. I track action items so nothing gets dropped and I can do the follow up work I say I’ll do. People share ideas and ways to get connected on the whiteboard.

At 1pm promptly I run off to wherever I’m going next and people stay as long as they need to exchange information and connect with each other.

Some Highlights from Last Friday’s Community Drop In

A Pedestrian Mall is Not A Closed Street
There has been much talk about Government Street lately. Much of the talk has been about storefront vacancies and closing it to cars. The discussion on Friday was not about closing Government Street, but rather, about opening it up. Members from the Greater Victoria Placemaking Network and Walk On Victoria talked about their plans to work with the Downtown Victoria Business Association and Government Street Merchants to ‘place make’ Government Street. To open it up to more people this summer. I said that I’d be happy to help move their proposal forward once it is developed, with input from everyone affected.

Homeless in a Park
A woman came to talk with me about how distressed she was by homeless people sleeping in a park near her house. And the people there who were homeless said they were distressed because they had nowhere safe to sleep. No one even had to connect the dots. She spoke. Then they spoke. And a hush fell over the rest of us as they quickly developed a shared understanding that they had a common problem.

Then the generous and wise group set to work coming up with solutions. Someone from the Greater Victoria Placemaking Network suggested engaging the Reserve Constables from the Police Department – who just had some training in this regard – to convene a conversation between the nearby homeowners and the people camping in the park to find some shared solutions. I said I’d make sure everyone gets connected. Someone else suggested that maybe City Hall needs to designate a permanent place for people to camp and provide facilities. I said I’d raise this with Council. Ben Isitt has also proposed this. One of the people who is currently homeless said it’s really hard if you’re sick and you just want to stay in bed and get well and you have to take your tent down at 7am. A third person – a homeless veteran – suggested that the armouries could easily sleep 350 people and that they should be asked to open their doors.

Small Business Struggles
A young entrepreneur wants to open a restaurant. He came just to let me know about the struggles he’s having, especially because rents are so high. The place he was looking at is 800 square feet. The base rent is $35 per square foot. The triple net (which a commercial landlord in attendance explained to the group was “all expenses related to the building, including property taxes”) is $17 per square foot, $11 of which is for property taxes. That’s more than he can afford to get his business off the ground. Everyone jumped in with names of building owners he could talk with, and ideas about how to help young start ups, including checking out the Young Entrepreneurs Society. Prosperity through Economic Development is one of the proposed objectives for Council’s Strategic Plan and is something that I would like to lead.

The Oath I Never Took

 

The final moment of the inspired conversation was when a First Nations woman, who had sat quietly for the most part stood up at the end to present a shawl to me that she had made. She had made it to thank me for not taking an Oath to the Queen but rather for focusing my efforts and attention on the people, and on her people. She explained that the design is a beaver with a rising sun. Her uncle said to her, “But a beaver is not a symbol for our people.”

She said she knew at that moment, when her uncle said this, that she was making the shawl for me – the beaver is a symbol of Canada, the sun, a symbol of her people, the First Nations and Canada working towards reconciliation. She said she had faith in me, that I have the courage that it takes to make the changes that are needed. There was no longer a dry eye in the room.

Join Us
I hold these Community Conversations every two weeks. Different people come every time. The schedule is here. When I started them in January I had no idea what would happen. Community is happening. Connection is happening. Happiness and belonging and the road to prosperity are happening. People are coming together, and leaving with more than they came with whether it’s a new connection, a new idea or a commitment to take some kind of action, big or small, that will make Victoria better.

What is a Strategic Plan and How Do We Make One?

A strategic plan is not a wish list or a to do list. It’s not a simple list of priorities. It’s not a list of tactics or actions. A strategic plan is a ‘living document’ set by a board of directors – in this case Council – to guide the strategic focus of the organization for a set period of time.

A strategic plan allows us, as the people you’ve elected to govern the City, to be proactive, future-focused, and action-ready. We start by setting a high-level strategic goal, deciding the strategic objectives we need to pursue to achieve that goal, and then determining high-level actions that we direct our staff to implement in order to achieve these objectives.

If this sounds a bit ungrounded right now, not to worry. As we determine the goal, objectives and actions we’ll share them with you before adopting the plan. We want to make sure we’re creating the kind of city you elected us to and doing it in such a way that is inclusive, bold and forward-looking.

