Youth Climate Strikers Launch Meatless Monday Campaign

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April 29 2019

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Victoria, B.C. – Youth striking for climate are launching a Meatless Monday Campaign this evening at 5:30pm at a Meatless Monday Potluck at the CRD community room. They are urging residents of the capital region to give up meat one day a week in order to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“Like so many youth across the country, I am deeply concerned about my future, and what will happen if we don’t start to act more urgently on climate change,” said Emma-Jane Burian from Our Earth, Our Future. “I worry about the impact that not meeting our Paris targets will cause. For as we see from scientists, we have only 10 to 11 years to turn this ship around.”

Having a Meatless Monday every week for a year reduces an individual’s carbon footprint by 416 pounds. The youth have calculated that if our whole region (413,406 residents as of 2018) stopped eating meat on Mondays, we’d did reduce our carbon footprint by 171,976,896 pounds. That is equivalent to reducing 78,007 tonnes of CO2 emissions each year.

“Since most governments aren’t taking climate change seriously, we need to lower the carbon footprint one small step at a time,” said 12-year-old Rebecca Wolf Gage, one of the key leads in the region’s climate strikes.

Although big changes are required from all levels of government, individuals can do so much to help curb climate change. The inspiration for Meatless Mondays comes from helping to empower citizens to join the youth in creating the change they wish to see.

They hope that by showing that there are so many solutions that have great benefits more people will be motivated to take the action that is so desperately needed in our country and the world. They believe Meatless Monday is a great way for us all to make a relatively small change in our lives, that will make big positive ripples in our world.

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Media Contacts
Emma-Jane Burian, Our Earth, Our Future, 778-967-4696
Lisa Helps, Victoria Mayor, 250-661-2708

 

Why 16-Year-Olds Should Be Able to Vote in Local Elections

At the recent Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities convention, the City of Victoria brought forward a motion calling on the Provincial government to lower the voting age to 16 for local government elections. (See full text of motion below). The motion passed with a strong majority of delegates in support.

I’ll share what I said at the microphone urging delegates to vote yes. I’ll also share the story of one of the youth behind the #Vote16BC Campaign in her own words. Her story is just one reason why I support their cause.

Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish girl who has inspired youth around the world, is a good person to start with. Greta is the ideal voter and politically engaged citizen. She understands the importance of using resources prudently and planning for the long term. She’s thoughtful and well-spoken. She has the courage to stand up for her convictions. And she’s able to mobilize people to action.

There are 16 and 17 year olds in all of our communities in British Columbia just like Greta. They are wise, thoughtful, and forward-thinking. Many of them have recently been moved to action, organizing, demonstrating and urging us adults to clean up our act on climate change. We have a responsibility to let them shape their own future by doing more than protesting in front of the legislature.

Influencing positive adult behaviour begins in youth. When blue boxes were first introduced, one of the key areas of focus for blue-box education was the classroom. Get kids recycling at a young age, the thinking went, and build a life-long habit of recycling. So too with transit. The City of Victoria will be providing free transit to youth 18 and under in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but equally importantly, to nurture life-long transit use.

The same argument can be made for voting. Imagine if each fall in the year of a municipal election, grade 11 and 12 students reviewed and discussed the issues and wrote papers on a muncipal election topic. What if they organized all candidates debates – as happened at Vic High in 2014. And then imagine if on the Saturday of the election, they gathered as a class and went to cast their ballots. Maybe they’d bring their parents with them!

This civic education is good for democracy. And with voter turnout in local elections at an all-time low and with democracy on shaky ground around the world, it could use a boost right now. Enabling willing 16 and 17 year olds to vote in local elections is one small step in strengthening democracy and building a life-long practice of civic participation.

I support the Vote 16 BC Campaign for these reasons. But I also support it because of Nahira’s story. And the stories of countless other 16 and 17 year olds from across British Columbia who are organizing the #Vote16BC Campaign. They are counting on elected officials to vote Yes at the Union of BC Municipalities conference in Vancouver this September. And they expect that if a yes vote happens, the Provincial government will act swiftly and give them the right to vote.

Follow them on Twitter. Join them on Facebook. Sign their Petition.

Nahira’s Story

There are many ways we can convince the government that young people should have a say in our society. One way is through storytelling. It’s not only powerful, but storytelling also connects us in ways that facts cannot. I would like to share my story with you and why I want to lower the voting age.

My name is Nahira Gerster-Sim and I was adopted from China. Because of the one child policy, my biological parents felt they were not able to raise me. My adoptive parents brought me to Canada when I was two years old.

As a young child, I was always puzzled by the notion that a government would force a rule upon a society that would inevitably leave thousands of children stranded, starving and separated from their families. Why were they allowed to make that kind of decision for us, when it really only affected us negatively?

