A candid conversation with Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps on how the City of Victoria is dealing with the challenges of COVID-19 and what the short, medium and long-term impacts on the city could look like.
Cities in the Time of COVID-19: One-on-One with Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps
A roundup of the most compelling ideas, themes and quotes from this candid conversation
1. COVID has hit the most vulnerable the hardest
Victoria has been trying to tackle homelessness on many fronts, from many angles and for many years. This COVID-19 crisis has laid bare just how vulnerable the street community is and the systemic inequities that have made the issue seemingly intractable. The capacities of the emergency shelters and safe consumption sites were cut in half when the officer of health called for social distancing. And the mayor pointed out a staggering statistic: there have been actually been more deaths in the city from opioid overdoses than have died from COVID-19 during the crisis on all of Vancouver Island. Indigenous residents have also been disproportionately affected by the crisis – and key to the City’s response has been its partnership and support for the Aboriginal Coalition to End Homelessness.
2. We are all in the connection business now
The pandemic response has made “connection” a central role for Mayor Lisa Helps. Connecting with local business leaders to foster ongoing feedback loops, keeping residents informed through daily Facebook Live sessions and animating the city’s Neighbourhood Teams to focus on supporting residents with mutual support and caremongering. Connecting with other mayors on the Island continues through biweekly online lunch meetings, and more broadly, through organizations like the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, which this week asked the Federal Government to deliver at least $10 billion in “targeted emergency operating funding” to all local governments.
3. Businesses supporting businesses and the community
It’s no surprise that Victoria’s economy relies on the two to three million visitors that arrive to the island by ferries, flights and cruise ships. “This summer, we have to be prepared for zero visitors,” Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said. While that is a huge hit to the city’s economy, Victoria benefits from a vibrant tech industry, which has moved quickly to help local businesses get online. VanCity and Shopify, for example, helped the nonprofit Think Local First establish a gift card program to help small businesses. Another program, Boxes of Hope, was organized through the Greater Victoria Coalition to end Homelessness the and uses donations to support local restaurants that are providing hot meals to the city’s street community.
4. Responding with innovation and creativity
While Victoria has a population of 80,000, it serves a region of almost 400,000. And Mayor Helps says the city experiences many of the same challenges of bigger cities but without a budget to meet every need. Mayor Helps’ says her city has responded to the crisis with innovation and creativity. When tasked with finding emergency shelters that accommodated social distancing, city staff were redeployed to create outdoor sheltering areas in local parks for 350 to 450 of the city’s homeless. Grids were spray painted on the grass and tents provided through a combination of donations and purchases.
5. No going back: recovery and reinvention
“The lessons learned will be phenomenal” remarked Mayor Helps. As attentions turns to recovery, Victoria will be laser focused on ensuring that priority projects are creatively addressed through recovery spending processes. It is a time to reinvent how the city conducts its business, she said. Existing innovative partnerships such as the Coastal Communities Social Procurement Initiative and the regional Housing First program are examples that can be “easily replicated” by other cities. The Mayor also said the crisis is perhaps showing us the need for a “rewriting federalism,” a new arrangement to get cities the funding they need to deliver the services we’ve all some to expect from them.
Boxes of Hope, Greater Victoria Coalition to end Homelessness
Strong Fiscal Futures: a Blueprint for strengthening BC’s local government finance system. Union of British Columbia Municipalities, (2012)
Protecting Vital Municipal Services: Urgent federal recommendations to address the financial crisis in our cities and communities due to COVID-19. Federation of Canadian Municipalities, (2020).
Note to readers: This video session was transcribed using auto-transcribing software. Manual editing was undertaken in an effort to improve readability and clarity. Questions or concerns with the transcription can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org with “transcription” in the subject line.
Mary Rowe: [00:00:27] Hi, good morning, everybody, and Victoria, we’re happy to have you, it’s midday here in Ontario.
Mary Rowe: [00:00:33] It’s a bit of a dark day, I would say not the sunniest day. I’m hoping that my guest is going to talk to us about spring, because I understand spring is actually happening in British Columbia. We had a blizzard here yesterday, so not so much in Ontario. And we have participants joining us from around the country. We’re delighted to have you. I’m Mary Rowe, I’m the president of the Canadian Urban Institute and this is City Talk. These are conversations that we’ve been convening for the last three weeks to try to make sense of what the impact of COVID 19 has on various aspects of urban life. What it is now, what are the impacts and then how are practitioners experiencing it in their particular domains?
Mary Rowe: [00:01:12] And then how do they anticipate the next few months? What kinds of changes do they see? And then over longer term, what kinds of things do they anticipate? CUI is in the connective tissue business. We’re really about how do we share learnings and best practices and wisdom and insight across urban environments across the country. We do vertical quite well here that municipalities relate to Provinces and relate to the sort of governance but we don’t do horizontal well. So that’s what CUI is about, is trying to stitch together this kind of narrative. And these are candid conversations that we have. And this time today, we’re very fortunate to have a mayor with us. CUI is broadcasting initially from originating here from Toronto, which is the traditional territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabek, and the Chippewa and the Haudenosonee and the Wendat peoples. But it’s now home to many, many diverse First Nations and Inuit, and Metis people from across Turtle Island. And we’re also in Toronto was covered by the Treaty 13, which was signed with the Mississaugas of the Credit and the Williams treaties were signed with multiple Anishnabek, nations. And we are aware of that heritage and cognizant of it. And I’ve got to say, I’ve learned a lot about local approaches to truth, reconciliation from the Mayor we have with us today. And I’m sure she’ll talk a bit about that, because Victoria, again, has been on the forefront of what reconciliation looks like in an urban context. These conversations are really grounded in the practical. We’re trying to avoid taking space to just ramble on about what we think might be ahead. We’re trying to not play that, but we are very aware that there still are thousands and thousands and thousands of Canadians engaged in frontline emergency service work. And this kind of these conversations are in no way intended to supplant that or impede that all of this work since COVID has been grounded in trying to be helpful and supportive of what people in the front lines are doing. And in fact, we put up two interactive platforms to try to share knowledge. One called CityWatchCanada, and a second called CityShare Canada. This is the third CityTalk Canada, and these are all powered by volunteers and partners from across the country. If you’ve got bandwidth to help us in terms of populating these sites so that we can learn from each other and know what’s going on. Please email us at covidresponse@CANURB.org. and join our merry band of travelers here who are taking a half hour or an hour a day to watch what’s going on in cities. And one of the cities that we’ve been watching is Victoria. And so we’re very, very pleased to have Mayor Lisa Helps with us. Lisa’s going to tell us about what she’s seeing and then we’re going to have a broad conversation about the challenges that Victoria has been facing and what they’re what they’ve been facing through this crisis and what they anticipate at least anticipates going forward. This is a conversation that is taking place between us and then we’ll post the video online subsequently. But there’s a chat function here as some of you’ve already identified and you can learn more about Lisa and her background if you go to the chat function, because we’ll put a link up there to her bio. But also you can ask questions. You can engage in a conversation if you’d like with each other or you can post something directly to the mayor and I will make sure she sees it. And we’ll have a conversation about the chat. The chat function stays open a bit after we adjourn at one sharp an hour later, but that stays open a bit more. So if you want to share thoughts or want to continue this dialog, feel free to do so. And we also make public the chat. So as they say, what stays in Vegas, actually, in this case, what goes on the chat is in the chat. So just keep that in mind about what you say is there visible and history will record it. And so we are recording, obviously, and we use that Twitter hashtag, #citytalk and really want this to just be the beginning of a conversation. So it’s sort of been an all hands on deck moment. And boy, oh, boy, have city’s been on the front line. This I’ve been saying to the media that are asking me, that cities have functionally been the first line of response where the rubber really hits the road. All the things that cities were challenged by before COVID are now really challenging them. And we’re really eager to hear from you, Your Worship, about what you’ve been experiencing in Victoria. So why don’t you just lay the ground work for us a little bit and tell us what Victoria’s experience has been through this last five weeks? And actually last time, just before COVID, I was with you in Victoria, where we were at a conference together. And you and I had a coffee together. And then I flew back here and boy, the world changed. So it sure did. So tell me tell us what’s happening, Lisa. We’re happy to have you.
Lisa Helps [00:06:11] Sure. Thanks, Mary.
Lisa Helps [00:06:12] Just a note, you may call mayors in Ontario, your worship. But here in Victoria Lisa is fine. No, no, we’ve outlawed your worship. I want to begin by by acknowledging where I am this morning and where the city of Victoria is, which are on the Lekwungen speaking people.
Lisa Helps [00:06:31] The Songhees, the Esquimalt nations and I’m struck always, but particularly through this time by their ongoing generosity for welcoming those of us who are more recent to visitors. So I just wanted to acknowledge that and to thank them. Yeah, it’s been a wild ride. It seems like five years ago that you were here for the Sustainable Development Goals in Cities Conference, which was just March 10th and 11th.
Lisa Helps [00:06:56] That was and interestingly that day I was literally supposed to follow you back to Ontario and make my way to Ottawa.
