Opinion: Thank You Victoria, Looking Back, Looking Ahead

Opinion: Thank You Victoria, Looking Back, Looking Ahead
Outgoing Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps stands near bike lanes on Store Street, one of her council's legacies, for which she took a lot of heat.

It’s been an enormous privilege to serve as Mayor of Victoria for the past eight years. Working together, Council, staff, residents and businesses laid a lot of groundwork during this time to prepare Victoria for the future. 

Together we helped to deliver a new regional sewage treatment plant, completed the Johnson Street Bridge, build a new Firehall #1, which is close to completion, and we leveraged City land to now have close to 600 affordable housing units moving ahead. We also adopted long-term plans to help to shape the city for decades to come including Victoria 3.0, an economic action plan, a Climate Leadership Plan, Go Victoria, Zero Waste Victoria, the Victoria Housing Strategy, Create Victoria Arts and Culture Master Plan, and more. 

And we made progress on road paving and fixing potholes, too. In 2014, the City was investing $550,000 per year in road maintenance and repair. Over the past eight years, we have consistently increased that investment so that by 2022 we are investing close to $5 million.

Thanks to all of you along the way who enthusiastically supported the ideas, policies and programs that council put forward. Your support helped to stoke our courage to move ahead, even when sometimes it felt difficult to do so. Thanks to all of you who challenged the ideas and policies proposed by council. Your feedback along the way helped to improve these policies before they turned into action, resulting in better outcomes for more people in the community. 

While I’ve learned a lot over the past eight years, there’s one key insight I think is particularly important, especially as a whole new council begins to put forward their own ideas and takes on the challenging role of leading a city in the 21st century. I’ve realized that as a species, we’re losing the ability to talk with each other about the big issues that matter – the housing crisis, climate change, reconciliation, economic disparity, racism – especially when we disagree.

We are either “for” something or “against” something, and we amplify our positions easily in social media echo chambers. I’ve witnessed the degradation of public discourse locally and globally during my time in office, and I’ve seen how social media leads to short-term decision-making. We’re losing the ability to think and act together to resolve challenges.

What I’ve come to think by the end of my term, is that it shouldn’t be so hard to do the right thing. It shouldn’t be so difficult to take action to create the future we need, not for the next four-year political cycle, but for the next 50 years. I’ve also become convinced that without a different approach to problem-solving, we could be headed down a dark path and we won’t be able to take the necessary action on the pressing challenges facing us. 

In his book, Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together, William Isaacs provides some inspiration that I hope can guide the new council and the community as they begin their work together. 

He says that there are two habits that pervade human consciousness, “Losing respect for and so rejecting what is uncomfortable and unfamiliar, and becoming fixated on one’s own certainties.” As a way to break these habits, we need to be mindful of, “The ways we think and feel – the levels of internal freedom we allow ourselves, the inclusiveness we are able to sustain, the authenticity we are able to muster, the flexibility of perspective we are able to take, and the stability and spaciousness we have in our hearts.”

My hope as Mayor Marianne Alto and council take office today, is that the community will give them the time and space they need to explore and discuss new ideas without jumping to conclusions too quickly about whether they are “good” or “bad” ideas. I also trust that this mayor and council will undertake their work with a spirit of inclusiveness, authenticity and with stable, spacious and open hearts. Leading in this way can be difficult, but it can be very satisfying, and our city, its residents and businesses, and our collective future, will be better for it. 

Lisa HelpsLisa Helps

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