We’re All in This Together

We’re all in this together

*For a wider view on this topic please read my blog post here.

Even though we’ve taken a broader, more inclusive approach to engagement and hosted more events, we need to push ourselves even further at City Hall to work better and to work differently with the community. We need to truly harness the intelligence, energy and goodwill of the community. We need to learn and co-create with the community. And together, we need to find a way past the increasingly uncivil state of public dialogue.

In order to meet some of the big challenges facing Victoria and all other 21st century cities we need to be able to talk about solutions with clear minds and open hearts. In coming together to solve these and other problems, we will create a stronger social fabric where our first impulse will be love, connection and understanding, even when – and especially when – it feels hard.

We need to:

  1. Work closely with the public to co-create and co-deliver engagement activities
  2. Strengthen inclusion and the social fabric of the city through engagement and restore civility to public dialogue
  3. Strengthen the social fabric of our community through the development process
  4. Voters willing, we will launch a Citizens Assembly process with the District of Saanich
  5. We will continue work of reconciliation with Songhees and Esquimalt Nations and the wider community

What We’ve Accomplished, 2014-2018

  • Initiated a deep and intimate process of reconciliation with the Songhees and Esquimalt Nation through a Witness Reconciliation Program
  • Co-developed with local youth the City’s first Youth Strategy
  • Co-created with the community a new Engagement Framework, an annual public engagement summit and an annual Community Engagement Road Map
  • Increased the number of annual engagement events from 25 in 2014 to 179 in 2017

We’re All in This Together Step 1: Work closely with the public to co-create and co-deliver engagement activities

Even though we’ve made some big strides in the past four years, City Hall is still sometimes seen as an obstacle rather than an enabler. Some groups and members of the public are only accustomed to working with City Hall in an adversarial or regulatory way.

When citizens have ideas or initiatives they want to bring forward they are sometimes told, “it’s not in the work plan.” And staff are sometimes more comfortable with being regulators and holders of professional expertise than as co-creators with the community. These obstacles can be overcome. When they work together well, City staff and members of the public can draw on each other’s wisdom and expertise, be more effective than either can alone, learn from each other and have a more joyful experience.

Once we have co-developed with the public new ways of working together and Council, staff and the public have embraced public-led citizen engagement, we need to ensure that members of the public are aware of and touched by this new approach. In neighbourhoods, streets, schools, businesses, etc.

We’re All in this Together COMMITMENT: We will work with the public to create an engagement environment that is productive and satisfying

Year one: Develop a process for convening people in large and small multi-sector groups to help shape the future of the City and / or to tackle a particular issue.

Year one: Create an operating contingency with a very clear and transparent process for how it is drawn on (through motions of Council) for emerging initiatives that come from citizens. Ensure there is “spare capacity” in staff annual work plans to achieve these projects and that staff see this as part of their work.

Year one: Building on the Engagement Framework (2017) co-develop new tools with the public to work together in new ways and support the public with time and resources in taking a lead in the development of new tools and methods.

Years two to four: Work with the public in new ways, using new co-developed tools. Make room for “mistakes” and “failures” along the way and support and have patience with people (staff, council, the public) who make mistakes or fail and collectively look for learning opportunities. Ensure there is a specific person or department responsible for this new way of working with the public and that they are adequately resourced for success.

We’re All in this Together Step 2: Strengthen inclusion and the social fabric of the city through engagement and restore civility to public dialogue

Civil public dialogue is being eroded. Communities are having a hard time having difficult conversations about challenging issues. It’s becoming more difficult for people to truly listen to other points of view without becoming positional, or coming to a conversation with our minds already made up.

Social media is not entirely to blame for this, put it plays a role. Social media can serve as an echo chamber where diversity of opinion and thought is intolerable. There is a tendency to prize conformity and there’s anxiety for people about stating how they really feel or what they really think unless it conforms to group norms. And, there is a tendency for people to prefer “staying in with Netflix” rather than engaging in civil society activities – meetings, lectures, discussion groups etc.