In our last term of office, it took Mayor and Council 11 months to complete a strategic planning process. This meant that staff went nearly a year without direction from Council as to what our strategic focus and priorities would be for the term. This time, we’ve committed to completing our Strategic Plan within the first quarter of 2015. This way we can give clear direction to, and empower, our staff as early in the term as possible so we’re not wasting time.

At the beginning of the strategic planning process, I presented the following report and recommendation to Council. ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­In the interests of transparency and inclusiveness, even though the first two meetings were held in closed session, Council chose to rise and report on the entire report and strategic planning agenda. I share it here in its entirety. Feel free to join us in person at City Hall or online here as we set to work creating a high-level strategic plan for our four year term.

Governance and Priorities Report, January 26th 2015
Recommendation
That Council adopt the following strategic planning process.

Summary
The objective of the strategic planning process is to end up with a concrete strategic plan that will guide the decisions of Council and the work of staff for the next four years. Once in place, Council will review the plan on a regular basis and update it according to emerging priorities and the will of Council.

In order to have a plan with concrete outcomes that reflects the will of council and the aspirations of the public, we need to do three things. First, we need everyone on council to feel good about the strategic planning process and to feel like there is room for everyone’s ideas to be considered. Second, we need to focus the discussion on concrete problems and concrete solutions. Third, we need to share the plan with the public and ask for high-level input before we adopt it.

Monday January 26th 9:00-3:00
In camera, Council, City Manager, Director Citizen Engagement and Strategic Planning

Strategic Planning Warm-Up with Tracey Lorenson
A facilitated session with Tracey Lorenson to agree on some high level principles for working together, develop a sense of what a strategic plan is and what we want it to do, and begin to discuss high-level goals.

Objectives:
a.) Stretch our ‘working together’ muscles
b.) Discuss what each person would like to get out of the strategic planning process and out of the experience of working together for the next four years
c.) Agree on some basic principles and values for working together
d.) Begin to identify themes and one high level goal that the plan can aim to achieve

Wednesday January 28th 9:00am-1:00pm
In camera, Council, City Manager, Director Citizen Engagement and Strategic Planning

Section 1 Where We Are and Where We’re Going
A facilitated discussion to flesh out the problems we’d like to solve and some agreement on the desired reality we’d like to get to.

Objective:
Come to agreement about what is wrong and where we would like to take the City, at a very high level (agree on a shared goal) in the next four years.

Section 1 – Where We Are and Where We’re Going

  1. Start by listing the top ten things that we think are wrong with the city.
  2. Distil everything that is wrong into one sentence.
  3. If our answer to number two is the current reality, then, in one sentence, what is our desired reality?

Monday February  2nd  9am–12 pm
Public

Sections 2 and 3 Big Dreams and Reality Check and Learning From Elsewhere
A facilitated discussion led to flesh out everyone’s big ideas, blue sky scenarios, as well as small things we’d like to see. This is also a structured opportunity for people to bring ideas they’re seen work well in other places.

Objectives:
a.) Begin to identify some of the really big things we’d like to accomplish in the next four years as well as some of the smaller, easier wins. These will tie into the final day of planning.

b.) Share ideas and success stories from other places and asses which, if any we might like to pilot in Victoria. These will tie into the final day of planning. 

Section 2 – Big Dreams and Reality Check

  1. If the City of Victoria had all the time and all the resources in the world what would we do? (Dream big!)
  2. If the City had little time and few resources, what would we do?

Section 3 – Learning From Elsewhere

  1. What cities in the world do you think Victoria has something to learn from?
  2. What are some concrete things we can learn from these cities?

Tuesday February 3rd 9am – 3pm
Public 

Section 4 Passions, Outcomes and Concrete Actions (Part 1)

A facilitated discussion to bring everything together into high-level concrete outcomes and actions. This will loop back to where we started in order to make sure that what the things we said were ‘wrong’ in Question 1 Section 1 are addressed by the outcomes and actions we agree to. This will be the meatiest session and this is where we will actually begin to make decisions.

