Mid-term review

Ben Isitt


I hope you will take a few minutes to read this message and provide feedback – as we are now midway through the term of Victoria city council and the regional board.

I'm honoured to serve on your behalf and I value your input and ideas.

Some highlights of the past two years include:

  • Mobilizing $60-million for the Regional Housing First Program and initiating the Victoria Housing Strategy, to substantially reduce homelessness and expand affordable housing;
  • Initiating the Biketoria plan – a 24-km network of protected bike lanes for people of all ages and abilities;
  • Increasing funding for community centres and seniors centres by 50%, with annual indexing to inflation;
  • Creating a new public library branch in James Bay;
  • Moving forward with Neighbourhood Planning to improve traffic safety, enhance public spaces and ensure neighbourhood-appropriate development;
  • Initiating the Parks Master Plan and Arts & Culture Master Plan to shape improvements to these vital services;
  • Creating public advisory committees for Accessibility, Active Transportation and Food Systems, to open up local government and make it responsive to community input;
  • Providing cost-effective public services, with the lowest tax increases in the past 15 years;
  • Advocating to senior levels of government on issues including: the Kinder Morgan pipeline, climate change, protection of old-growth rainforests, First Nations rights, a National Pharmacare program, door-to-door postal delivery, adult basic education, a British Columbians with Disabilities Act, a livable income and supports for people in need, renters' rights.

In the last election, I promised to stand up for people and the planet and work hard on parks and trails, affordable housing, neighbourhood-appropriate development, support for community centres, seniors, libraries and the arts, and cost-effective public services with open government. I believe I have carried through on these commitments, though work remains to be done in partnership with you and grassroots organizations.

Today, I'm asking for three things:

  1. Provide feedback on how I'm doing and your ideas for our city and region, by emailing me at bisitt@victoria.ca;
  2. Complete the City of Victoria's Budget 2017 Survey and consider attending the Budget Town Hall Meeting this Thursday, Dec. 1 at 7:00 pm at Victoria City Hall to share your ideas on the city budget;
  3. Share this message with others, to help grow our movement for people and the planet.

Recent developments in the US and around the world provide cause for concern – threatening to undermine hard-won advances for human rights, climate action and non-violent resolution to conflicts.

Here in Victoria, we will continue to stand for solidarity rather than hate, and continue to build a community and world that supports people who need help; provides access to affordable housing, transportation, food and public services; and protects the ecological systems that sustain human and non-human life.

In solidarity,


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Supporting Local Food Systems

Ben and Rainey Hopewell at the Spring Ridge Commons. Photo Credit: Tony Sprackett

I was recently interviewed for a university graduate research project examining local governments and food security. The responses highlight current initiatives relating to local food systems in Victoria and the Capital Region.


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Improving the public realm at Smith Hill

 Recent improvements to the pathways and public realm at the Smith Hill Reservoir near Summit Park. Source: CRD Water Services

Neighbourhood residents may have noticed the recent improvements to the paths, stairways and public realm around the Smith Hill Reservoir adjacent to Summit Park. If you haven’t been up there recently, I encourage you to take a walk up there and enjoy the site.

The project marks the culmination of two years of advocacy by residents at the Spencer Castle apartment complex, who identified safety hazards along the trail and embankment at the old CRD Water Services asset. (The reservoir itself was built in 1909, but has not been used for water supply purposes for many decades. The CRD retains ownership to allow for future expansion and balancing of the regional water supply system).

Beginning with a letter from residents Eleanor and Bruce Dean, the initiative was spearheaded by retired gerontologist Nancy Gnaedinger, with support from Laura Taylor and other volunteers with the Hillside-Quadra Neighbourhood Action Committee (NAC).

With the support of Victoria City Council, including former mayor Dean Fortin, the CRD Water Commission was convinced to approve an expenditure of $211,000 for the safety upgrades.

Work proceeded over the winter and spring of 2015 and 2016 by CRD Water Services staff, who installed two new stairwells, levelled the pathway, and installed a viewpoint and other improvements around the perimeter of the reservoir. The project came in about $5,000 under budget. The costs were apportioned among ratepayers of the water supply service in the 13 municipalities.

I would like to thank everyone involved in making this project happen, particularly Nancy Gnaedinger, General Manager of CRD Water Services Ted Robbins, and CRD Water Services staff.

The Smith Hill pathways were an eyesore and safety hazard for many years. We can now visit the site and get exercise and fresh air with a sense of pride in our neighbourhood and the “upland” area at Smith Hill and Summit Park.

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The Future of Forests and Communities on Vancouver Island

IFF Policy Statement

The forests and communities of Vancouver Island are at a crossroads.

