Remarks from Official Office Opening August 9, 2022.
Thank you Brianna, for those grounding words of recognition and acknowledgement. Thank you for the chance to learn from you and your Nation, to share stories, to explore unexpected paths toward a shared future.
Thank you Catherine, for the generosity of your words, and your years of service in our community.
For many months, Victorians asked me to run for Mayor, and in May I announced my commitment to do so.
Now that city council is on its summer hiatus, I can take a little time away from doing my job, and the big decisions still needed before this term ends. I’m looking forward to spending more time with you on the doorsteps, in coffee shops, community centres, wherever conversations can happen.
In May, I spoke to the six priorities that comprise the themes of my campaign, reflected here on these banners – Housing, City Services, Well Being, Climate Adaptation, Economy and Reconciliation.
Each of these are complex matters, and warrant thoughtful conversation and planning. Including these in a blueprint to inspire a better future for Victoria came from my experience as a three term councillor, and on input and advice from business folk, social justice advocates, homeowners and renters, builders, seniors, young people, all kinds of workers in all kinds of sectors, newcomers, and Indigenous leaders. This is the work I believe must get done if we are to build a city for everyone.
But today I want to focus on just one of these six themes – one that I think encompasses a range of concerns that trouble Victorians.
It’s about well being.
It’s about how we work together to ensure every Victorian can enjoy a healthy, safe, active life, in a caring community –balancing the needs of all, without ignoring urban pressures and realities – always looking for solutions based in compassion, practicality and reason.
To be healthy, we need facilities for recreation and public spaces for social interaction. In the next term we must redevelop the Crystal pool, and use Royal Athletic Park better – including more community and school sports, working with SD61 and programs like little league baseball, high school football, and cricket leagues. We must resource the parks acquisition strategy within the city’s Parks and Open Space Master Plan to protect sensitive ecosystems, create new spaces for parks and pathways, and more parks and open spaces in all neighbourhoods. As we grow, we need more public opportunities for Victorians to gather and share, with new playgrounds, plazas and parklets.
Our well being is also about social health. Victorians want healthy community organizations that create chances to meet, share, learn from and support one another. The city can sustain and nurture these society-serving benefits by revisiting both tax relief (or reduction) policies for community organizations (including those that rent their spaces), and eligibility for city grant funding. We can demonstrate our recognition of arts and culture groups’ social – and financial – contributions to our well being through increased support for their programs and agencies, by resourcing and enriching the Cultural Spaces Road Map and the Create Victoria Arts and Culture Master Plan, and boldly activating plans for the Arts and Innovation District.
Well being is surely defined by the most pressing health issue of our time – the lack of access to family physicians, nurses and other health professionals. Health care remains the responsibility of the provincial government – and I applaud recent provincial messages that change is coming – and the city will continue to advocate for systemic changes in how health professionals can serve all British Columbians. Meanwhile our city must do what it can to deal with the result of this desperate shortfall.
Just as we have dealt with the outcomes of other crises not usually within the purview of municipal government (like the effects of the poisoned drug epidemic) we can and must do something to make Victoria more attractive to health professionals like GPs, nurses and specialists.
As mayor, I would establish a physician and health professional recruitment function, with a co-ordinator, to explore every possible avenue to attract health professionals to our city. To be successful, council would need to be prepared to consider (and push the boundaries of its authority to offer) housing and practice incentives for doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners and other health professionals, along with permissive tax exemptions for not-for-profit health societies and clinics. We are not regulators and do not have the ability to evaluate practitioners – this would remain with Island Health to manage any credentialing or hiring of applicants who need to work in hospital – but we can be innovative in making Victoria a city where these professionals can and want to live and work.
Comfort & Safety
Well being is also about how we feel around our city, and where – and whether – we feel safe.
Victoria is no less safe than any other intensely growing urban core. But our city has emerged from a pandemic into an unsurpassed pace of social change and resource pressures, and these realities demand more attention than we have given.
Our experience, observation and interpretation of our community are valid components of what we know and believe. To learn about and believe in our city’s safety, we need a complex strategy to address our complex concerns.
Our strategy includes a new approach to community crisis response – the PACT – peer assisted response teams. Operated here as a pilot with the Canadian Mental Health Association, this model has proven effective in other cities where individuals in crisis need help but are not involved in a crime, and don’t need police attention. Let’s give this pilot a chance to work in Victoria by extending its funding and working with partners to further tailor it to Victoria. As this – and other similar – programs take hold, police will gradually be able to turn more of their attention to the work they do so well – preventing and responding to crime, giving us a chance to determine the resources required to provide the policing our community needs.
Let’s also deal with the physical plant of Victoria – by providing more resources to maintain and enhance our public realm with enhanced cleaning, maintenance, landscaping and bylaw services, and ambassador programs. When our city streets, sidewalks, parks and public spaces look good, people have confidence in their use, their safety and themselves. We could also involve businesses and residents in a city-resourced safety and security initiative to support individual actions, within the boundaries of civility, balance and fairness.
Let’s build on the neighbour to neighbour programs that create cooperative relationships, where we know and look out for one another. This could be restarted with a renewed ‘welcome/thank you’ program for businesses and residents, in partnership with the DVBA and community associations.
These plans – for health, recreation and social spaces, community and social services, arts and culture, and comfort and safety – are just a glimpse of what we can do to nurture and support our collective and individual well being as Victorians.
If we accomplish this work, we will travel far along that path to a city for everyone.
As I’ve said before, Victoria is no longer a ‘big town’. We have evolved into a thriving city with complex, urban challenges. Meeting those challenges requires balance, leadership, experience, and the courage to make tough decisions.
You’ve watched me serve the city by meeting challenges in just those ways. And I’ll continue to lead that way – I’ll be the mayor who identifies a reasoned path forward that reflects the interests of the community today, with a responsible eye on the future.
And I’ll set the tone – and standard – for civil discourse and thoughtful decision-making. I’ll facilitate respectful debate in calm, inclusive spaces, where we work together to find solutions in the best interest of Victorians.
In the coming weeks, I’ll share more details on all six of our platform themes, informed by your voices, backed by balanced thinking, and guided by careful resource management.
I want to reiterate that I recognize some folk feel overwhelmed by the pace of change these last years. I think we can “take a breath”, assess our progress, make some adjustments, observe our projects and programs in action, while we imagine, plan, and prepare for what comes next – and then thoughtfully move forward as a city for all of us, and for future generations.
As I say every chance I get – it would be the privilege of a lifetime to lead the city on that journey as your mayor.
Thank you all for coming today, and for your commitment to work with us on creating that city for everyone.