As I continued to make my way through elementary and now high school, I’ve been continually shocked at the number of times adults have made decisions about my future and wellbeing without consultation. And often they aren’t even in my best interest. Many of my friends feel the same way.

For example, the Vancouver School Board makes all the decisions about our schooling. What schools to close, how to evaluate students, what to teach. Yet, they never ask us what kind of an education system we think would be most beneficial to us. There is only one student rep on the school board, and she doesn’t have a vote.

What’s more, the government is burning money and resources on pipelines and big corporations that are going to destroy our planet, instead of spending its money looking at renewable energy plans and sustainable actions. Ultimately, they don’t have to deal with the consequences of their actions on the earth – we do.

In the 21st century, teenagers are taking the world by storm. We are fighting for justice and equality on various issues including gun control, sustainability, racism, and so much more. But even so, adults and other authorities still see us as pushovers – unintelligent, just pawns in whatever society they want to create.

But I don’t see it that way and I hope you don’t either. I see young people as a voice for change, the future of a better world. At sixteen, we are able to drive, join the army and get married. Doesn’t that mean that we are also well enough informed and educated about local and national issues?

I want to lower the voting age so that I can be a part of evolving our system, hopefully shifting our society to a more progressive viewpoint. I don’t want a political system where children can’t get even get their basic needs met because the government didn’t bother to think about anyone under the age of 30. Canada should value the opinion of its youth.

This is not a democracy if it’s not inclusive in the most generous sense.

I want to inspire youth so we have a voice powerful enough to make a difference. At 16 years old, I want to be part of what we call democracy. Hopefully, all of us together, we can change the political system.

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The Inclusion Project – Canada’s Inclusive Future and Newcomer Engagement Part 2: Covenant, Side By Side, and the Stories We Tell

Here is the my full keynote address from The Inclusion Project. This post and the one from last week are the written version. Please feel free to share. 

How do we create inclusion in the 21st century? We need a new approach, led by civil society. In The Home We Build Together: Recreating Society the British Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks lays out an important framework.  

I argued with the book in the margins from time to time as I don’t agree with all of his premises. In my younger years I may have dismissed it as “from another paradigm / too different” and stopped reading; but I’ve since realized that difference is a good teacher. It’s a key book in understanding how we can create and ensure belonging, empowerment and opportunities for collaboration, together. 

This is especially important in the current age of division, the rise of populism, in an era where facts matter less and the dangerous echo-chamber of Facebook can shape reality. And it’s particularly important given an emerging trend of people’s minds being made up before they have actual information and a culture developing of both closed-mindedness and closed-heartedness. This leads to things like mosque attacks and other intolerable hate crimes.

I’ll outline the thrust of his book because there is detailed, compelling argument and a strong call to action.

The key question of The Home We Build Together is the same question we are grappling  with here today at The Inclusion Project: “How do you construct a society that respects cultural and religious diversity while at the same time promoting civic equality, social cohesion and a sense of the common good?” 1

The concept of the common good is important.

Sack says fundamentally the problem we are facing is not a problem with the state, it’s a problem with society, civil society, it’s a problem with belonging. He puts it really beautifully, when he says, “The real arena of collective grace lies with us, the us-together  we call … society.” 2

How do we achieve / embody this collective grace?

Neither the state nor the market have the capacity to deliver inclusion. As Paola said earlier this morning, “Inclusion is not something we can leave for others to do.”

Sacks says (through a detailed reading of the Hebrew Bible that I won’t go into here) that we need a new social covenant where all “parties agree to respect one another’s integrity as free agents.” In a covenant, “the parties bind themselves to one another in an open-ended bond of mutuality and loyalty. They agree to share a fate.” 3

This is critically important for The Inclusion Project. What fate do we all want to share? What do we want to create together with our differences as assets? What can we create as a whole that is greater than each of us?

What is the common good?

Sacks argues for covenant as a way of thinking about contemporary society. It’s important to explain what he means. He “distinguishes between social covenant and social contract. Social contract is an arrangement between self-interested individuals a “covenant is about creating a ‘we’ out of multiple ‘I’s’.” 4

I think that a new covenant is at the heart of The Inclusion Project that we’re here working on today. It’s the idea that “all of us must come together to ensure the dignity of each of us. Covenant is the politics of the common good.” 5 As George said earlier this morning, a covenant is not about including, about who includes who, rather it is a shared commitment to dignity in diversity.

A covenant is a shared commitment to a common good. And this shared commitment can only be undertaken – and must be undertaken – by civil society.

Sacks writes: “There are two ways of getting other people to do what we want. We can force them: That is the answer of power. Or we can pay them: That is the answer of the market. But neither involves treating other people with dignity and respect … Covenant is a third possibility. We create co-operation not by getting you to do what I want, but by joining together in a moral association that turns You and I into ‘We.’ I hope you help me, because there are things we care about together. Covenant is a binding commitment, entered into by two or more parties, to work an care for one another while respecting the freedom, integrity, and difference of each.” 6

I don’t ’t want to go on and on in this theoretical way. But I want to emphasize that we need a fresh approach to inclusion and a renewed commitment to a common good and covenant offer us one way of thinking.