Lisa Helps [00:07:02] I was at the airport and my staff say —oh, no, I don’t know where that’s coming from.
Mary Rowe: [00:07:17] I don’t know what that is. Maybe. We’ll see if that. We’ll see if the tech team can figure out where that noise is coming from. It’s not. It sounds as if it’s stopped. OK. Keep going. Go ahead, Lisa.
Lisa Helps [00:07:26] OK, thank you. So we.
Lisa Helps [00:07:28] Yeah. And since that day that I didn’t get on that plane, life has been very, very different here than it has in the past. And that’s the case for it for across the country. So the first kinds of things we had to grapple with were how do we continue to function? So we closed city hall. We closed our recreation centers, which are services, particularly our swimming pool. It’s in a low income neighborhood. People depend on that. They depend on their well-being, their community connection. So that was that was it. Those were the immediate concerns kind of locking down, if you will, and then figuring out how do we continue to deliver the services that people count on. In a way that has the appropriate physical distancing. Who do we need to lay off or not lay off? And then what about all of our businesses who are also the same things that have happened in every city have happened here? And I guess the approach that we’ve taken is for the most part, we’re all in this together. So the moment businesses started to close, I convened a call with business leaders. And we’ve been meeting twice weekly since then. And it’s not how are we going to recover, it’s what you need right now and how can we help? And so, too, with kind of the other side of the coin, when when the prime minister says repeatedly, stay at home and people start to do that, you really see who can’t.
Lisa Helps [00:08:51] And those are the people who don’t have homes who are living on the streets.
Lisa Helps [00:08:53] And so I would say we’ve had a three pronged. My time has been spent in three ways. One is working with our business community. Two is working on homelessness. And then three is just working and connecting with residents through our neighborhoods, team and others to make sure that they have what they need to stay safe and stay connected. So that’s that’s a high level overview. Happy to dive into any of those different trains.
Mary Rowe: [00:09:16] Yeah, I should encourage you upon the chat if they want to ask you your questions. By all means, do. And also on that toggle switch, if you could direct your chat, you’ll see there’s a choice you can send at all panelists or to everyone. So please send it to everyone since it’s just one panelist and everyone will want to hear what you’re asking. So interesting for us. I think, you know, Victoria is kind of small city relatively. Right. But but you are on the vanguard of a lot of things, even different COVID experience, you know, you’re coastal you have a really permeable border with the United States because people come in on that ferry. Your you have a Marine orientation obviously to the ocean and then you have a really vibrant local economy. And then you also have a vibrant tourism economy and you have the provincial state as the provincial legislature in Victoria. So you’ve got a lot of government jobs, but you’ve also got this other thing and I know you have an emerging tech sector as well. So you’re you’re you’re kind of a microcosm, I think, of a whole bunch of challenges. And as you just suggested, homelessness, which is part of the Western seaboard kind of experience. L.A., San Francisco, you, the tourists, you attract a certain larger population of folks. So do you want to. How do you want to talk about it first? Let’s let’s talk about the vulnerable population piece. Can we? Here. Talk to us about what you’ve been seeing. And you just suggested that you’ve been responding to the I know you’ve got some tolerance and things. Are there particular things that you’ve been having to really zero in on around that that population?
Lisa Helps [00:10:54] Yeah. Well, I mean, we’re we’re zeroing in on trying to get everybody inside. The situation here, again, is very similar to to what it is in other cities across the country.
Lisa Helps [00:11:03] When Social distancing measures were put in place, existing shelters had to cut their capacity in half and some closed. And so that was that was just disastrous right away. People were literally put back out onto the street with with nowhere to go, with no showers, with no porta potties, with no I mean, basic service. And so that was really the first the first thing we had to grapple with there is. There’s an area of town on Pandora Street, which is actually just up a couple of blocks from city hall. There’s there’s a shelter there as well as a safe consumption site. So that was a natural place for people to start to flock to. And then our our chief medical health officer at Island Health said this is too many people, too close together, find another option. So then we scrambled to open up another park as an outdoor, a temporary shelter area. Our staff went in and painted spray painted on the on the grass, a grid. And then I’ve got beautiful pictures of our city staff actually setting up tents and cots for people. It was again, no one should be outside in the middle of a health pandemic. But but our staff repurposed their work very quickly to do that.
Mary Rowe: [00:12:16] And so that you can you just take us through, Lisa. We have an avenue. And I and we’d love to see those photographs that someone can share. And we’ll put them up. Just in terms of the decision making. The sequence of decision making. So who makes the decision that shelters have to immediately change their capacity so that all of a sudden people are on the street? Who takes that decision?
Lisa Helps [00:12:36] That’s a great question. So that those guidelines were given by our provincial health officer, Dr.
Lisa Helps [00:12:41] Bonnie Henry, and she didn’t say shelters have to close or cut their capacity in half, but as soon as the 6 foot rule came into place. No, no gatherings larger than 50 people, all of those kinds of things that the logical step was: we have too many people in this church basement. Essentially, we have too many people in this community hall. And again, it’s a it’s an emergency situation. And so I think that the lessons learned coming out of this will be phenomenal because it’s a great question. So that decision was just kind of made one at a time by shelter providers. And then then everybody else is left scrambling. Yeah.
Mary Rowe: [00:13:21] And you feel like you have to you’ve had to improvise. I’m interested that I mean, you have whether it was permissible that I’ve been here when this all happened, it was still minus whatever it was very it was cold. So it was harder perhaps to consider these options. But and the other point you meant, though, was that you had to redeploy municipal staff to all of a sudden become people that can put tents up.
Lisa Helps [00:13:40] Yeah. Well, yeah, that that can put tents up. And our our staff are also cleaning the showers because of cleaning protocols. So they’re at the our place shelter. They didn’t have enough staff. And so municipal staff go in every after every shower they go and they spray the shower area down. I’ve got some fantastic pictures of that, too. I mean, our our staff have really come through it in a big way. But so that’s where we are now. We essentially have between 350 and 400 people camped outside in two separate areas. There are you know, there are showers now and hand-washing and food being delivered. But it’s it’s still, you know, especially Topaz Park, it feels like a place that you’d see in a country other than Canada completely unacceptable. And so we’ve been working very, very hard. I you know, basically every every waking hour is spent on on this vulnerable population issue with island health, NBC housing to push the province to rent or acquire or, you know, however they need to hotels and or other indoor spaces to get people inside. So we’re we’re awaiting a big announcement very soon from the province. And it can’t come soon enough.
Mary Rowe: [00:14:54] So that’s I mean, again, you and I are going to repeat this again and again and again, the need for this intergovernmental coordination, because whose job is it? Who’s responsible? So just very practically where did the tents come from?
[00:15:07] Well, somebody actually just said on the chat function, I heard many tents were donated by Victoria residents. So that’s true. Some were deported. Some were donated by Victoria residents.
Lisa Helps [00:15:17] Some were purchased through the our emergency operations center. Yeah.
Lisa Helps [00:15:22] I mean, the outpouring of generosity has. It has been incredible at that at the Topaz Park encampment in particular, there are over 30 community volunteers who are going and handing out food. There’s a food, actually, that’s something I really want to tell you about our Boxes of Hope program. But we’ll save that for I can go in the business section if you want, but community volunteers who are there helping. But even still, it’s the most marginalized people once again who are left outside. We’ve had more opioid overdose deaths in Victoria during this pandemic than we have had deaths from COVID on all of Vancouver Island. And that is not that again. Say that again. It’s a startling statistic, Mary. During this pandemic, these last five weeks, we’ve had more overdose deaths just in the city of Victoria than we have had entire deaths from COVID on the entire island. Oh, my gosh.
Mary Rowe: [00:16:13] Wow. Somebody is going to tweet that out. That’s a staggering statistic.
Mary Rowe: [00:16:16] I mean, it’s sort of it confirms what we’re all anecdotally reporting, which is that those that we’re most vulnerable going in, have become the most victimized as we’ve been taking care of dealing with this right now, as you say, and all but all the weaknesses in the system. What about indigenous? What’s going on with the indigenous community in terms of because you guys have been way ahead on this in terms of what reconciliation actually looks like? Are they disproportionately represented in that homeless population or not?
Lisa Helps [00:16:43] Yes. Yes, they are. They’re disproportionately represented.
Lisa Helps [00:16:47] Again, I don’t want to get out ahead of the province, but there is there is an exciting announcement program that’s being implemented. It will actually be open as of tomorrow to to service indigenous women who are disproportionately disproportionately represented in that population and the most, most vulnerable. So, yes, we we have a fantastic organization here called the Aboriginal Coalition to End Homelessness. And there’s also an indigenous harm reduction team that’s out there on the street. So one of the things that we’ve learned through our reconciliation work over the past four years is the importance of culturally appropriate harm reduction called culturally appropriate and supportive housing. So I would say that that, you know, I don’t want to say we’re well in hand because people right now, as we’re sitting here, are still outside. But I think with the Aboriginal Coalition to End Homelessness and their tremendous leadership, they know what’s needed and they’re getting the resources very soon to be able to implement that.