Objectives:
a.) Learn more about what each Councillor is interested in working on

b.) Determine the high-level plan ‘headings’ or ‘priorities’
b.) Begin to settle on high level outcomes (deliverables) and actions 

Section 4 – Passions, Concrete Outcomes and Actions

  1. What are you passionate about working on?
  2. Now, get concrete about your passions! At the end of four years, we will have achieved these ten concrete outcomes:
    1. 
    2.
    etc.
  3. List the actions we think the City can take to achieve these outcomes.

Thursday February 5th 12pm – 4pm
Public

Section 4 Passions, Outcomes and Concrete Actions (Part 2)
A facilitated discussion to bring everything together into high-level concrete outcomes and actions. This will loop back to where we started in order to make sure that what the things we said were ‘wrong’ in Question 1 Section 1 are addressed by the outcomes and actions we agree to. This will be the meatiest session and this is where we will actually begin to make decisions.

Objectives:
a.) To clean up and tie up our work from the previous four sessions
b.) To make decisions on the high-level plan ‘headings’ or ‘priorities’
c.) To make decisions on the high level outcomes (deliverables) and actions  
d.) To direct staff to produce a draft strategic plan for input from Council and the public

Focussed on the Future: Council Visits Crystal Pool

Council had a tour of Crystal Pool today. I worked with the City Manager to arrange this for today because I thought it was a good idea for Council to tour the facility in advance of having a discussion about it at Thursday’s meeting. And Council held the New Year’s Levy there this year, in part, to send a signal to the public that this is an important community facility that deserves and requires Council’s attention.

Like many of you, I value the facility and use it regularly. If it makes most financial long-term sense to reinvest in and refurbish the current facility, I would support this. As tomorrow’s report to the Governance and Priorities Committee shows, we still need more information to determine if this is possible and if there is long-term financial benefit to refurbishment.

Should the City decide to rebuild rather than refurbish the pool, I would like us to keep our options open as to how we get to a publicly run swimming pool. What I would like to see, should we need to rebuild the pool is to develop a business case for a Crystal Pool and Wellness Centre that incorporates a publicly owned and operated swimming pool and recreation centre as well as commercial / retail space and housing.

This may require a partnership with the non-profit or private sector for the housing portion and for the commercial space (for doctor’s office, massage therapist, chiropractor etc). As stewards of public assets Council has a responsibility to put those assets to their best and highest use.

One thing I can assure you of is that I’m as committed to public participation as I am to Crystal Pool. Before Council makes any long-term decision about what to do with the site, I favour a deep and meaningful public participation process. In this process we will share information about the pool as well as the other City facilities that are in need up upgrade and repair and we will gather information about what is important to you in a public recreation facility.

Mayor’s Community Drop In

Join me this Friday 8-10am, Mayor’s Office

In Community: The Structure of Belonging Peter Block writes that “the leader is held to three tasks: to shift the context in which people gather, to name the debate through powerful questions, and to listen rather than advocate, defend or provide answers.” This is the spirit in which I’m piloting a new format of the mayor’s regular time with the public.

As Mayor, I want members of the public to have the opportunity to drop in and see me. It’s also important for me that people have an opportunity to meet others, engage in conversation, and share thoughts, ideas and concerns, and to build community and a sense of belonging.

 To this end, I’m going to pilot my regular time with the public every two weeks as a community conversation rather than a series of 10 minute one-on-one meetings, as has been done in the past. This will allow me to hear your hopes, ideas and concerns for our city, but not in a vacuum. Others can chime in too. My experience is that the public has lots of wisdom, the ability to make connections, and to help come up with solutions.  I’ll take notes and make sure that if you do have something that needs to be passed along to one of our operational departments or to Council for consideration, that’ll happen.

I look forward to welcoming you on the comfy couches in the Mayor’s office and to making you a cup of tea.

Dates here for the rest of the year if you can’t join me this Friday.

What Does A Mayor Do?

I had a group of kids visit me at City Hall a few weeks ago – home learners taking a Civics 101 class. About 20 of them sat down around a table with me, and peppered me with questions. The first question they asked, “What does a mayor do?” I’ve been asked this question a lot since taking office and from a wide variety of people.

What does a mayor do? And what is this mayor going to do?