How do we do this?

I will continue with Sacks for just a moment as I move to the third part of my talk and to where I think we can go from here.

Sacks sites the 1954 research of Muzafer Sherif and his famous Robbers’ Cave Experiment. (Please read the link for information or watch the video of my talk.) In a strong and moving revelation, Sacks asserts that the key to remaking civil society and a strong social fabric is not dialogue; it is doing or building things together. It “is a paradigm-shifting insight,” he says. “Side by side works better than face to face.” 7

We must do something together, build something together if we are going to have true inclusion, empathy, understanding and a shared vision of the common good that we can commit to. As Sudhir said this morning, we can’t just talk about diversity and inclusion, we must do it.

What do we need to do? What does this mean for us here today? For our communities?

We must work side by side to solve shared problems – and certainly we have enough of them. Racism and lack of inclusion, global migration and resettlement, which we’re focused on today, also climate change and affordability. A key take away from today’s dialogue is to create opportunities for working side by side.

Here are some that I know have already happened or are happening (Please watch the video of my talk for more detail and colour):

  • Members of the Victoria Police Department are going to hockey games with members of Indigenous street community
  • Members of the Victoria Police Department are playing soccer with members of the Muslim community
  • Victoria’s Sikh community organized a protective human chain around the mosque during Friday prayers
  • Ramadan dinner at City hall. Planning for this year, we talked about hiring staff to clean up but then remembered the experience of cleaning up together last year.
  • City of Victoria Youth Council, racialized minority and non-racialized-minority youth organizing Cultural Fair (12-4pm at City Hall May 25th).
  • Employment Opportunity Exchange
  • The South Island Prosperity Project and Indigenous Member Nations
  • Welcoming City Initiative

To wrap up. Ruth said in her introductory remarks that this gathering is about authentic stories and turning those stories, through listening, into action. I think that’s one of the themes that’s emerged for me this morning – the importance of story. One of the things that’s that really important, that’s come out here, is that the stories we each tell matter. The former Prime Minister of Canada, the Honourable Kim Campbell, came to speak in Victoria a few years ago as a fundraiser for Bridges for Women. And she said something that I have not forgotten, and it resonated here again today. She said, “Stories are the unit of human understanding.”

My opinion, my feeling and my experience here today is that really it is civil society and not the market or the state where inclusion is going to happen the most quickly and most wholeheartedly.

The questions that I want to leave all of us with are: What kind of covenant do we want to make with each other? My sense is that the covenant that we want to make with each other has something to do with honouring and holding up each other’s stories. As we honour and hold each other stories up, what kind of shared fate do we want to create together? And what is our collective definition of the common good where the dignity of each is recognized?

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.

***

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.

 

Federal Budget 2019: Good For Cities

 

 

It was my pleasure to welcome the Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos, the Federal Minister of Families, Children and Social Development to Victoria recently where he toured the City’s Public Works yard as well as a BC Transit “smart bus”, and gave an update on Budget 2019, in particular what’s in it for cities.

Since Confederation in 1867, the funding formula for cities has changed very little. For every tax dollar that Canadians pay, approximately $0.92 goes to the provincial and federal governments and only $0.08 goes to local governments. This despite the fact that about 70% of public infrastructure in Canada is within the jurisdiction of cities. And cities are responsible for approximately 50% of greenhouse gases generated in the country. In addition, cities are faced with poverty, mental health, addictions and homelessness with little to no resources to deal with these pressing economic and social issues.

While this federal budget does not address all of these challenges, it gives an important nod – and some significant resources – to the ability of local governments to solve local problems locally.

Federal commitments in Budget 2019 on affordable housing, transitioning to a green economy, and skills training align closely with Victoria City Council’s 2019-2022 Strategic Plan and with the Capital Regional District’s recently adopted Strategic Plan as well.

Municipal leaders know, as do our federal counterparts, that taking action on those issues is crucial to ensuring that Canada’s cities are liveable, healthy, and competitive in the global economy.

I’m proud that the Capital Regional District’s Regional Housing First Program was profiled in Federal Budget 2019 (see page 31). I note this because the program is a quintessential example of local innovation and leadership supported by – but not dictated by – federal and provincial funding.

The Regional Housing First Program was designed by and for our communities here in the region. Thankfully, the federal funding for the program is helping us to make transformative progress on eliminating homelessness and providing safe, affordable, and supported housing.

The federal commitment of $30 million was made in May 2018 (to match provincial and regional commitments of $30 million each) and already we have opened Millstream Ridge in Langford. It’s a 132 unit building run by the Capital Regional Housing Corporation and it includes 30 units which rent at $375 per month.

