Tomorrow is election day. The race is close. Every vote will count. I urge each of you to make time to carefully choose the next Victoria City Council. I hope I am among your choices.
With less than 24 hours to go before voting day, I find myself reflecting on these last three years, and the incredible opportunities I’ve had as a city councillor. It’s a unique position, and though it likely sounds guileless, it’s a touching and special experience to be one of 9 people making decisions on issues that affect more than 80,000 daily lives.
I believe that I’ve worked hard to accomplish chunks of what I think is a vision shared by many – that we really can have a more affordable, equitable and inclusive city. You can get things done when you approach the job in a pro-active way, as a series of opportunities to act that you just can’t miss. With that in mind, I managed to make progress on all the pledges I made in 2011.
I wanted to work for more affordable housing (Council approved new housing across the city), to open up government through accessible data systems and webcasting (which are now all online and expanding), and increase – and better organize – services for our city’s most vulnerable people – the ones whose quality of life is the best measure of our collective caring (after 2+ years of collaborative work with VIHA/IH, VicPD and service providers, the H2R project is underway). And I thought I could moderate tax increases (now capped at no more than 3.25%) and look for new city revenues (fee-based branding). In all those promises, change happened for the better, and I am proud to have been an instigator of that change.
Sometimes there were unpredicted chances to make a difference, and when those came along, I seized the opportunity to make something happen. There are a few of which I’m really proud, like persuading council to set aside $250,000 in matching funds for Victoria High School upgrades, and making sure Victorians could express their views on amalgamation by putting a non-binding question on Saturday’s ballot.
Because I believe that Victorians want to treat our sewage, and as I saw the regional model stumble and fail, I initiated a Victoria ‘Plan B’ – an analysis of what a local sewage option might be.
Victoria is such a mobile city, with so many residents committed to active transportation (which as a kid I called ‘riding my bike’ or ‘walking’) it was exciting for me to be able to expedite completion of cycling, pedestrian and road improvements around the community, and through my work with the Victoria Regional Transit Commission, to increase bus service throughout the region.
But two of my most thrilling moments came in truly unexpected opportunities. First, when I worked with a series of individuals to bring to city hall Carey Newman’s extraordinary Witness Blanket, which showcases the incredible stories of those First Nations people who survived, and triumphed over, residential schools. Second, thinking that, if this was my one shot at the regional table, one thing I would like to look back on and see some measure of success is bringing First Nations to some table of decision-making. So I brought a resolution to the CRD, and persuaded the Board to invite First Nations into regional governance.
As an aside, that last action was what persuaded me to throw my hat back in the ring for a seat on the CRD – I want to be there to shepherd the First Nations governance project, to make sure it isn’t lost in the melee of competing local interests. I believe that it is generous of First Nations to even consider participating with a regional government – it seems an unbalanced table for a nation to be on par with a region – but it’s a first step.
While these local accomplishments are ones which I’m gratified to have championed, its also, I think, important to remember that a local government can have a key voice on issues larger the city or region. So, occasionally, I brought some strategic issues to the table, and persuaded City Council to take a stand on progressive public policies like public pension reform, a provincial social policy framework, and a call for increased welfare rates, $10 a day childcare and a national housing strategy.
All together, I look back and think what an amazing opportunity I’ve had, and how all these examples (among so many more – too many to list or sometimes remember!) show what a progressive, pro-active city councillor can accomplish.
Each time I swipe my key card across the scanner to enter city hall after hours, I laugh a bit, and think – how incredibly lucky am I to have had this chance to help shape my community.
Thank you for the opportunity.