Mary Rowe: [00:17:48] Again, this is one of these larger lessons, I think, is that people on the ground actually know what’s needed. Right. And absolutely, I think it’s such a difficult thing. You have something that is an international crisis and it cascades down where you need national leadership and then you need provincial leadership.
Mary Rowe: [00:18:03] And in fact, it’s people on the ground that actually know where the money is needed and how can be best deployed.
Mary Rowe: [00:18:08] It’s part of the larger conversation you and I can have about power in cities. Let’s have that later in the hour. OK. Because one of your favorite topics I know. So let’s let’s leave that for a second. Although I do want ask your question about safe consumption sites. So I know this is controversial. You know, could could you how do you make safe consumption safe in the era of a pandemic? I mean, how how they would have they’ve had to do.
Lisa Helps [00:18:31] Yeah, that is that is a great question. We’ve got an amazing team of doctors and nurses here who are very involved on the frontlines with this question. So so, too with Social distancing. I mean, we could never have anticipated no one could have anticipated this. But the safe consumption site, for all intents and purposes, had to close their chillout room, which is where people go after they’ve consumed, to, well, chill out and just have a bit of safe space. And then the injection site itself. The orders were to close again according to Social distancing protocols. So that thought closed down and they began a mobile operation, which again, is very difficult. So at both Topaz Park and the Pandora camp, there are there is there safe consumption? But it’s it’s not the same kind of indoor supervised consumption. You know, and everybody is doing their best. The docs and nurses are doing their best. The service providers are doing their best. But what what it reveals and you touched on this earlier and I want I wanted to come back to it is this pandemic has laid bare the vulnerability in Canadian society. And I think that that is a really, really powerful opportunity to rebuild things a little bit differently.
Mary Rowe: [00:19:45] Have you. Have you had incidences in long term care facilities or nursing homes in Victoria if you’re not on the island, not only on outbreak yet, no outbreaks in nursing homes on the island?
Lisa Helps [00:19:57] No.
Lisa Helps [00:19:57] We’ve been very, very lucky here.
Mary Rowe: [00:20:00] Because, of course, that’s that’s a larger conversation that’s going to happen across the country about how we have concentrations of vulnerable people in certain circumstances. I mean, we’ve had an ongoing battle here. The battle enlivened conversation about what the future density is. And Victoria has pockets of density, but they don’t have as the intense density that some certain Toronto has and good density and bad density. OK. Let’s talk about busineses then, because your economy is complete, is dependent on a whole bunch of thing that involves people coming in and out of Victoria. I mean, what’s your annual intake of tourists and visitors to Victoria?
Lisa Helps [00:20:37] Generally, somewhere I don’t have the exact statistics, but somewhere between, I’m trying to count who comes in from everywhere, somewhere between 2 and 3 million people, probably closer to 3 million people. And there’ll be there’ll be 0 people this year.
Mary Rowe: [00:20:52] Yeah. So what is that? So talk to me about. Let’s talk immediately about the impacts that your local business communities have been having and your retailers. And then we’ll talk a little bit about what are you anticipating? How are they anticipating recovering?
Mary Rowe: [00:21:03] So just give us the lay of the land. You said you were meeting with folks twice a week. I think you suggested.
Lisa Helps [00:21:07] Yeah. Yeah. Twice a week. I meet altogether so that we’re not. What did you talk about? The stitching together rather than verticality. So on the call, we’ve got the Chamber of Commerce think local Victoria, the downtown Victoria Business Association, Community Micro-lending and then a few retailers, a few landowners. Just so we have kind of a smattering of people. Oh, and also the Urban Development Institute. So basically, anyone involved in either owning buildings or renting buildings as well as the people who advocate for business. So the the business community here has been tremendous. Those who didn’t have to shut down early on, did, in order to help with community safety and in flattening the curve. And there’s been a tremendous outpouring of support. It’s not surprising right, they’re all entrepreneurs and creativity. So there’s, there’s an initiative that was put together. So our largest industry isn’t actually tourism, it’s tech. Tech is five billion dollars a year here. And the local. Yeah, it’s it’s bigger than tourism. And so the local tech industry stepped up in a big way. 70 tech companies came together and put together an initiative. And there’s so many YYJ initiatives right now I can’t keep track of which hashtag is which, but tech companies came together and said to local retailers and restaurants, let us help you get online as soon as possible. So there was this massive movement to create online stores, online delivery. And, you know, there’s one retailer she’s got ,she owns three stores. She got all three stores online. She’s now making a thousand dollars a day. And that, which is peanuts compared to her regular revenue, but that’s enough for her to be able to pay her May 1st rent so that that creativity by the tech sector, and it’s all, you know, in-kind donations of tech folks helping retail and restaurant get online. So that’s been tremendous. Another initiative that Think Local Victoria came up with, or Think Local First is they’ve partnered with Vancity and Shopify to create a gift card program so people can buy. I think they’re close to a hundred and fifty businesses registered right now. You can go on, you can buy a gift card at your favorite business. Vancity covers the transaction cost and Shopify donated the platform. And so every single dollar that you buy for, you know, goes directly into the pockets of businesses. So those are just two initiatives. And the third one I want to tell you about, which again, this is the one I feel most proud of. I always like things when they can serve more than one function. So we’ve created a program here called Boxes of Hope. And it’s it’s a program that I’ll put the link in the chat function in a moment, but it’s led by the Coalition to End Homelessness and local restaurants. And so all these people living in camps are getting three hot meals a day from local restaurants. The money has come in initially from donations. So people donate $10. That $10 goes to buy a meal from a local restaurant, gets delivered to the camp. The kitchens are bustling, the staff are still employed. I saw one of the guys driving his pickup truck with all these boxes of food packaged for people. So the creativity has been absolutely amazing. And that makes me think there are people struggling. Obviously, there are a lot of retailers closed, but I feel optimistic that we’re going to get through this and come out stronger because that’s what’s happening right in the middle of this in our buisness community.
Mary Rowe: [00:24:36] So what about what about conventions? And you’ve got you’ve got one of the great, great hotels of the world in Victoria and which has a huge convention center attached to it that I think you own. And you’ve got a lot of. And then you have cruise ships and all that kind of stuff. Like what? What’s your sense of how you’re going to make up that difference? What’s happened to the Fairmont? What are they saying?
Lisa Helps [00:24:57] Well, the Fairmont closed, the Fairmont was one of the first hotels to close their hotels entirely.
Lisa Helps [00:25:02] Yeah, convention center is closed. We’re down about two million dollars in revenue there. The good news is, is that we haven’t lost any conventions. They’ve just rebooked for the future. So our staff have done great work convincing people that that this, you know, things will get better and please rebook your conference. But yeah. Ah, our tourism industry and the retailers and others who depend on it. This is going to be a very, very difficult summer, very difficult summer. And not only are tourists not coming, but there aren’t going to be there won’t be Jazz Fest, there won’t be Pride, there won’t be all of these things that bring, there won’t be Car Free Day, that brings 50,000 people into our downtown. So that’s that’s the real challenge.
Mary Rowe: [00:25:44] I mean, I’m interested in the you know, I have as you know, I lived in New Orleans for five years after Katrina, and I’m in contact with my former colleagues that live there now. And of course, that’s a city completely organized around festivals and street life and celebrating in in situ. And all of that is being canceled. And not only is it a loss of revenue, it’s a loss of cultural expression.
Mary Rowe: [00:26:07] Right. It cuts to the heart of a lot of what. Absolutely. I mean, I want to go ahead.
Lisa Helps [00:26:12] Victoria in Victoria in the summer.
Lisa Helps [00:26:15] We are a festival city. Every every weekend there, there is something they’re free. They’re family oriented. There’s actually a question that relates to this in the chat as somebody asked, how is the city maintaining connections with residents, including engagement efforts? It’s not directly related to festivals, but that is really, really important. And so we talk with that little bit, though. Yeah, OK.
Mary Rowe: [00:26:38] Yeah. Mean, we saw that you’ve taken your I mean, you’re still doing development proposals. You’ve got some kind of online capacity to review development proposals. I saw that in city watch. So you’re somehow keeping some business going. But talk to us about how you’re engaging, folks.
Lisa Helps [00:26:52] So, yeah, I’ll talk about the development in a moment.
Lisa Helps [00:26:55] But the first thing and and actually this was inspired probably because one of the last people I saw before the pandemic was you. And we talked about neighborhoods and the importance of local neighborhood. So our neighborhoods team right away as soon as the pandemic hit, repurposed their page on the web site with a whole bunch of resources from from across the country and around the world in terms of how, you know, how can people stay connected and focused really on, on, on human connection and well-being. So that’s one one thing I heard recently that our neighborhood associations have begun to meet again by Zoom or some other means. And each each neighborhood in the city has a staff person, a city staff person who’s assigned to be its liaison. And so the staff members are attending those meetings, finding out what do neighborhoods need. One of the programs that we had launched, thankfully, just before COVID started was a program called City Champions, or maybe it’s called Community Champions. Maybe. I think Allison Ashcroft is on the thread here. So maybe she knows if you can.