This kind of thinking – federal support for local innovation – is why I was pleased to see the Federal government use Budget 2019 to transfer $2.2 billion in Federal Gas Tax funding to municipalities and First Nations. It charts a path toward a modernized federal-municipal relationship that gets more done for Canadians. Permanently growing this core funding stream would directly empower municipalities to deliver on national objectives.

This gas tax measure, which will see an additional $3.5 million flow to the City of Victoria – and $21 million flow to the region – is a great way of allocating federal funds directly to local governments where they are coupled with local expertise to address short-term infrastructure priorities in communities across Canada. This funding allows projects to get underway now without grant applications and federal or provincial approvals.

In recent years, the City of Victoria used Gas Tax funds in several crucial ways. We’re building a 32km bike network for people of all ages and abilities and we’re also working to complete a harbour pathway. We updated our storm drain system. And we installed LED street lights throughout the city. This last investment is saving us approximately $200,000 per year in hydro costs which we are reinvesting to fund other essential energy and GHG reduction initiatives in the city.

These gas tax investments have also made Victoria a more dynamic and enjoyable place to live by increasing infrastructure for health and well-being. And, since addressing climate change is a shared priority of the City of Victoria and the federal government, it is no coincidence that our Gas Tax-funded projects all improved Victoria’s resilience to climate change and reduced carbon pollution.

In addition to being good for health and well-being and good for the climate, local investments in capital infrastructure are good for the economy. For example, last week the CRD adopted its 2019 budget. Included in the budget are $382 million dollars worth of capital improvements – sewer, water, housing, parks, trails and more. This investment is expected to generate 814 new jobs in the region and 1121 new jobs across British Columbia.

Cities are creative, innovative places that hold some of the solutions to the challenges faced by federal and provincial governments, most notably climate change. Investments like the ones announced in Budget 2019 will help the federal government to deliver on its climate mandate by enabling cities to have a strong voice and to take strong action in shaping our own infrastructure priorities. Cities and metro regions are key to the federal government meeting its Nationally Determined Contributions under the Paris Agreement; they are behind and we can help. Cities are here as allies and partners.

I look forward to inviting Minister Duclos and other federal ministers back to Victoria in the future.  And I look forward to showing them how we’re continuing to take local action and improve our communities by using the funds announced for local governments in Budget 2019.

 

 

Quality of Life Focus for City’s 2019-2022 Strategic Plan and Budget 2019

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During the election campaign last fall when I was at community meetings, in living rooms, in small businesses and on doorsteps I heard loud and clear that quality of life and well-being are important to Victorians. I heard this from the very young, the very old and everyone in between.

That’s why in Council’s recently adopted 2019-2022 Strategic Plan and in this year’s budget we are making meaningful investments in livable neighbourhoods, affordable housing, senior’s and community centres and safer, more human-scale streets. I know from speaking with members of our business community that quality of life is key to them thriving as well – business owners and employees like all the amenities that come with living in a place where people’s health and well-being matter.

Over the past four years Victoria has enjoyed a period of unprecedented growth and prosperity. We are re-investing the benefits of a strong economy to improve life for people. The actions in our four-year Strategic Plan are focused on what our residents want and asked us to do, to make Victoria more affordable, create welcoming neighbourhoods, and to act now on climate change.

In addition to continuing to invest in better City services for people, Council’s 2019-2022 Strategic Plan puts a priority on things that will make a real difference in people’s daily lives.

To make Victoria more affordable for families, the City is putting $1 million into the Housing Reserve Fund in 2019 and implementing a new suite of housing initiatives to increase the number of affordable homes for people in all stages and phases of life’s journey and to support renters.

To create infrastructure that will keep us all healthy, the City is investing in active transportation, street improvements and traffic calming, with more than $31.6 million over the next four years going to keep people moving around the city safely and efficiently.

To help them deliver high-quality services, Victoria’s eight community centres and three seniors centres are receiving a $234,000 boost to their annual base funding. Neighbourhood Associations will receive a total of $100,000 to support neighbourhood planning.

The City will also convene a Seniors Task Force to learn more about seniors’ needs and desires and to develop the City’s first Seniors Strategy. This will support seniors in remaining independent, healthy, active and socially-connected in the community.

A new investment of $858,000 annually will expedite implementation of the Urban Forest Master Plan, to maintain the trees we have and to plant new trees. In 2019, a total of nearly $3 million will go to maintain and enhance the urban forest, with the long-term goal to increase tree canopy coverage to 40 per cent.

The Strategic Plan and Budget were developed with broad public input. More than 1,500 people provided their ideas and feedback to Council in the budget survey and town hall meeting, and another 150 people participated in the Strategic Plan Engagement Summit to share their knowledge and experience to help Council shape the plans.