One path entails ongoing public subsidies toward liquidation of the island’s last old-growth rainforests for commodity exports and underutilization of second-growth forests – with declining jobs, communities and revenues, and harm to ecosystems and watersheds.

The other path protects biological diversity and embraces modern silvicultural practices, working with nature to grow high-quality, high-value wood and optimizes the social and economic return to communities from every tree logged from Vancouver Island’s managed forests through an immediate transition from:

(1) old-growth logging to ecological management of second-growth forests;
(2) volume-based commodity exports to value-based production of high-quality wood products;
(3) capital-intensive to knowledge- and labour-intensive processes;
(4) corporate tenures on Crown land to community tenures administered by regional districts and First Nations.

This policy statement and its lead sponsor, Island Forest Futures, advocate strongly for Vancouver Islanders to embrace the transition to a Value-Based Silvicultural Model with Democratic Land Management through Regional Forest Boards and Regional Log Markets.

Learning from Sweden, where sustainable forestry was implemented after old-growth forests had been eliminated, we can make the transition now – protecting old-growth forests and drinking watersheds, recognizing timber production and biological diversity as equal under the law, and increasing the social and economic potential of Vancouver Island’s forests for present and future generations.

Read the Policy Statement here (2.1MB PDF)

Learn more and share your views at this free public event:

Future of Forests event - Sept. 26J

Join & share the event on Facebook


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Restoring Community Use of Blanshard School

The purchase of Blanshard School by the Capital Regional Hospital District has created an opportunity to restore community use of the building and grounds, including the gymnasium

With the purchase of the Blanshard School property by the Capital Regional Hospital District, the door is now open for restoring community use of the building and grounds by Hillside-Quadra residents.

Since the school board sold a 99-year leasehold interest in the school and grounds to private owners over a decade ago, the future appeared to be slated for private real-estate development.

Now, I believe there is a real opportunity for a partnership between neighbourhood residents, the Quadra Village Community Centre, the City of Victoria and the Hospital District to provide community benefits in the public building and the surrounding public lands.

A portion of the building will likely continue to be operated as a career college for a 5-year term. And a portion may be used for construction project management for the 320-unit hospital for dementia care on the adjacent land to the north.

But several parts of the property at 950 Kings Road, across the street from the existing Community Centre and the Wark Street Park, are ripe for community use. These include the large gymnasium, which includes a stage and kitchen facilities. There are also opportunities for food production, sports and potentially a skateboarding facility for youth on the surrounding grounds of 950 Kings Road.

Working with neighbourhood residents and leaders, I am pushing hard for an agreement between the City of Victoria and the Hospital District to allow the gym to be re-opened as a public facility, with programming through the Community Centre if it would like to serve in that role. I also believe a substantial portion of the grounds at 950 Kings Road could be leased to the City and operated by the Community Centre for community gardens and recreation grounds.

Details for community use would be worked out in consultation with residents and the Community Centre, as well as a vision for the longer-term use of the land. I think we now have a real chance for an improved and innovative public realm in the heart of our neighbourhood, and a substantially augmented community facility with the restoration of the gym to public ownership, operation and control.

In the months ahead, I look forward to discussions in our neighbourhood over how we can make the most for the community out of the facilities at 950 Kings Road, and what kind of vision people have for this land in the longer term. My opinion is that any long-term vision should include a strong community use and greenspace component.

I would encourage you to help make this vision a reality and share your views with City Council members by emailing councillors@victoria.ca, requesting that the City work with the Quadra Village Community Centre and the Hospital District to maximize the community benefit made possible by the restoration of Blanshard School to public ownership.

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Victoria mayor, councillors propose regional funding plan to end homelessness

September 15, 2015

VICTORIA, BC — Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps and Councillors Ben Isitt and Jeremy Loveday are proposing a regional funding plan to end homelessness, levying $11 per household per year through the Capital Regional Hospital District to end homelessness by 2018.

"Housing is not something that municipalities should take on," says Mayor Lisa Helps, who also serves as the co-chair of the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness. "But in the absence of leadership from the federal government, residents of the region can no longer sit by as people — particularly those with mental health and addictions issues — suffer on our streets. Enough talk. Now is the time for action."

The proposal for the Regional Housing First Strategy, which Victoria City Council will debate on Thursday, proposes that the Capital Regional Hospital District serve as the lead agency, in partnership with social service providers and local, provincial and federal authorities, to build 367 units of new housing with supports, which the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness estimates to be the number of chronic shelter users requiring housing.