Mary Rowe: [00:27:55] Correct. We’ll see you again. You can correct. And listen, is it a City champion or a community champion will wait for you to tell us how.
Lisa Helps [00:28:03] Someone can Google anyway.
Lisa Helps [00:28:05] And so it’s it’s based on a number of other programs that we’ve run over the years. But it’s really meant to be basically city school. How do we empower people to be leaders in their own neighborhoods? It’s true that there were bursaries for, you know, one has to pay if they can’t. And it’s it’s a tremendous program. Regular citizens are kind of schooled in how do you build community? How do you build connection? And that program has now turned fully online. So they’re they’re still meeting and rather than all day was I think it was all day Saturdays. They’re broken into shorter sessions. And so this is amazing because these people were already engaged and now they’re they’re redeploying their their efforts in and focusing some of their community projects on COVID 19 response. So I think this this program, again, it’s a brainchild of our neighborhoods team, but it has the potential to be transformational. I’m so glad it started before COVID because they just had to adjust and get it online.
Mary Rowe: [00:29:01] Yeah. Again, we’ll post this in the report, the summary that we put up online after we’re done. But as is you, as you’re illustrating, all sorts of interesting innovative stuff is going to pop up here. I mean, some of it was, as you suggested, pre COVID, but then it gets accelerated because all of a sudden you’ve got the need is even greater. I don’t know if you heard that we had yesterday we did one of these city talks and we had hundreds of people on across the country talking about libraries. And yea, Maureen was on.
Lisa Helps [00:29:27] Isn’t she amazing?
Mary Rowe: [00:29:29] She’s fantastic. And and we were really you know, there is an example of a civic institution that has such a rich history and is grounded in place. There is a place called a library, but now there are services that libraries provide. And we really had a kind of a really, really good briefing from the group on that on that shot, that show about how librarians now are actually in the connection business. So one of them talked about having they realized they had 10,000 cardholders that were over the age of seventy five. And so the staff and volunteers wanted to just call them to see if those folks in that demographic knew how to turn into a, you know, use the service digitally. And what they realized is that those people didn’t just want talk about digital services. They actually want to talk. Yeah. Now, those librarians are now calling those folks once a week just to have a visit.
Mary Rowe: [00:30:20] Yeah. Wow. I like that’s a concrete example of how. We’re kind of all in the connection business now.
Lisa Helps [00:30:27] We are all in the connection business. Absolutely.
Lisa Helps [00:30:29] Every day in terms of going back to engagement, one of the things I’ve been doing every day except on the weekends for the last four weeks is a daily Facebook Live. So we broadcast here from City Hall. And I share relevant news from the federal government, the provincial governments, things that impact our residents and our businesses. I share news from City Hall. And then at the end of each Facebook Live session, we we look into the community to see what’s happening there and we’ve been there. So we share it. We call it news from the community. And it just it amazing connection initiatives that there’s one that we promoted, I think yesterday or the day before. It’s it’s called Well and Truly Grey. It’s a connection website.
Mary Rowe: [00:31:10] We have it up. We have it up on city share candidate, not only only in Victoria where they name it Well and Truly Grey. Really great.
Lisa Helps [00:31:20] So, yeah, it was an initiative created for seniors by seniors. And on my on my website, which I’ve also been updating everyday with these, we do a YouTube video of the talk and then it goes on there. I put the little banner of their Web site. There’s a whole bunch of seniors sitting on a bench. One is knitting, but the rest are on their cell phones.
Mary Rowe: [00:31:38] Yes. Yeah, I know. I mean, seniors aren’t what they are. As somebody who’s probably listening in on a senior category, you know, seniors aren’t what they used to be. Let’s just say that I just just want to go back and suggest this notion that, as you suggested, that there is a whole lot of really smart, granular stuff that’s starting to percolate up.
Mary Rowe: [00:31:56] I mean, it’s always been there, but now we’re going to really see it through this. And whenever I talk to someone who is discouraged about what the pandemic is doing and they’re disheartened, I always say just just spend half an hour on CityShare Canada.ca and look at all. And there are hundreds of examples of how communities are responding, businesses, institutions, neighborhood groups. I scanned through before you and I chatted. I scanned through what was being what was posted again, posted by volunteers like your very own Allison Ashcroft, who’s been stellar, stellar partner to us. And it just is inspiring what people are coming up with. You know, and it and I think that’s one of the challenges we’re going to have now is how do we then take some of that stuff?
Mary Rowe: [00:32:35] And is it the phrase yesterday, is it sticky? Are there ways that we’re going to now institutionally need to support that? So as you suggest, even the notion of safe consumption sites going mobile. I heard at the library, again, you know, they’re now taking all their services out to people. And are there larger applications? So what I want to ask you about is streets. You’ve been doing some interesting things with streets. You’ve eliminated parking. Right. And so in certain streets so that there’s more room to walk. So talk to us about that. How did you come up with that stuff?
Lisa Helps [00:33:06] That’s just our transportation staff and it’s in response to what residents want.
Lisa Helps [00:33:10] So Beacon Hill Park, which is our largest park in the city, is closed to car traffic now on the weekends to give people more space for for physical distances and to get out for walks going neighborhood by neighborhood, actually starting with the neighborhood with the highest concentration of seniors, which is James Bay. Starting yesterday, we’ve removed some parking and created more space for pedestrians. And then our our staff are taking a really thoughtful approach, going neighborhood by neighborhood to see where is pedestrian congestion happening and what do we need to do in order to alleviate it. So that’s yeah. In response to neighbors.
Mary Rowe: [00:33:45] And it just it just for people on the chat who are asking. Elizabeth Jackson wants to know more about seniors go to CityShare Canada.ca. and just do the toggle switch for seniors. You’ll see a ton of stuff. And the one that Lisa just mentioned is Well and Truly Grey.
Lisa Helps [00:34:00] And really Elizabeth it’s really Well and Truly Grey
Lisa Helps [00:34:05] Dot com. That’s the URL that they chose. And you’ll see the beautiful header that I was talking about.
Mary Rowe: [00:34:13] With here with them on their cell phones and knitting. Lisa, you talked a lot about connection locally and I’m interested. How are you deciding which decisions you need to get broader consultation with? You can’t have a public meeting. And you’ve been doing Facebook Live you’re doing. I know that you’ve been doubling down on getting information out to people. How do you see the city business now?
Mary Rowe: [00:34:38] Look, for instance as we start to talk about reopening. How? What kinds of consultation mechanisms are you gonna be able to use to get people’s input as you make changes or as serious decisions are about to be made? Thoughts on how you’re going to approach that?
Lisa Helps [00:34:52] Well, the Minister of Municipal Government and Housing has been hosting a weekly call with mayors. She goes section by. So we have our Mayors Island call on Thursday afternoon. So she indicated that there’s gonna be a provincial order coming sometime next week with respect to public hearings and how they can be held. And that that has to do, obviously, with land use. So that that’s great to have that kind of provincial leadership so that each municipality in British Columbia isn’t making up how to hold a public hearing. Now, our our planning staff, we’ve given them some direction to look at how do we. So we have a process here in Victoria called the Community Association Land Use Committee and all development applications before they, not all, any big rezoning applications before they come in to city hall have to go through the Community Association Land Use Committee before the applicant can be can submit their application. So we also have a Heritage Advisory Committee because, of course, you’ve seen our downtown. It’s spectacular and the heritage is really important. We also have an Advisory Design Panel. So staff started with they started with where are the kinks in the process and how do we fix those in terms of community consultation? So as of yesterday, Heritage, the Heritage Panel and the Advisory Design Panel will be meeting online. The applicants will do their presentations. The staff will be there, the panel participants will be there. So that’s sorted. Staff have met with the Urban Development Institute and the Community Association Land Use Committee chairs to figure out how do we keep development moving while having public participation. So staff are going to bring us a report back in a couple of weeks and then the public hearing piece will be solved by the province. So the reason that land use is so important. There are two reasons. One is construction has been declared an essential service. So that means people can keep working. And what that means is that when those restaurants and retail shops reopen, they’ll have some ready customers who have money in their pockets who’ve been working this whole time. And the more construction we can have, the better. Secondly, in the hopper, we’ve got a lot of rental buildings and a lot of affordable buildings that I don’t want to see held up.
Mary Rowe: [00:36:57] And so they’re in there in your pipeline?
Lisa Helps [00:36:59] They’re in there in our pipeline at various stages.
Mary Rowe: [00:37:02] And so anybody thinking about with there will be some kind of social procurement commitment to it. I mean, we know we’re going to there’s obviously going to be federal stimulus money to try to boost more of this infrastructure. We’re pretty focused on main streets across the country. You know what? Yes. You suggest you have several absolutely fabulous main streets and if main streets don’t come back, it has a ripple effect. Do you think there’s some way to ensure that? Or are you maybe your are your people or your staff may already be thinking about this, about getting procurement tied to local employment, for instance?