 The Goal of the strategic plan was also developed by the public: “By 2022, Victoria will be a bold, thriving, inclusive, and happy city that people love. We will be known globally for our climate leadership practices, multi-modal transportation options, innovative approaches to affordable housing, and for meaningful reconciliation with the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations on whose homelands our city was built.” Working together, side by side – council, staff and the community – we will achieve this.

Read the whole plan here.

Highlights of the 2019-2022 Strategic Plan

The 2019-2022 Strategic Plan includes more than 170 actions in eight strategic Objectives.

  1. Good Governance and Civic Engagement
  2. Reconciliation and Indigenous Relations
  3. Affordable Housing
  4. Prosperity and Economic Inclusion
  5. Health, Well-Being and a Welcoming City
  6. Climate Leadership and Environmental Stewardship
  7. Sustainable Transportation
  8. Strong, Liveable Neighbourhoods

In addition, Council has set the following Operational Priorities, reflecting the shared values of Council and  City staff, residents and the business community:

  • Heritage conservation and heritage designation
  • Nurturing and supporting arts, culture and creativity
  • Creating and maintaining a high-quality public realm
  • Continuous improvement with regard to open government
  • Meaningful and inclusive public engagement
  • Sound fiscal management
  • Accessible information, facilities and services

Objective #1 – Good Governance and Civic Engagement

  • Working with Saanich Council to develop and implement a Citizens Assembly process to explore amalgamation.
  • Offering free childcare at City Hall during public hearings.
  • Releasing closed meeting decisions and Council member expenses quarterly.
  • Working to regionalize police services and consider the possibility of a single, amalgamated police service for the region

Objective #2 – Reconciliation and Indigenous Relations

  • Working with First Nations and the community to create the Victoria Reconciliation Dialogues.
  • Reinstating the City’s Indigenous Artist in Residence program, providing the opportunity for a local Indigenous artist to develop artistic works and engage the community in dialogue and events.
  • Establishing an Indigenous Relations function and appointing Indigenous Elders in Residence to provide advice on City programs and operations will be considered in 2020 with guidance and support from the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations.
  • Exploring co-governance of Meegan (Beacon Hill Park) and shoreline areas with the Lekwungen speaking people.

Objective #3 – Affordable Housing

  • Investing $1 million in the City’s Housing Reserve Fund in 2019 and to acquire lands and partner with other agencies to end chronic homelessness.
  • Investing an additional $545,000 in 2019 on a suite of initiatives to encourage and incentivize more affordable homes for people, especially families, as well as look for further opportunities to speed up and simplify the development process for affordable rental homes.
  • Assigning a Tenant Housing Ambassador at City Hall to make it easier for renters to navigate the Tenant Assistance Policy, Standards of Maintenance Bylaw and other programs to support renters, being considered in 2020.
  • Considering grant programs for secondary suites and affordable garden suites, including those that are accessible and serve an aging population.

Objective #4 – Prosperity and Economic Inclusion

  • Convening the Mayor’s Task Force on Economic Development and Prosperity 2.0 to hit 2041 job targets.
  • Allocating more than $1 million in the City’s Festival Investment Grants over the next four year years ($270,000 annually) to create a vibrant city, strengthen downtown and enhance liveability.
  • Investing $1.5 million to support public art, festivals and events, including the City of Victoria Butler Book Prize, Indigenous Artist in Residence, Artist in Residence, and Poet/Youth Laureate programs.
  • Providing nearly $4.3 million each year to support economic development initiatives and make it easier to do business in Victoria, including the Business Hub at City Hall, the South Island Prosperity Project, the Victoria Film Commission and operating the Victoria Conference Centre.
  • Exploring ways for businesses in Victoria to become living wage employers.

Objective #5 – Health, Well-Being and a Welcoming City

  • Creating a Welcoming City Strategy to promote inclusivity, understanding and collaboration
  • Striking a Peer-Informed Task Force to identify priority actions to inform a Mental Health and Addictions Strategy, actionable at the municipal level.
  • Creating a city-wide Childcare Strategy and Action Plan.
  • Developing and implementing an Accessibility Framework to make City policies, services, infrastructure and facilities more accessible for all.
  • Increasing local food security with urban agriculture initiatives to foster food production on private land, support farmers markets and community gardens, food storage and distribution systems.

Objective #6 – Climate Leadership and Environmental Stewardship

  • Taking serious climate action to reduce carbon pollution by 80 per cent and transition to 100 per cent renewable energy by 2050.
  • Working with the community to develop and implement a Zero Waste Strategy that will chart the course to a local economy where nothing is wasted.
  • Allocating $13.7 million in upgrades to the drinking water, stormwater and sewer system.
  • Implementing the BC Step Code and mandating electric vehicle charging capacity in all new developments.

