Victoria mayor eyes increased economic prosperity for city in 2015

Two of the main projects she wants on track in 2015 are the Johnson Street bridge and a sewage treatment plan.

With a new year comes new goals, new perspectives and a chance for a fresh start.

For Victoria, 2015 will bring times of increased economic prosperity, says Mayor Lisa Helps and Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce CEO Bruce Carter.

“I think [it is] important [to] get cracking on some of the things that people elected us to do,” said Helps. “For me, it’s economic development, affordability and prosperity.”

In every area, Helps would like to see bolder action and change.

“I would like to see us as a city expand on our sense of the possible,” said Helps. “Victoria is a very very conservative place, and I would like to see us lift up our gaze a little bit.”

Two of the main projects Helps wants to have on track in 2015 are the Johnson Street bridge and a sewage treatment plan.

When asked if she thought there was hope of those two issues being resolved in 2015, Helps said, “Yes, oh my goodness if not, fire me now. No, seriously.”

Part of fostering economic development and prosperity is creating more affordable housing, said Helps.

“I think affordability and prosperity are two sides of the same coin. If you don’t have a home, you can’t have an opportunity to prosper.”

Helps added that 2015 will be a key year in moving forward with affordable housing because it is a federal election year.

“The federal government has a huge role to play in helping to create affordable housing. In 1989, the federal government spent $115 in Canada per person on affordable housing; and in 2014, the federal government spends $58 per person on affordable housing.”

Helps said she wants to start a campaign to go back to 1989 funding levels.

Besides lobbying the federal government, Helps said there are steps that can be taken at the municipal level.

“The proposal that I would like to see enacted . . . is [to] partner with 10 building owners and ask them to designate 10 per cent of their units that are already built [as] affordable,” said Helps, adding that people will not be kicked out of their apartments, but affordable units would be created as vacancies arise. In exchange, property owners would receive a partial property tax exemption to make up for their loss in rent.

Another change Helps hopes to see in 2015 is a continued effort to fill downtown vacancies.

Carter said Victoria is challenged by too much retail space.

“We need our economy to improve in order to fill that demand. Once that’s done. Then we’ll look at filling those retail spaces that are vacant,” he said, adding that the best way to fill retail space is by attracting more customers, especially in the shoulder seasons.

One of the main issues Carter would like to see taken care of in 2015 is the degradation of the Belleville terminal.

“I think we’re going to see a solution to the challenges at the Belleville Street terminal. There’s been a lot of work with the Ministry [of Transportation] to do that. They’ve recognized that there are some structural challenges they need to address, and I think they’re going to address those next year.”

If predictions come true, 2015 will bring more prosperity for the residents and business owners in Victoria than 2014 did.

“Residents should look forward to a very proactive and responsive city council and an opportunity for them to take part in some new ways,” said Helps. “And I think our business community can look forward to actually starting to see some of the changes they’ve been looking for for a long time in terms of help and support.”