For those of you who haven’t met me on your doorstep, you may want to know where I stand on some of the current affairs in Victoria. Following are answers to some of the more common questions I am being asked:
What are you doing to support our economy?
I support building a strong economy built by small businesses, academia, and government because it is linked with good health outcomes and a happier city for everyone.
Victoria’s most important economic drivers are high technology companies with tourism continuing to play an important role. The draw for high tech employees and tourists is the charm and collection of daytime and evening vibrancy of our “Old Town”, downtown and our commitment to social and sustainable business models. This is our competitive advantage over outlying communities.
Over the last few years, operating a small business is getting increasingly difficult in Victoria. Costs are exceedingly high due to increasing property taxes, increasing employee wages, costs associated with transforming business practices to be more sustainable, and competition from large urban centres outside the City.
I have spent time listening to small business leaders in Victoria. They are frustrated. Many say they can’t take one more ‘hit’ to their business. The City needs to make it easier and more attractive to do business in Victoria.There needs to be more incentives and removal of barriers for both new and established businesses. Creating an outdoor patio should not take months for regulatory approval. We need more life on our streets. The nature of commerce is changing, and our City needs to keep up.
The City needs to continue and strengthen incentives for start-up businesses and help mentor and guide new entrepreneurs through the onerous process of setting up a business. Lastly, and potentially most importantly, City Council needs to have strong relationships with new and established business owners when making decisions that will impact them.
What are your thoughts on the bike lanes?
A healthy city is one that helps people of all ages and abilities get to work, school, and around the city in efficient and effective ways; this includes a network of safe streets, public transit, bike lanes, multi-use pathways, secure intersections, and well-maintained roads and sidewalks.
I am so glad that we are building our city so that people of any age and ability can maneuver around Victoria. Dedicated and protected bike lanes are a welcome addition to our transportation network. Unfortunately, these lanes have become controversial, creating a pressure point for frustrated residents and business owners. And the intersections have become quite unsafe. No matter how we get around, we are all experiencing new ‘rules of the road’ (especially at intersections).
The City needs to do a better job at ensuring safety on the roadways. I am concerned about the number of people who have told me that they have almost been hit or have almost hit someone, either as a pedestrian, cyclist or driver. The City needs to pay better attention to these intersections, and it’s not just in the short-term as ‘we’ get used to it. Victoria will always have many visitors who will want to use our multimodal transportation options and the intersections need to be as safe and intuitive for a first-time user as it is for an experienced user. It is important that we continue to invest in sustainable, multimodal transportation options – and that includes improved walkways, increased public transit and bike lanes, with particular focus on when these different options intersect.
Where do you stand on the Crystal Pool Replacement Project?
We need to take action on Crystal Pool and build a new facility to serve residents in the North Park and downtown neighbourhoods.
We need to move forward with the best plan and not start over again…again. This has been a tug-of-war since 2003, and likely will continue to be until Council takes the decisive step and commits to moving forward. Actions of the past several years have created divisiveness in our city; we do not need to prolong the struggle. Residents of the City want and need a new Crystal Pool and Fitness Centre facility.
If a new site (outside of Central Park) will be more likely to pass a referendum and obtain senior government funding, I absolutely support that move. It is hard to imagine Central Park being as vibrant without any facility, especially the beautiful vision expressed in the current proposed design of the new facility. At the end of the day, I am very excited that we will have a much needed community facility and public amenity so close to where more and more people are making their homes in Victoria.
What are your thoughts about the police?
As a nurse, I understand the complexity of front-line work, and support front-line workers.
Many of you have asked about Bylaw enforcement and Police presence as one way to help our community feel safer again. In early February I went on a Friday night shift ride-along with Vic PD and saw first-hand how most calls required Police assessment as an element of criminality or social disorder was possible.
As we drove around, I noticed how skilled the Constables and Sergeants were at preventing situations that have the potential to escalate into an unsafe situation. The hidden aspect of Policing is the number of crimes they prevent by being proactive and present. Victoria Police are working to keep our streets safer. They are responding to 9-1-1 calls as the most appropriate first responder to assess and triage the issue. However, in many instances a Police Officer is not the most appropriate for managing wellness checks and other non-criminal matters that would be better handled by social workers and mental health experts. We need to take a more supportive and holistic view of how to identify and support vulnerable populations (those experiencing homelessness, addiction and complex mental health challenges), and work with the Provincial and Federal governments to increase timely therapeutic interventions.