The roles and responsibilities of the mayor are very clearly outlined in the Community Charter, which is the provincial legislation through which municipalities get their power. Bear with me and check out the relevant section of the Community Charter. Then – before your eyes glaze over from legal speak ­­– I’ll tell you what I think is most important and what I’d like to focus on as your mayor for the next four years.

Responsibilities of Mayor
116 (1) The mayor is the head and chief executive officer of the municipality.

(2) In addition to the mayor’s responsibilities as a member of council, the mayor has the following responsibilities:

(a) to provide leadership to the council, including by recommending bylaws, resolutions and other measures that, in the mayor’s opinion, may assist the peace, order and good government of the municipality;

(b) to communicate information to the council;

(c) to preside at council meetings when in attendance;

(d) to provide, on behalf of the council, general direction to municipal officers respecting implementation of municipal policies, programs and other directions of the council;

(e) to establish standing committees in accordance with section 141;

(f) to suspend municipal officers and employees in accordance with section 151;

(g) to reflect the will of council and to carry out other duties on behalf of the council;

(h) to carry out other duties assigned under this or any other Act.

Leadership. Communication. Direction.
These are the words that resonate. Let’s focus on leadership. To me, providing leadership to the Council doesn’t just mean chairing meetings, representing the Council at public events, or being the spokesperson on Council decisions. These things are easy to do.

Providing leadership, to me, means being a proactive, forward-looking, big-picture mayor, focused on the strategic direction of the City in the short, medium and long term. It means being willing to bring forward and recommend resolutions that are bold and that take ‘good government’ in a 21st century direction of openness, meaningful public participation, and new modes of collaboration, to name a few.

Being this kind of mayor requires focus, discipline and time.

Rigid Discipline and Ruthless Focus
When I was a Ph.D. student, responsible only to myself and my dissertation committee, I was rigidly disciplined and ruthlessly focused. Over the past five years starting and running Community Micro Lending and working hard as a City Councilor I lost much of that discipline and focus.

It’s easy to open my email inbox, respond to all the new emails and feel like I’m getting lots done. Or to engage in a lengthy Twitter or Facebook conversation, or have seven back-to-back one-on-one meetings and feel like I’m moving things forward. To be an effective mayor I need to find a strong balance between immediate demands and strategic focus.

So, I spent the December holiday planning how to bring discipline and focus with me to the position of mayor. What principles can I apply to help shape the bulk of my time before I answer emails, respond to tweets, settle in at a coffee shop for a one-on-one?

As the Community Charter says, “The mayor is the head and chief executive officer of the municipality.” In the private sector, a CEO’s job is to set the strategy and vision and oversee implementation, create a positive organizational culture, build a strong team, and allocate capital.

What MUST I do?
Each morning I ask myself, “What MUST I do today to focus on strategy, vision, organizational culture, team building and financial oversight at the City of Victoria?” And then, I make a list. Right now most of the list items are focused on strategic planning, building relationships with other community leaders, working hard with the Council and staff to create a positive organizational culture and build a strong team. If I lose my way during the day, find myself lost in the world of email or twitter, responding to immediate needs, I return to my MUST list. It’s become a touchstone and a guide.

You’ll still find me answering emails, responding to tweets, and meeting one-on-one, most often at HabitSolstice or 2 Per Cent Jazz. But hopefully only after my “What MUST I do today?” list has satisfying check marks beside every item.

2015: Pathway to Prosperity

 

A recent and very well done Times Colonist series by Sarah Petrescu documented the economic hardships of many people in the region, from single moms to seniors. I’ve heard from these people.

Two days after I was elected a long-unemployed woman sent me three different versions of her resume asking, now that I was mayor, could I help her find a job. Not long after, a short, hand-written letter arrived in the mail: “Hello Lisa, Please be sure that property taxes don’t increase, decrease would be better. I’m still paying with post-dated cheques for the last property tax. I am 83 years old and I find it very, very hard.”

During the election last fall, and since taking office, I’ve also heard from countless small business owners who are struggling. I’ve spoken too with downtown building owners who offer new tenants two to three months free rent and still can’t fill their vacancies because of the high rents they have to charge to cover property taxes. I’m also continually reminded by small business and building owners that it still takes a long time wading through City processes to get a small business open.