Objective #7 – Sustainable Transportation

  • Providing a $975,000 increase in capital investment for street improvements, for a total of  $3.6 million in 2019.
  • Investing $450,000 in traffic calming initiatives to make local streets safer, and reduce the speed limit to 30 km/h on neighbourhood streets by 2021.
  • Investing $2.5 million in crosswalk upgrades or new installations at 18 locations to improve safety and encourage walking.
  • Fast-tracking completion by 2022 of the City’s 32-kilometre, AAA cycling network through
  • Providing free BC Transit passes for all Victoria youth, funded through new revenue raised by charging for Sunday on-street metered parking beginning May 1, 2019.

Objective #8 – Strong, Liveable Neighbourhoods

  • Investing $35 million in 2019 in the City’s parks, recreation and facilities, which includes 137 parks, 207 hectares of parkland, 90 hectares of natural landscape, 40 playgrounds, 23 tennis courts, 12 dog off-leash areas, 45 sports fields and 104 City facilities.
  • Expanding the LIFE program to provide low-income families with free year-round use of the Crystal Pool and Fitness Centre and ice skating at the Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre.
  • Exploring partnerships to create meeting space and a home base for neighbourhood associations that currently do not have their own community centre.
  • Providing $60,000 for the City’s Participatory Budgeting program to empower the community to direct investment in neighbourhoods, with youth-themed projects the focus for 2019, newcomers in 2020 and neighbourhood placemaking in 2021.

 

Affordable Housing: The Missing Middle

Screenshot 2019-03-12 11.19.37.pngHousing is only part of the story. We also need to consider how the built form of the city  supports community well-being and economic vitality.

I recently received a good, old-fashioned, hand-written letter from a resident suggesting that I write an editorial focused on the City’s current housing initiatives. It’s a welcome suggestion, and, in light of Victoria’s first annual Housing Summit held yesterday, a timely one too.

Housing is one of the biggest issues facing our community and our local economy right now. From young families to seniors, finding appropriate, affordable housing to rent or own is difficult. And with the lowest unemployment rate in the country at 3.2%, businesses need workers and workers need housing. This is becoming a familiar and well-worn story. And it’s why City Council has made affordable housing a key priority in our 2019-2022 Strategic Plan with a heavy focus on housing in 2019 and 2020.

It’s also why over 150 housing stakeholders gathered for a full day for a Housing Summit. A diversity of people including renters advocates, developers, non-profit housing providers, policy experts, neighbourhood organizations and members of faith communities came together to provide input to update the City’s Housing Strategy.

Developed in 2015 out of the Mayor’s Task Force on Affordable Housing, much of the 2015-2026 Housing Strategy was implemented last term. Working with the community, Council and staff tackled 25 actions that were relatively easy, low-hanging fruit in order to increase housing supply and housing diversity, and build awareness including:

  • Creating a standard minimum unit size
  • Updating the Victoria Housing Reserve Fund to grant $10,000 per bedroom (rather than $10,000 per unit) to encourage family sized units and to tie the fund to the housing targets identified in the Housing Strategy
  • Prioritizing non-market housing during permit approval processes, with highest priority going to non-profit housing developments
  • Delegating approvals and application fee waivers for certain development applications
  • Developing a bonus density policy to leverage development to create affordable housing
  • Updating the garden suite policy and guidelines to remove the rezoning requirement and move to a delegated development permit approval process
  • Removing several zoning rules regulating secondary suites that were hindering their development
  • Launching a Market Rental and Revitalization study where we:
    – Completed an inventory of the existing market rental stock in the City of Victoria
    – Developed a pilot program to incentivize energy efficiency and seismic upgrades to this older stock
    – Improved protections for tenants through the implementation of a Tenant Assistance Policy to provide compensation and support for tenants who become displaced due to redevelopment, and through a Standards of Maintenance Bylaw to improve living conditions inside dwelling units (targeted for adoption this spring)

This term we will do a lot more. For a full list of proposed housing initiatives please read the Strategic Plan Objective #3. I’ll be writing affordable housing blog posts throughout the year to keep you up to date as we move forward. Topics will range from tiny homes to intergenerational living, beginning today with “missing middle” housing.

Missing Middle Housing

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The city continues to grow and young families want to continue to call it home but they’re having a hard time. Victoria continues to lose people as they enter their 30s.

Screenshot 2019-03-12 16.57.20.pngThat’s why we need forms of housing like townhouses, houseplexes, multiplexes and more that are attainable, as single family home-ownership remains out of reach for many.

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We’ll begin in 2019 with a city-wide planning exercise to identify suitable locations across the city for townhouses, housplexes and other forms of missing middle housing. In 2020 we’ll consider a comprehensive amendment to the City’s Zoning Bylaw to permit all missing middle housing forms as a right without the need for a rezoning or a development permit. We may not go as far as the City of Minneapolis did in eliminating single family zoning. But we need to make our great neighbourhoods more accessible for more people while maintaining the character that makes them so special.

