How would you describe the last year?
I would describe the last year as very eventful and mostly positive, in terms of moving Victoria into the 21st century as a world leading city.
What has been the highlight?
Being named by Conde Nast Traveler the seventh best city to visit in the world. That’s significant because, obviously tourism is our second largest industry, but also because tourism is changing and people want to go to cities where people are living well, where they go to see how the locals live. That’s the number one question at the tourism info centre on Wharf Street is what do the locals do? This was the year that the world has started to notice Victoria. One of the other highlights, in the time leading up to the last election, there was complaint after complaint after complaint about retail vacancies and within the last two years we’ve seen the retail vacancy downtown go from 12 per cent to six per cent.
What has been the biggest challenge?
The obvious one is the issue of addiction, mental health and homelessness, and it’s really important to stress that this is an issue in every city across Canada and I’m sure hoping that the federal government’s budget 2017 has significant cash to address this. It manifested quite obviously in tent city and I think that was a very challenging situation for the whole community, from the people unfortunate enough to live in tents in such a prosperous province and country in the 21st century, and the disruption that went along with people who are needing helping living in such dire circumstances. But I’m ever the optimist, I think the successes of tent city are two things: one is the literally millions of dollars the province has poured into the region. In the past six months we’ve seen $121 million invested in housing in the region. That’s very positive. It will take a while to actually see the units come to be, but the other thing that I feel was one of the most moving moments of the year for me, was the peaceful resolution to tent city. There was no violence, there were no arrests. It was mostly the residents of tent city who were there together in the middle of the night, and I was there as well, the night we had to get the tent city shut down for the court order and everyone was working together hand and glove to make that happen.
What issues are you focused on for 2017?
Victoria is set to see a significant amount of economic growth in 2017, which I welcome. I think part of the work that we need to do and one of the things Victorians will see unleashed in 2017 is the action plan from the mayor’s task force on social enterprise and social procurement. You’ll see a concerted effort this year to make sure that we’re building not just a prosperous economy, but also an inclusive economy. I feel really excited about that. We’re going to launch the task force report in draft form on Jan. 19, so that will kind of kick off the year. The other thing that’s really significant this year is the Year of Reconciliation. It’s Canada’s 150th and the City of Victoria has declared a Year of Reconciliation, which means in some ways changing the ways we do business with the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations, on whose territory the city was founded. I don’t know exactly what that looks like, but it’s important to do that work. I think the other thing is we’re going to continue to see optimism, we’re going to see more people as those rental buildings and condos start to fill up with new residents. We’ll see even more increased vibrancy in the downtown.