How can we make 2015 a pathway to prosperity for residents and our small business community in the City and the region?

Concrete Stepping Stones
I will make two commitments to you as we move forward. First, we’ll actually do stuff. We’ll move from idea generation, to concrete plan with timelines for change, to implementation, to regularly measuring our successes and failure and improving accordingly.

We’ll fail sometimes. And when we do hopefully the failures will be early and fast so we can learn and improve before we’ve wasted your time and money. Be patient with us. And give us feedback. My second commitment is that I’ll listen to it.

Here are just a few short-term, concrete steps towards increased prosperity and affordability I’d like the Council to take immediately after finishing its strategic planning process. The beauty of the planning process and of drawing on the wisdom and experience of the Council members is that even more good ideas will emerge.

  1. Create an Economic Development Task Force
    We don’t need more studies or strategies on economic development. We need action. Section 142 of the Community Charter enables Councils to create Select Committees to “consider or inquire into any matter and to report its findings and opinion to the council.” One member of the select committee must be a council member; the rest can be members of the public.
    I’d like Council to create a time-limited, task specific Select Committee called the Economic Development Task Force. I’d like this committee to have a March to August mandate and to report to Council in September. The committee will be tasked with advising Council on the best way to create an Economic Development Office at City Hall and with developing a mandate for this office.The mandate for the Economic Development Office may include but is not limited to filling downtown vacancies, attracting new companies, attracting more well-paying, family-sustaining jobs in a variety of sectors, supporting green and clean economy initiatives and supporting sustainable and innovative real estate development. The Office will have clear and measurable goals. City Staff will be tasked with developing a business plan for sustainable funding to this office. Start-up funding can come from the City’s Economic Development Reserve Fund. This proposal is subject to the will of Council; I’m committed to working with Council to refine the idea and to seek their input and wisdom.
  2. Continuously Improve our Small Business Processes
    Small businesses are the lifeblood of Victoria’s economy and key to generating local prosperity. Taking a business from idea to startup is a huge undertaking. I’d like to see the City make business start-ups and expansions as easy as possible by helping and enabling. This is a big endeavor and will require comprehensive action, part of which can be implemented through an Economic Development Office. In the meantime, City Staff have been working with our small business community. Here are two small pilot projects and successes that reduce red tape and decrease processing time. I’d like to see many more of these.
  3. Authorization Method for Inspections for Plumbing Permits 
    Soft launch: November 2014 Full launch January 1, 2015 On November 19 City Staff hosted a first ever contractors breakfast. They sent over 200 invites, and all the major local plumbing contractors attended. The new authorization method allows the plumbing inspectors to accept a declaration from the plumbing contractors without on-site inspections. This method would allow staff to better manage inspection activities and to allow construction to continue without delays due to inspections.
  4. Electronic Submission of Sign Permits
    Soft launch: Summer 2014 Full Launch November 2015
    Need a sign permit for your small business? City staff started accepting sign permits electronically in the summer as a pilot. Customers were given a choice of electronic or paper submission. Most preferred the electronic method and now, almost all sign permits are processed electronically saving both time and trees.
  5. Implement an Affordable Housing Pilot Project
    At the end of this four year term I’d like to be able to say with confidence, “Victoria is a place where there is always an opportunity for everyone to prosper.” But as I said in a recent Vic News article looking into the year ahead I think affordability and prosperity are two sides of the same coin. If you don’t have a home, you can’t have an opportunity to prosper.
    Many people and organizations in the City and the region are working hard on affordable housing. Here’s a small policy pilot project I’d like to see implemented in Victoria and, colleagues willing, in Esquimalt and Saanich too. There’s not any one idea that can solve the affordable housing crisis. Here’s another tool for the toolbox.
  6. ‘Ten by Ten’ affordable housing pilot projectWork with 10 building owners (per municipality) who would commit to designating 10 percent of their units as affordable (i.e. not more than $550 per month for a one bedroom) for a period of 10 years and receive a corresponding property tax exemption that offsets the lost rent. There’s a precedent. The City already has a heritage tax exemption program. Every year the City grants millions of dollars of tax exemptions to private sector landlords who own heritage buildings. This helps to get these old buildings restored. Surely affordable housing deserves the same attention as heritage.  