The challenges to be addressed in creating more missing middle infill housing include maintaining greenspace and the urban forest, affordability, transportation, neighbourhood character, a sense of fear that comes from the perception of loss, and worries about the pace of change.

The City is changing. And the world is changing. More people are living in cities and cities are becoming more populous. Victoria is no exception. We could change by default and be in a place of reaction as these trends continue. But the Victoria Housing Summit and the updated Housing Strategy will allow us instead to change by design and be proactive to meet the challenges ahead.

Keep up to date on progress at www.victoria.ca/housing.

 

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What is Carbon Neutrality? Offsets and Counting Emissions

Guest Post – Ann Baird, District of Highlands Councillor

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Regenerative forms of agriculture are a key way to sequester carbon and offset emissions.

Who counts greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs)? What emissions are counted? What are carbon offsets?

On Feb 13th, 2019, the CRD made a Climate Emergency Declaration and has committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2030. What does this mean? These are the questions that will be explored in the coming months. It is expected that many local governments will also make Climate Emergency Declarations and commit to carbon neutrality in 11 years.

The question of who counts what Green House Gasses (GHGs) has been one that the District of Highlands has explored in quite a bit of detail. In 2017, the District submitted a resolution to UBCM that was endorsed by BC municipalities. The resolution asked the province of BC to report more comprehensively on municipal community GHGs. Here is a short memo with an update on that process and what we learned.

In summary, our communities only count about half of the GHGs we are responsible for. Obviously, we need to count them all if we hope to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030. Historically, the Province has been inconsistent in counting GHGs from large sources such as aviation, embodied carbon (emissions produced in the production of all of our material goods), food and agriculture, and deforestation in our communities (due to logging, or land clearing for development). Thankfully, some municipalities are beginning to count these with Saanich and Victoria leading the way.

The basic challenge is that we have to be consistent with how we define where our emissions come from and who is ultimately responsible for counting them. Do we count the GHGs emitted in our community or in another community for a product that we consume that was manufactured somewhere else? Cars are a good example. Historically we have only counted the fuel burned that we use and not the fuel used to mine the materials and manufacture the car.

We have also completely avoided aviation. Who counts these emissions? The community who manufactures the aircraft, or the community that has the airport, or the person who chooses to fly and the community where they live? As you can see it’s complicated, but still far simpler in reality than doing ones income taxes. It’s just important to decide up front who counts what and be consistent.

Offsets are an important piece of the whole carbon neutrality conversation. Will we allow carbon offsets to be used to offset items like aviation and if so what kind of offsets will truly achieve the intent of reducing emissions. Protecting an existing forest is said to not be a good offset as the forest already exists. In order for an offset to qualify it must take carbon out of the atmosphere and lock it up (sequester it) in some very long term or even permanent way. A few examples of good offsets could be:

  1. Planting a new forest could achieve this, but not if it will be logged in 50 years. A food forest would be an excellent way to produce food and sequester carbon.
  2. Creating wetlands are another excellent carbon offset while potentially also achieving other important benefits like storm water management and water filtration.
  3. A third offset is regenerative forms of agriculture. Industrial agriculture based on tilling the soils, use of fertilizers and pesticides, and monocultures are enormous sources of GHGs. But, agriculture can be done very differently to sequester large amounts of organics (carbon) in the soil. Other obvious benefits to regenerative agricultural methods include food crops that are more resilient to extreme weather events, they use less water, prevent soil erosion, produce a higher quality organic food, and support important natural habitat simultaneously to food production. This is a clear example of something called Low Carbon Resilience or LCR for short.
  4. A fourth type of offset could be the use building materials that sequester carbon literally in the structures we build. Materials that lock up carbon are wood, cellulose insulation, fungal insulation, hempcrete buildings, types of plasters, straw bales, and even carbon absorbing high tech products. A good book exploring this topic is The New Carbon Architecture by Bruce King.
  5. A fifth type of offset is something that can be scaled up everywhere from backyard gardens, to community parks, and to forest ecosystems. It’s called biochar. The creation of high quality charcoal produced in a very particular way can be added to the soil where it essentially locks of the carbon for a very long time. Other benefits include a much higher level of soil health, plant health, and water retention all of which are again an example of LCR where local resilience is increased as a byproduct of sequestering carbon.

With any offsets program we need to consider, decide upon, and implement three major items:

  1. A method to allocate amount of carbon emitted with activities. There should be an offset required for all of the carbon intensive activities.
  2. An offset price per tonne. Note that this is a very different tool/price than a carbon fee or tax. Also, unlike carbon taxes or fees, I’m pretty sure that this offset is in the jurisdiction of local governments, whereas carbon taxes are provincial/federal.
  3. A way of vetting the quality of offsets to meet our requirements.