"We believe that this investment by the region would substantially improve health outcomes for people who are chronically homeless," says Victoria Councillor Ben Isitt. "A regional housing first strategy would have the added benefit of reducing the impacts of homelessness and outdoor sheltering on the wider community and providing an opportunity for cost-savings on provincial hospitalization, criminal justice and incarceration costs, and municipal policing, parks and street maintenance costs."

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For a Regional Housing First Strategy

Controversy over the possibility of a designated temporary tenting area in the City of Victoria has prompted a healthy dialogue over how best to respond to the homelessness emergency in our region.

Issues relating to people seeking shelter in parks and alleyways is not new, reflecting provincial, national and international trends, including: changes within the Canadian economy and labour force; a retreat by all levels of government from necessary supports for people in need, including health, housing and income supports; deinstitutionalization in mental health; and addiction issues in the absence of harm reduction and treatment services.

The City of Victoria faces the impact of these forces and since 2009 has been mandated by the BC Court of Appeal to permit overnight sheltering in city parks for people who lack adequate alternate shelter. This has resulted in growing numbers of people seeking shelter in parks, including small neighbourhood parks that lack sanitation, security, and support services, and require people who are homeless to break camp each morning and relocate with their belongings.

Victoria City Council has responded by recommitting to a “Housing First” strategy and quadrupling the annual contribution to affordable housing, while also directing staff to explore options for interim sheltering to improve the situation for people sleeping in parks as well as reduce impacts on the broader community. Two pilot projects are being explored: (1) a designated temporary tenting area or areas; (2) a micro-housing village modeled on examples in the Pacific Northwest.

City Council has heard loud and clear that many members of the public believe investment in long-term supportive housing is preferable to interim measures such as temporary tenting areas. As a result, I have developed a proposal with Councillor Jeremy Loveday, Mayor Lisa Helps, Capital Regional Hospital District Chair Dave Howe and other colleagues for a Regional Housing First Strategy.

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Happy Labour Day

Is there still power in the union? Yes, particularly when unions move beyond a narrow defence of members' interests to embrace "social unionism" in the broadest and historic sense — providing leadership for communities and a world grounded in respect for human rights and ecology, rather than the distortions and exploitations of the capitalist profit motive. Old systems, including outdated practices within labour's ranks and "me first" thinking among workers who enjoy the benefits of union protection, need to be relegated to the dustbin of history, providing the organized working class with the legitimacy to lead social movements for change here and everywhere.  Billy Bragg would agree. :) Happy Labour Day!

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Six months in review

Community bike ride

Six months into the term of the current City Council, I’m happy to report progress toward social justice and environmental responsibility in a number of areas.

The city’s recently adopted Strategic Plan and Budget include a strong commitment to Affordable Housing – including a quadrupling of funds for the Housing Reserve. City Council has also formed a Housing Affordability Task Force to identify municipal tools to increase the supply of low-cost housing for workers earning minimum wage and seniors on fixed incomes.

Alongside housing policy, the Strategic Plan reaffirms support for supervised consumption services and increased treatment beds to reduce harm from addictions. We now need the provincial government and Island Health to step up with multi-year operating funds for these necessary health services.

In terms of community services, the 2015 Budget increases funding for community centres and seniors centres by 25%, with provision for cost-of-living increases in future years, and new funding to the Downtown Community Centre.

On environmental policy, the city has committed $7.75-million in gas tax money toward the completion of an “all-ages and abilities” cycling network. This means a network of quiet neighbourhood bikeways and protected bike lanes on busier roads to ensure a child that is 8 years old, or a senior citizen who is 80 years old, can travel safely wherever they need to go in the city.

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Building a better city - have your say!

Victoria photo

The City of Victoria is currently consulting residents on the 2015 Budget and 2015-2018 Strategic Plan. This plan will shape how the city spends more than $800-million over the next four years. So your input is crucial.

  • Do you want more and better bike lanes or less action on active transportation?
  • Are you satisfied with the city's current support for affordable housing or should we do more?
  • Is the park system and recreational facilities like the Crystal Pool adequate, or can improvements be made and new parks created?
  • How much tax are your prepared to pay for high-quality public services and support to community and arts organizations?

These are all part of the draft Strategic Plan and Budget. Your input will shape the path the City takes in the years ahead.

So please get involved in the consultation process. A key date to mark on your calendar is the Town Hall meeting on Monday March 23 at 7:00 pm at Victoria City Hall. This is your chance to share your priorities directly with City Council.

Input can also be provided online at www.Victoria.ca/budget.

I look forward to hearing from you and working with you to take action on your priorities for building a better city.

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