Lisa Helps [00:37:34] Absolutely.
Lisa Helps [00:37:35] Mary, before you hopped on the pre call this morning, I was. And I’ll post it again here for everyone. So we’ve got an amazing initiative here on Vancouver Island.
Lisa Helps [00:37:42] It’s four years old and old. It’s called the Coastal Community Social Procurement Initiative. And there are 21 local governments across the island who are working together to exactly on that. How do we use our money to employ vulnerable people? How do we use our money to buy local? And we were featured on a national webinar a couple days ago on the same platform on Zoom. So all I posted the link. Your staff can share it with you, but if people want to learn more about what we’re doing, so as myself and the mayor of Tofino, there was a procurement person from Calgary on the on our panel. And then Kristy Meader from Scale Collaborative here, who’s who’s running the CCSPI.
Mary Rowe: [00:38:19] So what’s the you just say the initiative more slowly so that some of us can. Yeah, so.
Lisa Helps [00:38:24] So it’s a Coastal Community Social Procurement Initiative. I’ll just put it all. Someone told me not to type during this, but I’m typing, so I’m breaking the rules. Got to break the rules to get things done.
Lisa Helps [00:38:34] There we go.
Mary Rowe: [00:38:35] That would be great to see. Is great because I again, I think there’s a question of as we recover. Who’s going to benefit? Right.
Lisa Helps [00:38:42] You know what?
Lisa Helps [00:38:43] Actually, we’re sorry before we leave this topic with CCSPI is a membership oriented organization.
Lisa Helps [00:38:49] So basically all people have to pay for a service. But we’re hosting a webinar next. I’ll put the details in there next week on the 28th and we’re we’re opening up to everyone anywhere across the country about how do we use social procurement is part of the COVID recovery. So I’ll I’ll post the link to that that webinar. And if anyone’s interested or if you guys want to promote it, it’s it’s free and open to everyone.
Lisa Helps [00:39:13] And we’ll be hosted by CCSPI.
Mary Rowe: [00:39:16] You know, all the federal government initiatives to support business. And there was one that’s being announced today on rent.
Mary Rowe: [00:39:21] The concern, of course, is that that money will be sucked up largely by big businesses that have the capacity to apply and work at a certain scale.
Mary Rowe: [00:39:29] And how do we actually have any kind of trickle down to make sure that much smaller businesses, more modest businesses and particularly Main Street retail, which are often family owned and, you know, are some change. But there’s lots of independent.
Lisa Helps [00:39:41] Yeah, there’s there’s actually a couple of answers to that. The community microlending here in Victoria teamed up with the Downtown Victoria Business Association and they’re hosting two webinars, one next Monday and one next Wednesday. For exactly that.
Lisa Helps [00:39:53] They’re going to have a lawyer and accountant and H.R. professionals. So that’s really small businesses can ask again, having this problem, I need this access, so, again, it’s our business community has been tremendous in terms of the initiatives they’ve put together. If the chat function does stay open for a little while after this call, I will. I’ll put that those webinars up, because, I mean, they’re oriented towards Victoria. But no reason anyone from across the country can’t join.
Mary Rowe: [00:40:17] Must be one of the most dedicated mayors in the country. Lisa, you’re willing to stay on after the hour and put some stuff into the chat.
Lisa Helps [00:40:24] Well, actually, at 10 o’clock, I I’ve got our call with our business leaders, so I might be doing double duty, I’ll be on the phone chairing that call and putting some things in the chat.
Mary Rowe: [00:40:32] You can also send us the link subsequently and we’ll post them here. So let me ask you just a question on broader connections. So you’re doing tons of connections with your local stakeholders and all the different components of of of your life. But talk to me about how much contact you’re having with other mayors. Because there seems to be a growing consensus across the country. And just chat to us about that. How would you how do you mean interacting with other mayors and that course we want to hear how you’re interacting with the premier and with the provincial government in B.C. So can you describe for us what that looks like?
Lisa Helps [00:41:05] Sure. It’s very interesting to be the mayor of the city of Victoria because, while we’re on an island and kind of oriented north and south on the island, we we have much more in common with other cities in the country than we do with other cities on on Vancouver Island or other towns and cities on Vancouver Island. Having said that, the relationships that I have on Vancouver Island are critically important. The Coastal Community Social Procurement Initiative, as I said, was started by mayors. And so those we’ve been we’ve been kind of checking in in that way. We also I love my colleagues here in the region.
Lisa Helps [00:41:41] We have the mayors in the region here have lunch once a quarter. Obviously, we can’t have lunch now. So we’ve moved to bi-weekly Zoom meetings and we actually did our first one just earlier in the week. And it was tremendous to see all their heads in the screen, you know, talking about what’s working, what’s not, what are your challenges. And that’s very regional where we’re a small region with lots of mayors. So that’s been very useful on a on a regional level. Are you opening your parks location? We open our parks. You know, those those really kinds of seem like small things. But it really has to do with how are we taking care collectively of the well-being of our residents. And then in terms of mayors across the country, at this point, my closest interactions have been with Kennedy Stewart, the mayor of Vancouver. We’re in touch regularly. My chief of staff is regularly in touch with his chief of staff on a number of issues. And then in in terms of any further than that, I can’t wait to lift my head up a little bit more and make some of those connections across the country. Maureen actually said that the librarian that you interviewed yesterday said that it was really useful for her to have her colleagues together across the country and hear some of their different challenges. So unfortunately, Victoria is not part of the big city mayors caucus is a real bone of contention. We’ve tried every way we can to get into that table, but we’re not, they won’t let us.
Lisa Helps [00:43:00] So that doesn’t.
Mary Rowe: [00:43:02] It’s about numbers, I guess. Say it’s just about actual population.
Lisa Helps [00:43:05] Yeah, it’s about actual population. But, you know, this is interesting. I I am the mayor of Victoria. I’m not the mayor of Saanitch or Esquimalt or anywhere else, but to anywhere else in the country or in the world.
Lisa Helps [00:43:14] You know, I got an offer today from somewhere in Switzerland wanting to help some business here in Victoria, well it wasn’t here in Victoria. I’m going to connect them anyway.
Lisa Helps [00:43:23] But so, yeah,.
Mary Rowe: [00:43:26] I mean, as you suggest, I mean, there’s this larger conversation about how we actually organize. What’s the unit of governance? That’s the right unit because as you suggest, you’re part of a region. The same is true of all of the cities that that are really part of economic regions. You know, we probably have six of them in Canada that function like a region and they may involve four or five municipalities or in the case of the greater Toronto area. You know, it’s more than two dozen municipalities that actually comprise of region, so.
Lisa Helps [00:43:53] Well, it’s interesting. Yeah, our our economic region is actually the Cascadia region. It’s British Columbia, Washington and Oregon. So that’s how we’re we’re oriented more north south economically. Not entirely, but but certainly that anyways, that is completely off topic.
Mary Rowe: [00:44:08] Yeah, no, no. But I mean, it’s part of the reality, though, as we moved forward, I think, in terms of thinking about the sustainability of urban regions. And I’m interested as you suggest, that even though maybe even though Victoria may not be technically part of the big city mayors caucus. Presumably their advocacy to the federal government for a response will have some spill over to you, hopefully.
Lisa Helps [00:44:31] Absolutely.
Lisa Helps [00:44:31] Well, and the other thing that we have in Victoria and I worked very hard on this in the last the last federal term, and we have a very good direct relationship with Ottawa. I mean, I’m in regular contact with Mona Fortier, who’s a minister of middle class prosperity. We have we have access to that to the prime minister’s office on a regular basis. And we feel very listened to by Ottawa and very consulted by Ottawa. And that feels great.
Mary Rowe: [00:44:56] So let’s talk a bit about, you know, the stimulus investment and what that might look like. And I see that actually we have a former minister who is now who just put a question on the chat. And if you saw it, we saw the minister Sohi
Mary Rowe: [00:45:07] just asked a question about energy retrofits and whether or not are we going to be able to see as we emerge from this? Can we go greener? Will we be able to have different? Will we have a different incentive? Because we have a kind of colliding crises, COVID and climate. So is this a moment?
Lisa Helps [00:45:26] It’s a moment.
Lisa Helps [00:45:27] It is a big moment, and every signal that I see coming out of Minister McKenna’s office is that that is the direction they’re going to go. There was a great article and again, I will send it to you after the fact that it was from the Pembina Institute.
Lisa Helps [00:45:39] I think in twenty eighteen. But somebody reposted it recently and it talked about Canada’s next big mega project. And it was about home retrofits, a beautiful way to frame home retrofit. So buildings, transportation and waste. Those are the greatest sources of carbon pollution and greenhouse gas emissions in every city. Buildings, transportation waste. The ratios change depending on what city you’re in. For us, it’s 50 percent buildings, 40 percent transportation and 10 percent waste. That’s where all infrastructure and recovery money should go into the projects that address greenhouse gas emissions because the normal that we were in wasn’t working. We need a new normal. We’re calling it here. I’m thinking of it not only as recovery, but recovery and reinvention. How do we how do we reinvent our cities to meet all of the crises that we were in before COVID hit?
