WATCH: Victoria mayor Lisa Helps wrote a letter to the editor five years ago criticizing the mayor for going on a trade mission to China. April Lawrence reports.
Victoria’s mayor spent Friday morning chatting with some of the city’s most vulnerable at Our Place Society’s Day of Hope.
But in a few days, she’ll be sitting down with a much different audience.
Lisa Helps is leading a 10-day trade mission to China and Japan.
“When the mayor shows up on the trade show floor in China it’s a big deal,” Helps said.
But five years ago when she was a city councillor, Helps was critical of a similar trip.
In a letter to the editor, Helps blasted Mayor Dean Fortin for going on a trade mission to China, saying “the City of Victoria and its politicians and officials should be focused on building the local economy.”
She cited struggling downtown businesses and ended the letter by saying “how about a trade delegation to upper fort?”
On Friday, Helps said it’s not her opinion that’s changed, it’s the local economy.
“Our house is now in order, I don’t think it’s hypocritical at all, my point wasn’t don’t go to Asia, my point was we’ve got work to do here first before we start going to Asia and I feel like in the last three years we’ve done that work,” she said.
Helps says Victoria now has the lowest unemployment rate in the country and the downtown vacancy rate has dropped from 11 per cent to 5.3 per cent.
“If you look at upper Fort Street right now, it’s booming, the mayor does not need to make a trade mission to upper Fort,” Helps said.
But businesses on the street say booming might be too strong of a word.
“I wouldn’t say they’re booming but it’s positive,” said Island Blue Print owner Rob Shemilt.
Shemilt says several businesses down the street have been forced to move to make way for a new development and the shuttered windows are keeping people away, but he hopes the new condos and retail space will pick things back up.
“Short term pain for long term gain,” he said.
As for the $28,000 cost to taxpayers for the trade mission, Helps points to Chinese company U-Bicycle. She met the company’s CEO Grace Min on last year’s trade mission.
“Grace is here, she’s moved here, she’s bought a place here, she’s hired ten local people and U-Bike is growing,” Helps said.
Helps also says her time with Chinese media is worth hundreds of thousands in tourism advertising.
She will be joined on the trip by Tourism Victoria as well eight local companies and Camosun College.