With just under one month to go until British Columbians head to the polls for municipal elections, two councillors vying for the mayor’s chair have released some of their key priorities if elected.
On Wednesday, Stephen Andrew announced his plan to address Greater Victoria’s family doctor shortage.
Andrew said that the region, like the rest of British Columbia, has seen clinics close their doors as doctors complain that the overhead for keeping a clinic running is too high, coupled with a high cost of living.
While Andrew noted that local governments are somewhat limited in how they can help attract and retain family doctors, he pledged that if elected, he would enact a plan to provide new doctors with no or low-rent clinic space and property tax exemptions.
Under B.C.’s Municipal Act, local councils cannot provide direct incentives to privately owned businesses, which clinics are considered by the B.C. government. Andrew says he’d change that by deeming any new primary care clinics a public amenity through land use requirements. The city would then work with non-profits, who will in turn lease the space at low or no-cost rent.
“One of the major issues that we deal with council is that we are in charge of land use,” the councillor told reporters at a campaign event in James Bay Wednesday. “And if land use can be used to ensure that we have doctors in Victoria, to deal with the thousands of patients that don’t have a GP right now, I think that’s a good move.”
Andrew says the number of doctors he thinks the plan will bring into the city depends on the number of clinic spaces the city could obtain.
“I think at least there must be five or six doctors across the country that are looking to come to Victoria, and to know that they can now find a place with low- to no-cost rent for a period of time, I think is really going to help,” he said.
Andrew has released more of his campaign platform, “A Victoria for Everyone,” on his website, promising a mayor’s task force to tackle the city’s crime rate, improve housing through a renters rights program and fast-tracking of home builds and a pledge to make Victoria the most accessible city in Canada by reopening Beacon Hill Park and Clover point, and removing barriers to accessibility throughout the city.
Alto releases ‘City for Everyone’ platform
Meanwhile, mayoral candidate Marianne Alto released her campaign platform Thursday, identifying six “interconnected and mutually supportive areas of opportunity” that would form her agenda if elected.
The ‘A City for Everyone’ platform includes a laundry list of items under topics like housing, well-being, the economy and reconciliation.
Among her key promises is one to reconsider the Middle Missing Housing Initiative, which was referred by the current council to the virtually brand new council that will be elected on Oct. 15.
Alto voted against delaying a decision on the policy, which would cut red tape for rezoning single-family homes to add denser housing options in the midst of a crisis, saying action is needed now.
“I would hope that what we want to do as a council…is to try and seize every opportunity we have at our disposal to manage the change that is inevitably coming,” she said during the Sept. 8 council meeting.
Alto’s other housing goals include creating a city land bank program in order to purchase land for affordable housing projects, redevelop the Evergreen Terrace lands, complete the Douglas Corridor comprehensive plan and provide incentives for purpose-built rentals like a limited property tax holiday.
The councillor also promises housing, financial and practice incentives for health professionals to address the doctor shortage, as well as advocacy for harm-reduction services and safe supply to combat the growing number of poisoned drug-related deaths.
As for public safety, a mounting concern for many Victorians, Alto pledged to pour more money into civilian-led crisis response teams and what she calls “focused funding” for community policing.
The platform also contains plans Alto says would strengthen the economy through the implementation of the ‘Victoria 3.0’ action plan, which would protect industrial and manufacturing lands, revamp the Victoria Conference Centre and the realization of a long-discussed arts and innovation district in northwest downtown, centred on the former Capital Iron lands.
“It’s the kind of city I’ve worked hard to foster every day as a Councillor,” Alto said in a news release. “Now, if elected Mayor, I’m ready to lead the kind of balanced, sustainable and thoughtful change that Victoria residents and business people tell me over and over again that they want and need.”
Alto touted her 12 years of service on Victoria council, saying she’s confident she can deliver on her platform promises.
“That means bringing people together in common purpose. It means understanding what makes this city work, balancing present and future needs, making difficult decisions that serve Victorians now and tomorrow,” she said. “Leaders need to lead. They must listen, examine, consider, review, compare and think for themselves. All that takes experience.”
The City of Victoria will see a historic shake-up after this October’s election. Only current councillor Ben Isitt is seeking re-election on council, and with Mayor Lisa Helps bowing out of her role, it means Victorians could see an entirely new slate of fresh faces this fall.