Mary Rowe: [00:46:31] So I ask you about a specific crisis. I assuming you’ve had an affordable housing crisis in Victoria, even though you’re small. You’ve got a lot of people who want to live there and a lot of expensive real estate. And what do you think about is there an opportunity to change that dial? I mean, you said you have a lot of affordable in the pipeline. That’s where you want to get keep construction going. But do you think there needs to be other kinds of interventions to get a different kind of mix of housing more affordable in Victoria? Thoughts on that?
Lisa Helps [00:46:56] I don’t think there needs to be different interventions.
Lisa Helps [00:46:58] I just think there needs to be more money. So we’ve got a great program here. It’s called the Regional Housing First Program. We got we set aside 30 million dollars of our own money as a region, not the city. It was matched by province and Ottawa. So we’ve got $90 million. We’ve now raised another 10. The province has committed another 10. We’re looking for another 10 from Ottawa. One hundred and twenty million dollars will build two thousand units of rental housing. Four hundred of those will rent at $375 a month, which is the shelter rate. The program was actually mentioned in the federal budget a couple of years ago. We got a shout out. I think it was in the twenty nineteen budget. This is a program that could be replicated across the country. There is no ongoing operating subsidy needed because the shelter rate units at three seventy five or subsidized by the near market units that rented about eighty five percent of market. It’s it’s, it’s a boilerplate program. All, all it needs is we’re good. We’ve got. Hopefully we’ll have 120 million dollars here. But this is a program that could be replicated very easily city after city after city. What it needs is federal funding to to build the units.
Mary Rowe: [00:48:06] I want to ask you a question about vulture capital. But whether or not you think there’s a risk that private sources might come in and buy up stuff, you know, I mean, I wonder about that from Main Streets and I wonder about that. You know, if you if we’ve got projects, for instance, that are maybe won’t be able to go forward, nor are there some companies that will go bankrupt and we’ll build continue on, is there a concern that the financialization of housing will get even worse?
Lisa Helps [00:48:28] Well, but there is an opportunity for the federal government to step in. And you should talk to our mutual friend, Adam Vaughan about this. You know, if there are if there are developments that are in that situation, the federal government should either swoop in.
Lisa Helps [00:48:39] He’s he’s talking about setting up some separate Crown Corp. I don’t know anyways. He’s always got these big ideas. But but I think that there’s a real opportunity. So all of these all of these buildings that we’re building will either be owned by the Capital Regional Housing Corporation, which is a publicly owned housing corporation, which I chair and I’ve been very pushy about that, as well as by nonprofit organizations. So that that is again, it’s an opportunity if money needs to flow for stimulus. And there are developments that may not go ahead that we’re privately owned. It’s a great opportunity for the Federal Government through CMHC and others to step in. Again, going back to the local, consult the local, figure out who the local nonprofits are, the local housing corporations buy those up and keep them and or turn them public.
Mary Rowe: [00:49:23] I mean, again, you guys have been good experimenters about this around land trusts and around different kinds of ways to actually support and stimulate local economies.
Mary Rowe: [00:49:31] And so as you suggest we do, it does feel like a bit of a fork in the road, doesn’t it?
Lisa Helps [00:49:35] It does. Absolutely.
Mary Rowe: [00:49:37] Are we going to be able to channel in turn and double down on local or are we going to end up being in a situation where people will be so quick to expedite everything that we’ll revert to something that wouldn’t be a sustainable. Let’s let’s talk about federal money for a minute. The FCM came out yesterday with a pretty bold proposal around a significant financial reimbursement from the federal government to municipalities based on the gas tax and other kinds of provisions. One day now. And I think that this is this is basically to try to prevent municipalities from going into deficit or actually being able to have to see services because they’re going to be virtually bankrupt. What’s your reaction to that? And then let’s talk about the longer term implications might be.
Lisa Helps [00:50:21] Well, I think that FCM put forward a good proposal. When the prime minister was asked about it a couple of days ago in his morning address, he he kind of deferred to the provinces to work with with local governments. But it but the gas tax the gas tax is a perfect model. It was it’s a very wise one for FCM to seize on that. That distribution channel is already there. It’s already a direct connection. So I hope that that the federal government looks at very seriously at that. I do think that there is a responsibility, you know, between the provincial government and the municipal government.
Lisa Helps [00:50:55] What we need is a rewriting of Canadian federalism, quite frankly, on that.
Mary Rowe: [00:50:59] Would you?
Lisa Helps [00:51:00] Yeah, right. I can’t do it from this position, Mary, but yes.
Lisa Helps [00:51:06] But as we’ve seen, not only here, but also with the climate crisis that the cities are on the front lines, we’re the ones who are I don’t want to say the most creative, but there’s a lot of creativity and lots of levels of government. But we can. We are the most nimble for sure. We’re the most tuned in with what the local needs are. And and and this is the importance of the Canadian Urban Institute. The local needs in Victoria may be different than the local needs in Halifax or Winnipeg or Toronto or Moncton. But there is there is that thread that can be woven through. So I think I I’m I’m optimistic that we’re going to see a lot of money coming for climate. Hopefully the federal money for housing strategy will roll out. What I’m not optimistic about is that we’ll see a rewriting of Canadian federalism coming out of COVID, but one can always hope.
Mary Rowe: [00:51:54] Well, it’s interesting. You know, I was asked about it earlier in the week and someone said, well, you know, this just now is a bailout.
Mary Rowe: [00:52:01] And I said, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait a second. Municipalities are expected to deliver all these services directly to people. And they don’t have they didn’t have the resources to start off with. Often the duties that they’re tasked with are things that they don’t have resources for. They’re constrained in terms of what tools they have to raise resources. And we as taxpayers need to be concerned about that. We need to be concerned that we can’t hold the level of government closest to us that’s responsible for service.
Mary Rowe: [00:52:26] We can’t hold the responsible accountable for delivering it because they don’t have enough money to do it. So this is a pre COVID challenge. And the question is for people like you, Lisa, do we have to insist on a constitutional change or is there some other kind of mechanism, some creative, some creative governance mechanism that Canada could dream up and think about?
Lisa Helps [00:52:47] Well, they was dreamed up here, actually, in British Columbia in 2012 through the UBCM, there is a report called Strong Fiscal Futures. And it laid out a very solid plan for the devolution of both authority and revenue to cities in British Columbia. It was I would say I would call it a modest proposal, but it’s gone nowhere. So there’s a we were supposed to have a B.C. Mayors Caucus meeting in Whistler on May the 5th to dust off Strong Fiscal Futures and try to revive it.
Lisa Helps [00:53:14] So we may have 50 or 100 mayors on Zoom trying to sort that out. But yet the solutions are there in terms of addressing the lack of power and authority for local government. But we have no power or authority to change those without without consent from the province.
Mary Rowe: [00:53:34] I mean, it’ll be interesting as we as we emerge and people realize all the things that are important to them, all the things that make their lives work.
Mary Rowe: [00:53:41] You know, the parks access to their local library, community center, street housing, housing, a place to live, have a place to live. Oh, yeah. You know, being able to have access to the amenities around them, being able to have some choice, being able to get around. So much of this is actually under municipal control or certainly most people have no idea, you know, who’s responsible for housing. They know exactly.
Lisa Helps [00:54:06] You know, when we’re not. That’s my point. We’re not responsible for housing.
Lisa Helps [00:54:11] But I can’t. I’ve received about a thousand emails in the past week asking me to house everyone in Topaz Park and on Pandora. Yeah. OK. Give me give me give us the resources. We could do it. We know how to do this work.
Mary Rowe: [00:54:22] Well, I think so often what’s been happening is municipal folks have just been improvising. Well, of course, we’re going to do. You’re not going to say, oh, well, where’s the checkbook? Like you just go do it right. And then that’s when I was respond to that Journalist who said we wanted a bailout, that cities are on the frontlines of these services. They’ve been instinctively reacting and responding and dealing with the ordinance and getting the resource out because they have a workforce and they have trucks and they have service. You know, they have people to do it. So they’ve been doing it. And it’s just really interesting to see, how do we have to recalibrate the flow of financial resources when you see who actually got the capacity to deploy? You guys.
Lisa Helps [00:54:54] Exactly.
Lisa Helps [00:54:55] And I know we’re running out of time and now we’re kind of on a rant about Canadian federalism.
Lisa Helps [00:54:59] But one at one of the things I think, you know, again, I think at least when Strong Fiscal Futures originally came out of the provincial government at the time, I think that their sense was that they would kind of lose something by handing over, you know, more revenue and more authority to local governments. But but my my feeling and I think the feeling of mayors here in British Columbia is actually, taking some of the burden away from you, you’re not losing . So I think there’s a lot of potential. Anyways, we’ll see. We’ll have our our virtual mayors caucus and see what we can come up with.
Mary Rowe: [00:55:35] You know, the first is the fact that we’re actually able to do that.