Together in 2015, with these initiatives and others, we can begin to lay the pathway for prosperity so that Victoria is a place where there’s opportunity, for everyone. 

This blog post was written while listening to Glenn Gould’s moving interpretation of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, with a cup of ginger tea.

Inaugural Address

Here is the video and text of my inaugural address to the citizens and council of Victoria:

“I would like to recognize the four MLA’s in attendance: Maureen Karagianis, Dr. Andrew Weaver, Rob Fleming and Carole James. Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedules to bear witness to this very important moment in our City.

I would like to begin by celebrating that we are the Capital City of British Columbia and, as many of our Councillors have said over the past few weeks of getting to know each other, we’d like to make this Capital City shine.
I also want to begin by acknowledging the hard work of Mayor Fortin and the previous Council; a lot of good work was done here in these Chambers and out in the community in the last three years. It is a really, really great foundation for us to build on, I am deeply grateful for that work.

Elder Mary Ann Thomas and I were together at an open house for Dockside Green in the summertime and she began by addressing the crowd. I then spoke to the group after her. Mary Ann’s first words to the crowd were: “I love you, I care about you, and I respect you” . When I got up to speak I said, “What if as elected officials this is how we address the public in significant moments? So in this Inaugural Address I would like to begin by saying “I love you, I care about you, and I respect you.”

“For me, this really sets the tone for our relationship for the next four years. We won’t always agree, and I welcome that, but with a basis of love, care and respect we can begin to change the tone of us and them, to us, all of us, in this Chamber and far beyond, working to build the City together.

This deep respect and desire to work together differently leads into the core of my remarks that I would like to make this morning.
I just want to tell you a little bit about how this speech was crafted. Your Council has already been hard at work in orientation sessions for the last few weeks, learning the ropes, learning about what all the departments are working on, having tours and even going out on the fire boat. We are going to post everything we learned on the City’s website so you can learn it too. At the end of the day yesterday, I asked the Council, “I’ve got some time tomorrow in my opening remarks, what would you like me to say?” so the core of the speech is really by all nine of us. 
I would like to talk about three things that the Council brought to my attention yesterday. The first is meaningful public participation, the second is collaboration, and the third is affordability and prosperity.
Meaningful public participation.

An underlining value of this Council is openness and ongoing opportunities for you to participate. We want to continue to transform this relationship between City Hall and the community, so, as I said earlier, we are all part of the us. This means that we are going to be asking for your input early on large projects, and sewage treatment comes to mind. 
It means that we are going to work with you on a regular basis on neighbourhood transportation planning, placemaking, fostering and supporting initiatives that come to us from our small business community; fostering and supporting resident-led citizen driven initiatives. All of us up here know that you have the wisdom that we need to run the City.

Third, and this is really important, we are going to reach beyond those who regularly engage, we saw a 41% increase in voter turnout in the last election, that is more than 7,000 people coming out to vote who haven’t voted before, or haven’t voted in a while. And our job, the job of the nine of us up here, is to keep those 7,000 people, and all of you, engaged; and not just every four years, but throughout the next four years. It is really important to us to make sure that we are reaching beyond, extending our hands and using techniques that work for the younger generation and for people who don’t normally come into this hall. Our job is to go out and extend the reach of this local government and invite more people in.

Collaboration

Second, collaboration, or as Elder Mary Ann Thomas said, “walking together.” I think is a little bit of a new era in the region, and it already feels a little bit different. There is already talk among municipalities on how can we work together on economic development, housing, transportation and policing. Nils Jensen has called the proposal to get all the mayors together, Mayors without Borders. He said, Lisa, “Will you credit me?” and I said, “Nils, absolutely I will.” 

In addition to informal collaboration, working together and walking together, the public has spoken very clearly on the question of amalgamation. So, we need to do two things in this regard. We need to continue to make room for people to be part of the conversation. And, there is movement afoot to create something called “The Greater Greatest Victoria Conversation Project. look forward to hearing more about that. And, we need to work together across the region to explore options for, and studies about, amalgamation. And, I am really optimistic that we can cooperate on better cooperation!