I often hear that residents and visitors are feeling less safe in the city, particularly in the downtown core and around shelters. I am also hearing clearly that business owners and employees are experiencing a higher level of disruption and crime in their day-to-day lives. At the same time, Victoria Police Department is experiencing higher numbers of calls and has less ability to respond to the less-urgent calls in a timely manner.
Our current system for keeping the streets safe for everyone isn’t working. Monitoring and tracking criminal activity is important for everyone’s safety; I was pleased that the Victoria Police Department budget was approved this fiscal year and that Victoria Police will increase presence in downtown after concerns raised by businesses.
Do you support an increase in wages for City Councillors?
People need to be compensated for the work they do relative to the risk and responsibility they hold.
As a Manager myself, I do not go into contract negotiations lightly. It is a rigorous process of ensuring that my team is providing the right services with the right people and we are doing it well. The compensation for the staff who are doing that job needs to be competitive and adequate to attract the right talented professionals. As it relates to the statement about Council salaries, I would expect the same process. A review of City of Victoria Council salaries is scheduled for 2021, and won’t go into effect until after the 2022 election. I like that plan and look forward to seeing the recommendations for the appropriateness of salaries at that time.
What will you do about the (non) affordability of housing in Victoria?
I am committed to affordable, safe housing being a reality for everyone. People who work in Victoria should be able to afford to live in Victoria.
Housing is a basic right, not a luxury. The majority of Victoria’s residents are renters. The city also has a strong homeownership base, but it isn’t growing because we are in an affordability crisis. And this crisis threatens the health and economic well-being of our residents and small business owners. We need to act faster to solve this one.
It shouldn’t be so hard to create affordable housing. Other municipalities in BC have found and are employing effective solutions. We need to create an inventory of price controlled (non-market priced) units (both rental and ownership) that matches the need of residents who work in Victoria, who earn in the lower to mid-income bracket. This approach has proven to work in reducing the impact of market forces, which for the past few decades have driven the price out of range for local residents.
There is a lot of development going on in the City. How do you want to see the City grow?
Our physical environments need to be built to promote social cohesion and protect our mental health and well-being.
The City of Victoria has an Official Community Plan (2012) that directs how our City likely needs to grow over the next 22 years. Though there will likely be occasion to think critically about some of the details when making decisions for development in some areas, it is a blueprint that needs to be regarded as an agreement, as a commitment to the community. I acknowledge that we will all continue to see major developments for the coming decade and beyond. I understand for many residents that this is changing their experience of their neighbourhoods and is upsetting.
Due to the ageing infrastructure and housing in parts of the city (much of Victoria’s rental housing stock was built in the 1960s and 1970s), neighbourhoods cannot be totally ‘preserved’, but the character, streetscapes and livability of neighbourhoods can be protected and enhanced for residents. An increase in density will also be achieved since today’s suite size is smaller than the suite sizes of 40-50 years ago when much of our rental housing was built. When it comes to types of developments, I want to make sure that we are also ensuring that we continue to diversify our housing stock, so that there are more options for all types of residents to stay in Victoria. And we need to have the community spaces, services, and facilities that bring people together in our neighbourhoods.
I would like to see more support and fewer restrictions for homeowners to upgrade and convert their homes to have more options for rental income. The current Housing Strategy, as well as the priorities for 2020 are positive. We also need to continue to create attractive options for homeowners who want to downsize and are looking for something that may only be affordable for a narrower number of families.
Where do you stand on the indigenous protests that have been happening locally and across Canada?
I am thankful that we live in a country where we have the right to protest peacefully.
What’s important to me is that the people of Victoria are supportive of peaceful protests and are engaged in the journey of Truth, Justice and Reconciliation. The current issues are not something that can be solved at the local level, but we need to show support and understanding for everyone who is impacted locally. We cannot make villains out of each other and expect to be able to move forward in a positive way. I am glad that at every level of government we are looking at meaningful reconciliation and the City of Victoria has a plan to address what we are able to, locally.