Mary Rowe: [00:55:39] Some legwork is being done, that there’s been there’s been a lot of people thinking and talking about this for a couple of decades. Right. I mean, we’re talking about a constitution that’s hundreds of years old. So not quite.
Lisa Helps [00:55:47] But, you know, like 1867, that’s where we got our powers audit being used in the world since 1860.
Mary Rowe: [00:55:53] I know.
Mary Rowe: [00:55:54] And, you know, the Canadian Urban Institute is 30 years old, and I often say that I’ve just come in as the CEO in the fall and I say, you know, cities are we’re at a different level of awareness of what what cities are in Canada, what the meaning of the urban settlement form is for Canadian for Canadians as a whole. And certainly for the Canadian economy. We’re at a different level of awareness even now, 30 years later, than when CUI was founded. So this may be the moment and I don’t want us to shy away from those tough conversations. And we absolutely are going to have conversations about how do we how do we re organize and re, you know, just reassess how we actually provide resources, because I think we as individuals want to have the best service and we want to have the best places. And so as you suggest, who’s the right level to do it and who’s the right level to pay for it? All right. Now, listen, Lee said we can’t have you here on a national program without talking about something very important, which.
Mary Rowe: [00:56:45] Bonnie Henry, yes. And John Fluevog making a shoe, the Bonnie Henry, this is a..
Mary Rowe: [00:56:53] I love these little things that emerged from these crises. And, yes, a local hero and a local crafts man whose shoe designer has made a shoe after. Now, are you going to get a pair of Bonnie Henry’s?
Lisa Helps [00:57:06] Well, I do not wear pink high heels, as you might imagine. But I can tell you that at 4:00 p.m. yesterday, when the shoes went on sale, the Web site immediately crashed. So it did. So it goes. Hey, Josie. Josie Osborne, who’s the mayor of Tofino. We were on a call with Minister Robinson at this point. And I think this is light enough that I can share. So Josie was trying to order the shoes while we were on the call. She mentioned when she got to ask the minister a question like, minister, can you fix the Fluevog site jokingly? And the minister said, well, you know, I’ve got my husband right now at home standing. Try to get me so I can guarantee you that there’ll be at least one mayor and one minister in British Columbia who will be sporting the Bonnie Henry Fluevog.
Lisa Helps [00:57:49] I will not be one of them. But, yeah, it’s a it’s a great story.
Mary Rowe: [00:57:53] You know, it’s it’s it’s it is striking.
Mary Rowe: [00:57:55] I mean, obviously, you know, we’re both women and we’re going to obviously nod our heads. But it is striking how so many of the public figures and the heroes and the trusted figures that are emerging in this narrative are women because of I guess because public health has been a career path for women for years. And there are many of them that are at the senior ranks. And and maybe it’s just important for us to take a moment and appreciate that that leadership emerges. And Lisa, you are an exemplar of local leadership and demonstrating to people what it means to actually be a mayor who’s committed on the on the ground, but also has the capacity to advocate on behalf of her residents around the country. So we’re very appreciative that you took the time to be with us today. And just note, both Lisa and I are wearing red because today is red day. The Nova Scotians have asked us all to wear red as a recognition of Heidi, the RCMP officer who lost her life earlier in the week in that horrible tragedy and 21 others. And so that’s why we’re both wearing red. We’re both wearing our SDG pin. What happened to yours? We did.
Lisa Helps [00:59:03] We do. Here is our sustainable development goals. There we are. Never leave home without it.
Mary Rowe: [00:59:09] Exactly. So, you know, the discussion continues. The future of urban Canada’s at stake. We need a roadmap for recovery, which is what the Canadian Urban Institute is going to focus on with Canada.
Lisa Helps [00:59:18] And reinvention, recovery and reinvention.
Mary Rowe: [00:59:20] Now, I know I heard it. And reinvention, recovery and reinvention. Thank you for that. Lisa, thank you for joining us. So I tell her we’ll be posted online. You’ll be able to see Mayor Helps’ discussion. And the chat will be up over the weekend. And then we start next week. And we have more of these conversations, including one on what’s the future of municipal finance. We’ve also got an all youth panel to talk about young people and what they’re coming to terms with and how they see their city. And then we have another mayor who will who will be a surprise for people. Join us next week. So the conversation continues. Thank you again, Mayor Helps for joining us. And thanks, everybody, for tuning in. And I hope you have a restful weekend. Bye.
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12:03:16 From Canadian Urban Institute: #citytalk
12:04:31 From Canadian Urban Institute: firstname.lastname@example.org
12:04:46 From Emily Wall, CUI Staff: Today’s conversation is with Lisa Helps, Mayor, Victoria, BC – https://www.victoria.ca/# https://twitter.com/lisahelps
12:06:10 From Canadian Urban Institute: Folks, Please change your chat settings to “all panelists and attendees” so everyone can see your comments.
12:07:02 From Allison Ashcroft to All panelists: Excited to hear Mayor Helps share the unprecedented collaboration but serious challenges! She hates ‘her worship’. first day in the chair, she shut down that antiquated terminology!
12:07:15 From Allison Ashcroft to All panelists: ha! told you!
12:10:48 From Sue Hallatt, CUI Staff: @allison – please re-post to all attendees!
12:11:35 From Alexandra Flynn: Lisa, thank you so much for joining. The City of Victoria and local First Nations have done a lot of relationship-building this past year. What are you doing now to maintain this building?
12:11:36 From Allison Ashcroft: Excited to hear Mayor Helps share the unprecedented collaboration in urban cities, and the very serious challenges! She hates ‘her worship’. first day in the chair, she shut down that antiquated terminology!
ha! told you!
12:15:21 From Richard Marshall: Did the City of Victoria supply the tents?
12:15:45 From Jenna Davidson: I heard many tents were donated by Victoria residents
12:16:32 From Allison Ashcroft: United Way victoria ran a donation drive for tents and gear and arranged a dropsite, cleaning and 72hr sterliziation.
12:16:49 From Abigail Slater: Every Mayor should be named “Helps”
12:17:04 From Allison Ashcroft: drugs are scarce, expensive, and cut with more crap than ever
12:17:31 From Abigail Slater: If you listen to the podcast Crackdown, you learn how certain epidemics/pandemics are totally ignored.
12:18:15 From Franc D’Ambrosio: Leveraging collaboration, blurring boundaries and steering with mind and heart: leading with strength and compassion, will be your legacy Lisa. The mindset and methods should somehow be entrenched in the future mayors’ job description and performance metrics.
12:18:20 From Abigail Slater: That statistic is quite shocking (overdose deaths)
12:18:57 From Gil Penalosa to All panelists: Leadership matters. City vision matters. Lisa Helps has been a great mayor before COVID, during, and will continue after. Too many mayors want ‘to be mayors’, others like Lisa, want ‘to DO as mayors’. Big difference. As example, in 5 years she has created one of best bicycle infrastructure in Canada.
12:19:16 From Abigail Slater: Mary…it all goes back to localization of decision making as has come up before in many of these sessions.
12:20:51 From Gil Penalosa to All panelists: No complacency in Victoria; they are good, but want to be great. They want to be the best small city in the world, not just better than Surrey… How? Equity, sustainability, healthy. Many mayors across Canada can learn from Lisa Helps, regardless of size of city
12:21:43 From Allison Ashcroft: and victoria has a beautiful equity-centred chief of police who espouses the role of servant leader and is a great collaborator with frontline orgs and speaks honestly and from the heart about the challenges.
12:25:39 From Allison Ashcroft: “Nobody is better prepared for this challenge than mayors,” said U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “I know and really appreciate the mayors who are with us now and the work that they do,” Pelosi said, adding that she knows mayors “are the first line of defense in meeting the needs of the constituents in their cities.”
12:26:06 From Alexandra Flynn: Lisa, thank you for sharing the experiences in Victoria! How is the city maintaining connections with residents, including engagement efforts?
12:26:56 From Sue Campbell to All panelists: What happens when there is so much lost revenue? S
12:27:31 From Sue Campbell to All panelists: city buses running empty…
12:28:56 From Canadian Urban Institute: To new joiners: please change your chat settings to “all panelists and attendees” so everyone can see your comments.
12:29:03 From Allison Ashcroft: Community i’m pretty sure:)
12:30:02 From Andres Assmus to All panelists: what do you think about deploying Drones’ HUB to help logistics (retail, health, last-mile, emergencies, etc) to be deploy in Victoria?
12:30:03 From Canadian Urban Institute: #citytalk
12:32:31 From Alexandra Flynn: Mayor, do you think your city needs more power?
12:32:41 From Elizabeth Jassem to All panelists: CAN YOU PLEASE SHARE MORE ABOUT THIS PROGRA, FOR SENIORS?
12:33:58 From LATOYA WILSON: definitely need representation in decision-making
12:34:11 From Allison Ashcroft: How do we keep advancing our climate targets and ensure federal govt centres cities in their 2030 and 2050 plans and correspondingly how they fund and finance the transition to healthy, resilient climate neutral cities?