This isn’t a Victoria phenomenon – it’s a global trend. But it’s affecting us as a community. I’d like us to spend the next four years working together to restore civility to public dialogue, to strengthen our social fabric as a community and to ensure that Victoria remains a place where diversity of thought and opinion are both welcomed and celebrated.

We’re All in This Together COMMITMENT: We will build a strong social fabric

Years one to four: Expand the Mayor’s Community Drop In program from twice monthly at my office at City Hall to once a month at City Hall and once a month at a potluck in a community centre.

Year one: Develop and deliver a pilot workshop series to train staff and community leaders in skills like facilitation, appreciative inquiry, seeking and creating consensus and creating a safe space for all voices. Evaluate the pilot and refine it based on participant feedback. Ensure that the workshops are relevant to meet the challenges that community leaders are facing in their neighbourhoods and organizations.

Years one to four: Identify with the community on an annual basis – as part of building the annual Community Engagement Road Map – where potential flashpoints or conflicts will be in the coming year. Ensure that the community members and staff that will be engaged in these issues have the education and support they need through regular offering of the workshop series.

Year one: Partner with groups such as the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations, Intercultural Association, Vancouver Island Immigrant and Refugee Centre Society, Together Against Poverty Society, Disability Resource Centre, Victoria Tenant Action Group, Single Parents Resource Society and others to gain a greater understanding of the participation needs of their constituents, and to identify leaders and moderators for engagement activities.  

Year one: Building on the information gleaned from above activity, create checklists and toolkits to ensure that all engagement activities are as inclusive as possible.

Years one to four: Ensure that these toolkits and checklists are put to work in all engagement activities and ensure that all engagement activities are as inclusive as possible.

Year two: Develop and implement processes for convening the community, gathering input and sharing information on topics that the community is interested in, as in not only “doing engagement” when City Hall needs input from the community.

Years two to four: Experiment with the above processes, refine and improve them through reflection and measure their impact on strengthening the social fabric of the city and communities.

Year two: Commission a literature review and then design and execute focus groups to understand people’s withdrawal from civil society and what types of activities would draw people away from their screens and back into civil society.

Year two: Create a list of the top 10 activities that people say will draw them away from their screens and back into community and publish it in a fun, DIY format, encouraging and incentivizing citizens to take the lead on organizing such activities.

Years two to four: Measure the impact of these activities on strengthening the social fabric and increasing individual and community well-being.

Year three: Work with the Victoria Foundation, University of Victoria, Camosun College and Royal Roads University to create opportunities to enhance civil public dialogue and deliberative democracy.

We’re All in this Together Step 3: Strengthen the social fabric of our community through the development process

In this term of Council there has been an unprecedented level of development. The economy is strong, people are moving here for jobs and the city is growing. This pace of development isn’t going to slow down. There about 1800 units of rental housing alone in the development pipeline at City Hall. Couple this private sector investment in rental housing with the Regional Housing First Program, which will see 2000 units of new rental housing built in the region (many of which will be in the city) and it’s clear that new housing will continue to be built.

We also know, through three particularly contentious land use applications – St. Andrew’s, Cook and Oliphant, and the Truth Centre – that if these processes do not get off to a good start, there is time wasted, which is money from the point of view of the developer, there is citizen energy wasted, which doesn’t feel very good. And, worst off all, acrimonious development processes damage the social fabric of the city, pit neighbours against neighbours and erode trust between citizens and city hall.

We’re All in this Together COMMITMENT: We will develop a process to strengthen the social fabric of the city and of neighbourhoods through the development proposal process

Year one: Work with staff, Community Association Land Use Committees (CALUC) and the development community to develop a process whereby for developments over a certain threshold, the first step in the process would be a meeting between the developer, the community, and city staff. The meeting would be facilitated by a neutral, third party facilitator with experience in bringing together disparate and diverse points of view. In this meeting each party would lay out its requirements and wishes and the facilitator would aim to help find a path forward that would meet the needs of all parties. Transparency and honesty will be key criteria for all participants.  

