A photo essay by Ben Isitt
Ten years ago this month – in December 2011 – I was sworn into office as a city councillor and regional director in Lekwungen territory (“Victoria”, “BC”).
I was fortunate to be re-elected twice, topping the polls in 2014 and 2018 with an inspiring team of volunteers and supporters, on the pledge to “stand up for people and the planet”. I am very grateful to all those who’ve supported me – fellow elected officials, volunteers and voters.
During my decade of service as a city councillor and regional director, I have aimed to contribute in a modest way toward actions for a more inclusive and sustainable city and region.
This includes conceiving the Regional Housing First Program and championing it with colleagues Jeremy Loveday, Lisa Helps, Dave Howe and grassroots anti-poverty advocates, generating $120-million of investment in non-market housing. Construction is now completed or underway on 1,000 new units of social housing; 400 of these units are priced at the provincial income-assistance “shelter rate”, accessible to people experiencing homelessness.
Working with allies across the region, I have also advocated for protection of natural areas and Indigenous cultural heritage sites – in the Sooke Hills, Gulf Islands and Juan de Fuca Electoral Area. With WSANEC and Hul’qumi’num Indigenous partners, we secured the protection of Grace Islet, a Coast Salish burial ground off Salt Spring Island.
With City Council colleagues and climate-justice groups, we’ve taken action for fare-free public transit, beginning with Victoria residents ages 18 and under. This progressive, climate-friendly policy has now been embraced by the provincial government, extending to all British Columbians ages 12 and under. The next step is to eliminate financial barriers to public transit ridership for low-income people, senior citizens and, ultimately, all residents – funding transit through the tax system the way we fund bridges, roads and highways.
There are other examples of City of Victoria policies that I championed being embraced by other levels of government, including phasing out single-use plastic bags as one step toward cleaning up the natural environment.
During my first term in office, I proposed that the City pursue a walkway and bikeway along the Dallas Road waterfront, in conjunction with the regional sewage-treatment project. City of Victoria residents paid (through the CRD) 1/9th of the total project costs, leveraging regional, provincial and federal contributions for this high-quality public realm.
Working with former Councillor Shellie Gudgeon and safety advocates, I helped secure a reduction in motor-vehicle speed limits at George Jay Elementary School to 30 km/h, as well as new signalized crosswalks and speed reductions on other arterial roads in Victoria neighbourhoods. Safer speed limits and improved crossings reduce the risk of pedestrian fatalities, an example now being followed with pilot programs endorsed by dozens of municipalities and the provincial government.
I have also helped achieve greater financial sustainability for neighbourhood associations. This includes doubling base funding to community centres and seniors’ centres, introducing honouraria for facilitation of land use meetings, and advocating for new community centres for North Park, Downtown, Oaklands and the Jubilees as well as upgrades to community centres in other neighbourhoods.
In 2020, with food security advocates and City of Victoria staff, I helped initiate the Get Growing, Victoria! Program, activating municipal greenhouses in Beacon Hill Park to grow vegetable seedlings for distribution to residents, schools, First Nations and other partners. We had earlier introduced the city’s Boulevard Gardening Guidelines and Community Garden Volunteer Coordination Grant program, expanding neighbourhood connections, place-making and knowledge of food systems.
During the current term, I initiated the City of Victoria’s Seniors’ Task Force, enlisting the wisdom and experience of two-dozen senior citizens to craft the City of Victoria Seniors’ Action Plan, which is now being implemented. The plan identifies specific municipal actions to build an age-friendly community, guided by the World Health Organization’s guidelines for Age-Friendly Cities, focusing on: public spaces, buildings, transportation, social participation, information and procedures, and community and health supports.
I have also championed democratic public participation during my decade in public office. This has included advocating for a number of process improvements at City Hall and the CRD, including restrictions on in-camera (closed) meetings, expanding opportunities for public input (such as regular “town hall” meetings and new advisory committees), and greater transparency in budgeting, expenditures and financial reporting.
Beyond the City Council and regional board tables, I worked with social-justice allies and hospitality industry professionals to create a new not-for-profit community meal program at the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic – the Red Cedar Café – providing more than 150,000 meals to people in need since April 2020. In addition to the “pay-what-you-can” meals-on-wheels program, the café has provided direct humanitarian services to unhoused people. Acting in a volunteer capacity, I founded and stewarded this organization during its formative phase, forging partnerships with dozens of organizations, from local farmers, food retailers and community centres to agencies including the Department of National Defence and BC Housing.
These actions would not have been possible without the passion, commitment and hard work of literally thousands of community members in hundreds of organizations.
I have been humbled by the common-sense expertise of the 92,000 people who call Victoria home and the 420,000 residents of the capital region, and the particular expertise of Lekwungen, WSANEC, Sc’ianew, T’Sou-ke and Pacheedaht community members who have stewarded these lands and waters for millennia.
We are fortunate to live in a place where residents have a strong connection to the natural environment and a deep commitment to the values of decolonization, social justice, ecological responsibility and grassroots democratic participation.
As we look ahead to 2022, I am committed to continue working with you to advance these values – standing up for people and the planet – building a community and region where no one is left behind, and where we look after the natural environment that sustains us all.
It has been an honour serving as your elected official over the past decade. I welcome any feedback you may have by email (email@example.com) or phone (250-882-9302). In the New Year, I will be sharing a questionnaire to learn more about your priorities.
Best wishes for a happy and festive holiday season and a safe and healthy 2022.
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