Third piece of collaboration is our relationship with our provincial and federal governments. I think we need to reset our relationship with the provincial government. The first call I made on the Monday morning after being elected, was to the Premier’s Office to extend a hand and invite that conversation to begin. And, I think all of us up here, look forward to working with the Premier, and her Ministers and with all of our MLA’s to say “What is it that you want to accomplish in our region in the next few years and how can we support you in your work?”

The fourth point of closer collaboration, walking together, is with the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations. Mayor Lowe started a close protocol relationship. The Songhees and Esquimalt Nations are on fire right now in many, many ways, particularly with regard to economic development and we need to support, partner and collaborate with them as they continue on their journey.
And finally, on collaboration, and this was raised by many of the Councillors around the table when I asked yesterday, the collaboration between Council and staff. If we can do that well, we can do anything. We have amazing, amazing staff at the City of Victoria and it has been my honour for the last three years as a Councillor to work with them, and, to me, this is where everything begins. If we can get the relationship between staff and Council right, respectful, and if we all do what we are supposed to do and stay out of each other’s ways when we are not supposed to be there, role clarity, keeping governance governance and operations operations, I think we are off to great places. I had the pleasure of speaking briefly at our Quarterly Staff Forum, and what I said to staff was: “You are creative and innovative and we are going to continually look to you for your solutions and for your ideas. We are going to stay out our your way, so that you can do your job. And, most importantly, we have your back.”

Finally, affordability and prosperity. One of the first letters that I received in my mailbox after being elected, and it said the following:

“Hello Lisa, Please be sure that property taxes don’t increase, decrease would be better. I’m still paying with post-dated cheques for the last property tax. I am 83 years old and I find it very, very hard.”

So, our job as Council is to take this letter and the many other letters we’ve received very seriously. We need to continue to work on affordable housing absolutely, but we need to broaden the conversation about what affordability means and for who. We need to keep working to deliver public services, and for all our workers out there, I emphasize the word public, how we can deliver public services in a more effective way.

And, again, I look to, and I ask our staff, to look to the workers for their creative and innovative ideas on the front lines to find cost-savings; they have those ideas because I hear them all the time informally. So we need to look to our workers to make the services we deliver more affordable. And we need to break down silos in the organization and embrace our new City Manager’s (and I guess I can call him that until he has been here for a year in February) One City approach where everybody understands the work of everybody else. That is good for morale, but it is also good for effective and cost effective delivery of services. I really look forward to seeing us working so this 83 year old woman and the 25 year olds and everybody in this City can have and affordable life.

The second piece or the second-and-a-half piece of affordability is economic development. We need to create local prosperity and grow the economy. We are going to get our four-year strategic plan in place by the end of February and I look forward to that process. For me, a key priority in this plan, and the legacy that I’d like to see this Council leave, is that Victoria becomes a place where there is always an opportunity for everyone to prosper; where City Hall is a partner in the creation of local wealth and prosperity and this means, and this is really important, to me, it’s not community versus business, it is community and business, together. Two different sides of the same coin.
My final word is to my Council. When we were elected three years ago, those of us who were here were told: say good-bye to your families you are not going to see them for the next three years. And, what I say to you is take the time you need with your families to be loved, and nurtured and held, because it’s that kind of love and nurturing and holding that will allow all of us to do a good job together.

That was my final word to my Council, but I have one final word for all of you. This comes from our Director of Planning, Deb Day, who is retiring tomorrow. Deb said to me: Lisa, you and the Council have an enormous responsibility when you think about planning and when you think about the City. Of course you are here to serve, listen to work hard for all of the people who are alive and here today. But your higher purpose, your longer term goal is to make decisions for people who aren’t even born yet. And that is a hard thing to do, to cast our views thirty to forty years down the road. So I challenge us all, and I challenge you all to help us in the next four years to take a broad and long-term approach to every decision that we make together.

Thank you very much, and it is truly my honour to be your Mayor.”

Open Letter to Victorians

Last Saturday night I was elected Mayor of Victoria. It didn’t take long to sink in. And, as the Times Colonist reported, I was already hard at work first thing Monday morning.

What has taken longer is for me to sit down and write this letter to you all, reflecting on the state of politics in our city and on how we won the election.