Some developers already engage in an informal “open house” process before a CALUC meeting and find that when they get to public hearing, there are very few people there at all, for or against.

Years one to four: Implement this new process, monitor successes and failures and adjust the process accordingly.

We’re All in This Together Step 4: Voters willing, we will launch a Citizens Assembly process with the District of Saanich

On October 20th residents of Victoria and Saanich will be asked, “Are you in favour of spending up to $250,000 for establishing a Citizen’s Assembly to explore the costs, benefits and disadvantages of the amalgamation between the District of Saanich and the City of Victoria?”

A citizens’ assembly is a body of citizens formed to deliberate on an issue or issues of broad political importance. The membership of a citizens’ assembly is randomly selected. The purpose is to employ a cross-section of the public to study a question and to propose answers to through rational and reasoned discussion and the use of various methods of inquiry. The use of Citizens’ Assemblies aims to reinstall trust in the political process by engaging citizens to take a more direct role in deliberative democracy .

The Citizens’ Assembly will tasked by the City of Victoria and the District of Saanich to learn about the needs and interests of local residents and businesses, examine the the costs, benefits and disadvantages of creating a new, amalgamated municipal structure, and – should they determine to make a recommendation in favour of amalgamation – advise local councillors and their administrations on the conditions under which the Municipalities should proceed.

Specifically, the Citizens’ Assembly on Amalgamation will develop:

  • A set of values which describe their aspirations for good local governance;
  • A list of issues which they believe need to be satisfactorily resolved for municipal amalgamation to merit consideration; and
  • Should they recommend to proceed with amalgamation, a detailed recommendation concerning municipal amalgamation, including any conditions which would need to be satisfied if a merger was to proceed.

We’re All in This Together COMMITMENT: I will be bound by the recommendations of the Citizens Assembly

Year one: Subject to the outcome of the October 20th question, convene a subcommittee of Victoria and Saanich Council and staff to convene a Citizens Assembly and commission a technical analysis, including seeking one third of the funding required from the Province to support the process.

Year two: Implement the recommendations of the Citizens Assembly including holding a binding referendum to amalgamate the City of Victoria and the District of Saanich, if this is what the Citizens Assembly recommends.

Year three: If there is a referendum and it passes, lay the groundwork for the amalgamation of the two local governments as of the 2022 municipal election. If there is no referendum and the two local governments remain distinct, take lessons learned and information gleaned from the Citizens Assembly process to improve governance in the region and continue to work with local governments in the region on shared priorities such as transportation and better  integration of police and fire.

We’re All in This Together Step 5: We will continue work of reconciliation with Songhees and Esquimalt Nations and the wider community

City Council declared 2017, Canada’s sesquicentennial, as a year of reconciliation with the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations. On January 1, 2017, a ceremony was held at City Hall to mark the beginning of the process. Council followed the direction of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that “Reconciliation will be difficult to achieve until Indigenous peoples’ own traditions for uncovering truth and enhancing reconciliation are embraced as an essential part of truth determination, dispute resolution, and reconciliation.”

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

In June 2017, after consultation with the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations, Council began a Witness Reconciliation Program and appointed a City Family to undertake action on reconciliation. The City Family is comprised of members of the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations, urban Indigenous individuals, the mayor and two councillors.

We’re All in This Together COMMITMENT: Continue to facilitate the City’s reconciliation journey with the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations and involve the public in the journey

Year one: Facilitate the Victoria Reconciliation Dialogues to involve the community in grappling with the challenging historical and contemporary reality of governing and living in a City that is located on the homelands of the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations.

Year one: Work with the City Family, the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations, Council, the public, and the Sir. John A. MacDonald Society to determine an appropriate space and context to place the statue of Sir John A. MacDonald that balances commemoration and reconciliation and tells a broad, inclusive story of Canadian history.

Years one to four: Continue to participate in the City Family and the Witness Reconciliation Program guided by the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations and the Principles of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

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