12:36:00 From Sue Hallatt, CUI Staff: http://wellandtrulygrey.com/
12:38:25 From Allison Ashcroft: Can we present a solution to federal govt whereby our older 70s apartment buildings can be purchased and put into affordable housing trust in perpetuity before REITs like Starlight Investment scoop up these suffering landlords with depressed cashflows and prop value uncertatinty. if govt doesn’t buy these, REITs will
12:39:16 From Emily Wall, CUI Staff: Here’s the conference that Mayor Helps mentioned https://www.buysocialcanada.com/symposium2020 All the webinars should be there.
12:39:24 From Mayor Lisa Helps: www.ccspi.com
12:39:42 From Brian Owen to All panelists: Thank you!
12:39:50 From Abigail Slater: That link did not work.
12:39:58 From TJ Maguire: https://ccspi.ca/
12:40:07 From Abigail Slater: THnaks!
12:40:50 From Canadian Urban Institute to Mayor Lisa Helps(Privately): Type what you like in the chat! It was just while the holding slide was up.:) Go for it.
12:41:32 From Abigail Slater: She absolutely is the most dedicated mayor in the country!!!
12:41:51 From Emily Wall, CUI Staff: Please help CUI improve its CityTalk programming with a short post-webinar survey https://bit.ly/3cJjhiV
12:41:57 From Brian Owen: It is .ca
12:41:57 From Amarjeet Sohi to All panelists: It is always nice to hear from you Mayor. What are your thoughts on building/energy retrofits and what role provincial and federal gov’ts can play?
12:42:20 From Emily Wall, CUI Staff: Please change your chat settings to “all panelists and attendees” so everyone can see your comments.
12:43:37 From Brian Owen: A very engaged and engaging Mayor!
12:43:41 From Sue Campbell: Can we clone Lisa Helps? Need this strong leadership across Canada…
12:43:46 From Carolyn DeLoyde: Amazing Mayor!!! A real inspiration!!
12:44:05 From Alexandra Flynn: I am so surprised BCMC doesn’t include Victoria
12:44:12 From Emily Wall, CUI Staff: Please help CUI improve its CityTalk programming with a short post-webinar survey https://bit.ly/3cJjhiV
12:44:34 From Erica Sangster to All panelists: Lisa is equal parts thoughtful and fearless – we don’t take her for granted here in Victoria!
12:44:46 From Brian Owen: I am in Hamilton and I took a big ‘bit’ to get to that table!
12:44:46 From Sue Hallatt, CUI Staff: City of Victoria proper is 80,000.
12:44:49 From Alexandra Flynn: Isn’t Victoria THE big city on Vancouver Island?
12:45:00 From Augusto Mathias to All panelists: The Federation of Canadian Municipalities doing any coordination of this information sharing of mayors across the country?
12:45:19 From Mayor Lisa Helps to Canadian Urban Institute(Privately): 92,000 not 80,000 population
12:45:26 From Augusto Mathias: The Federation of Canadian Municipalities doing any coordination of this information sharing of mayors across the country?
12:45:43 From Allison Ashcroft: re suswtainability and affordability from Vicotria to Parkdale, we need to bailout and buy up these old apartment buildings for anyone looking to sell. Starlight Investments as one example of a REIT with large US backing, has $10B of assets under management and has bought up 400+ apartment buildings and 33,000units. just in Victoria over last 5 yrs have acquired 16 buildings and more than 1500 units. In our most unaffordable cities, we need to acquire, upgrade, and preserve these buildings as affordable. The trend of losing affordability one unit turnover at a time will be accelerated by COVID if landlords are in a tough cashflow position and concerned with how their retirement. let’s give them taxfree rollover of their capital gains upon sale to a non-profit housing provider, community land trust or govt?
12:46:10 From Brian Owen: It is great that the Mayor sees that synergy in the West, whether it be south of the border, there is a great degree of commonality.
12:47:18 From Brian Owen: I would hope that our IESO in Ontario can maintain the demand side reduction energy efficiency programs.
12:47:23 From Abigail Slater: This is a really smart idea…. let’s give them taxfree rollover of their capital gains upon sale to a non-profit housing provider, community land trust or govt?
12:47:34 From Abigail Slater: @allison
12:48:52 From Abigail Slater: These landlords need a reason to cash out at market or close to market values if they have been holding these properties for years and years and hold their retirement int them. Or the gov/city needs to prevent non-resident/hedge fund Reits from acquiring…
12:49:08 From Allison Ashcroft: @augusto FCM has set up a COVID page https://fcm.ca/en/resources/covid-19-resources-municipalities and they also issued municipal recommendations to govt yest too https://fcm.ca/en/news-media/news-release/covid-19-municipalities-seek-emergency-funding
12:51:00 From Frank Murphy: Nanaimo’s population is about the same as the City of Victoria’s, bigger by 5 or 10k but Nanaimo’s physical footprint is about 4 times bigger than Victoria’s.
12:51:04 From Allison Ashcroft: FCM urges at least $10 billion in emergency operating funding. This includes at least $7.6 billion in direct federal allocations to all municipalities, plus $2.4 billion for those with transit systems.
12:52:26 From Allison Ashcroft: municipalities are facing a minimum of $10-15 billion in near-term, non-recoverable losses due to COVID-19. That figure includes foregone property taxes, utility charges and user fees—including an estimated $400 million each month from lost transit ridership alone.
12:53:15 From Allison Ashcroft: Preach Lisa! municipalities are innovative/creative, most responsive and most in touch!
12:53:46 From Emily Wall, CUI Staff: Please help CUI improve its CityTalk programming with a short post-webinar survey https://bit.ly/3cJjhiV
12:54:33 From Sue Hallatt, CUI Staff: https://www.ubcm.ca/assets/Resolutions~and~Policy/Policy/Finance/LocalGovernmentFinance_Report_Web_Final.pdf
12:55:12 From Canadian Urban Institute: #citytalk
12:56:02 From Alexandra Flynn: Love the rant on Canadian federalism!
12:56:16 From Alexandra Flynn: Let’s have a talk focused on this issue:)
12:57:29 From Allison Ashcroft: this is a good one from Enid Slack and others The paper we did on Who Does What: https://on360.ca/policy-papers/in-it-together-clarifying-provincial-municipal-responsibilities-in-ontario/.
12:57:41 From Carolyn DeLoyde: the shoes!!
12:57:44 From Elizabeth Jassem to All panelists: such absolutely great – best interview with the Mayor! FUN OF MAYOR HELPS!! Fabulous CDI work, Mary!! You’re terrific!! Thank you.
12:58:07 From Abigail Slater: They ar SOLD OUT
12:58:38 From Allison Ashcroft: and Enid’s Op-Ed in Toronto Star https://www.thestar.com/opinion/contributors/2020/04/06/covid-19-crisis-creates-chance-to-re-examine-provincial-funding-of-cities.html
12:59:28 From Allison Ashcroft: Women invest in relationships and networks before crisis – every day all the time
12:59:33 From Alexandra Flynn: Thank you so much, Mayor!
12:59:56 From Alexandra Flynn: Great talk
13:00:14 From Abigail Slater: Thank you for the red reminder
13:00:15 From Sue Campbell: Thank you for another great hour, Mary and Lisa.
13:00:22 From Allison Ashcroft: #betterthannormal
13:00:23 From Emily Wall, CUI Staff: Please help CUI improve its CityTalk programming with a short post-webinar survey https://bit.ly/3cJjhiV
13:00:24 From Carolyn DeLoyde: Thank you so much!!!
13:00:25 From Frank Murphy: Thanks Lisa, thanks Mary.
13:00:38 From Abigail Slater: Awesome topics
13:00:39 From Mash Salehomoum to All panelists: Thank you! Always an inspiration Lisa
13:00:40 From Jenna Davidson: Thank you!
13:00:43 From Aimee Gauthier to All panelists: thank you
13:00:46 From TJ Maguire: Thank you Mayor Helps and Mary!
13:00:48 From Allan Kean: Thank you!
13:00:51 From Allison Ashcroft: Nicely done!
13:00:54 From Abigail Slater: Stay safe and healthy
13:00:54 From Samira Farahani to All panelists: Thank you so much for inspiring speech. cant wait to vivt Victoria soon
13:01:11 From Lisa Mactaggart: thank you from Guelph
13:01:30 From Sarah T: thank you both!
13:01:31 From Sue Hallatt, CUI Staff to All panelists: HELPS! sorry for the zoom bomb!
13:03:11 From Laurel Davies Snyder: Fantastic session – thank you so much. Great to see such phenomenal leadership.
13:03:19 From Elizabeth Jassem to All panelists: So proud to be a Canadian woman! BRAVO ALL!
13:06:42 From Elizabeth Jassem to All panelists: My daughter works with/for BCCDC as microbiologist/immunologist/virologist. KUDOS to all brave women, also best young mothers!
13:08:40 From Canadian Urban Institute: If there aren’t any other comments (please share links and references now if you like!) we will close the chat in two minutes.