First, I want to thank everyone who came out to vote on November 15th. Whether you voted Helps or someone else, Victoria’s voter turnout increased by 41% over 2011. This means that over 7000 more people made their way to their local polling station to cast a vote. This is good for democracy.  Thanks for voting. And thanks for electing me as your mayor. It’s my honour and I look forward to building this city, with you, for the next four years.

What’s taken me a week to recover from is how we do politics, even at the local level. In the final days of the campaign there was an orchestrated attempt on social media to call my integrity into question. What strikes me are two things. First, how, even people who I consider colleagues and supporters seemed poised, sitting there and waiting to hit the ‘share’ button. Second, social media can be a powerful force for spreading positive messages and it can also be a dangerous force where people share and post stuff they’d never say if they were standing there looking you in the eye.  

So what? Get over it? You won! One of the things I’ll be thinking about for a long time is this: How can we have good government when the way we get there is so nasty? And how do we rebuild community after we are so divided from each other on the campaign trail?

Whether you voted for me, or not, whether you campaigned with me, or against me, I am your mayor and I’m committed to working with you. But in some cases, we’ve got some repair work to do. I think it’s healthy for politics and for community building to talk through the messiness of the campaign, to name the things that are usually left unsaid, and to come out the other side stronger. I look forward to these conversations.

So, how did we win the election? More powerful than the endorsement of one MP and two MLAs, more powerful than thousands of dollars of attack ads, more powerful than last minute ditch efforts to dig up dirt and smear my name (“Lisa Helps herself” traveled quickly through the social media sphere), more powerful than all of this, is people.

I attribute my win to the hard and dedicated work of Team Helps, which was over 200 strong by the end. But it was more than this. It was you. It was 9200 of you, many of you first-time voters who saw in me someone that would listen to you, someone who would stand beside you, someone who had a bit of a fresh perspective, an eye to the future, and an ear to the ground. It was people that helped me win this election, and it’s people that will help me run this city for the next four years.  

Stay connected here as we transition this website from campaign mode to mayor mode. Check back regularly and please keep those ideas, thoughts, concerns and aspirations coming my way to lisa@lisahelpsvictoria.ca or call me or text me at 250-661-2708.

Strong Local Economy

Starting a new business or expanding an existing one is hard work, in and of itself.

When the guys at Wheelies Motorcycles on Rock Bay went to City Hall to get their idea off the ground, they got stuck in so much red tape that they asked me, as a councillor, to help them out. While I was glad to lend a hand, there aren’t enough hours in the day for me to personally help every business person in need. City Hall needs to do a better job of delivering its services to citizens and entrepreneurs alike.

Therefore, as your next mayor, I will work with council to do the following to make it easier for everyone to get the services and help they need from City Hall, as quickly and efficiently as possible, so that they can help build a better Victoria for everyone:

  • Appoint a Mayor’s Economic Development Cabinet to advise the development office with people who understand both the city’s processes and the private sector. Set clear timelines and measurables for growing the economy. Monitor and report success. Start-up funding for this office will come from the City’s Economic Development Reserve Fund.
  • Make City Hall open for business. Create an Enterprise Facilitator position in the Economic Development Office to support people who want to open or re-locate a business in Victoria, with special attention to start-ups and young entrepreneurs.
  • Create and implement a regional economic development brand and plan. Work with mayors from across the region to establish a Mayors’ Caucus with a focus on regional economic development. Develop a shared understanding of the roles that economic development agencies and Chambers of Commerce play in regional economic development. Leverage the strengths and assets of each municipality – this will lead to the whole region being more than the sum of its parts.
  • Develop a business plan for the establishment of a business incubator downtown in partnership with the University of Victoria, Royals Roads University, and Camosun College. The incubator would have a specific focus on social enterprises (both for-profit and non-profit), as well as green and clean technologies, which support leading-edge business innovation more generally.
  • Support the technology and tourism sectors by continuing to build a vibrant downtown with businesses that provide top-notch goods and services. Work closely and collaboratively with Tourism Victoria and others to promote Victoria as a destination market that provides authentic, meaningful experiences to tourists. 

Read more about my plans to improve City Hall and how I want to help build a prosperous downtown and vibrant neighbourhoods.

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ThankAndrew for your videography skills via Dodd’s Eye Media.