Obviously, if we keep burning fossil fuels at the same rate and then rely on offsets, we will make no progress. The science is extremely clear in that we need to reduce total carbon emissions by 45% by 2030 and create a fully zero-carbon civilization by 2050. The science goes on to say that in addition to this we must also sequester enormous amount of carbon.

My understanding is that carbon neutral means total c carbon emissions less carbon offsets, balances out to zero. Zero carbon means near zero carbon emissions without relying on offsets.

In summary we must count all of our emissions and reduce them all to zero in a very short period of time with extremely limited reliance on offsets. High quality offsets can only be relied on for a very short period of time as we transition rapidly to carbon neutrality by 2030 and ZERO carbon by 2050. We are going to have to change everything including: energy sources and how much we use, agriculture and what we eat, transportation including aviation, consumption of material goods, and how we work and play. Even more importantly, we will simply not be able to do some things. We have entered a time of rapid and exciting change with incredible opportunity to build a better world.

Some useful links:

Cherry Trees, Urban Forest Management and Climate Change: The Facts

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It is both dangerous to public dialogue and frustrating for everyone when one city councillor’s explosive opinion is taken as fact. The fact is that there is no plan to systematically remove cherry trees, never to plant another in the city. The cherry blossom trees are part of our charm as a city and are a welcome and delightful sign of spring to locals and visitors alike. In addition, they are a key part of our cultural heritage, a symbol of our strong connection with the Japanese community as well as with Victoria’s Twin City, Morioka Japan. Next year is the 35th anniversary of our twinning. I had been planning to propose the first annual Victoria Hanami Festival to mark the occasion.

Cherry trees have long been a high-profile part of the local urban forest and City Parks Staff believe they may continue to thrive in locations with appropriate conditions. Ornamental flowering cherry trees require a moderate to high available water requirement during the growing season. With climate change modelling showing drier, warmer summers, staff expect that they will not be a good species for all of the locations where they presently are growing. Staff continue to plant some cherry varieties where they may do well. These areas typically have good soils and more available water during the summer.  In 2017, the City planted 20 ornamental flowering cherries and 20 ornamental flowering plums as part of our tree planting program.

In response to the recent inquiries and media attention relating to the City’s management of the urban forest, it is important to share the wider context in which staff make decisions about which trees to plant where in light of the changing climate.

The effects of climate change over the past several years are being seen in many areas of the city.  Our staff have observed this, and in particular the professionals who oversee the urban forest have raised concerns about the impact of hotter, drier summers, strong winter storms, introduced insects, and the resilience of urban trees.

Over the past four years, staff have conveyed to Council necessary updates in operational practices intended to mitigate against risks and effectively steward the living assets under our care. Last week, Council asked our Director of Parks, Thomas Soulliere some specific questions about the additional investment in urban forest management and potential outcomes, including loss of ornamental trees.

During this exchange, Soulliere attempted to convey the staff experiences to-date regarding the importance of tree inspections, which are key to monitoring tree vitality and also to protecting the public (individuals and property) from trees in declining health. While the focus of his responses was the overall approach to implementing the approved City Plan, it seems as though some of his comments may have been interpreted to suggest that an entirely new direction was being contemplated. It is not.

To be clear, the City only removes trees on public property if:

  1. There is evidence the tree is causing significant damage or is endangering the
  2. The tree is dead or dying
  3. The tree is required to be removed to accommodate another approved initiative (ie. land-use change, infrastructure upgrade)

When trees must be removed, the approach to replanting always considers finding the most appropriate tree for a given location. For at least the past 15 years, staff have had to look at alternative species when planting or replacing trees. Gone are the days when a tree is replaced automatically with the same species that was removed.

Tree planting is a big investment and selecting a species that will establish and grow with good vitality in the location is an important, and at times challenging decision. Staff consider all of the restrictions of the site: physical space, soil volumes, overhead or underground services, soil quality, site exposure, expected available water, site levels of wind and sun, and aesthetics play a part in tree selection for a given location. Staff typically first consider the existing tree varieties on the boulevards, however, the street tree varieties have been changing and evolving on many streets for years.

If staff reached a point where their professional recommendation included an option to phase-out any of the iconic species of trees in the municipality, Council would certainly be engaged in a dialogue in advance.

What Council is doing is finally making a significant annual investment – $850,000 per year starting this year – in the Urban Forest Masterplan. The plan was adopted by Council in 2013 and never properly resourced. As as result of the investments, this year and in the coming years, staff will be able to take better care of trees on public land, plant more trees, plan for the future, and also turn more attention to retaining trees on private land, which account for two thirds of the urban forest canopy. This is a legacy we will leave for future generations.

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

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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.

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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.