As this year ends, Victoria will see issues carry over and still be top of mind in the new year.
Among them are how the city’s economy will recover from unrelenting pandemic impacts, how people move around the city and what a new mayor and council will have to address when they take the helm.
When it comes to businesses bouncing back, Victoria’s mayor is already seeing the light at the end of the tunnel grow brighter. Increasing foot and vehicle traffic downtown, plus the number of new business licenses and building permits being sought and approved are positive signs, said Mayor Lisa Helps, but she fears ongoing labour and housing shortages could stunt the city’s recovery from COVID-19.
“That’s going to be part of council’s big focus in 2022, is getting as much housing built or approved as possible,” Helps told Black Press Media. “That’s the number one constraint on businesses right now, they could open for more hours, but they don’t have enough workers to do so. I think the best assistance we can provide to the business sector is getting as much housing approved and built.”
Fostering the right mix of housing – from affordable units to townhomes for families – that supports every worker will also be essential, she said.
Victoria’s provisional budget includes just over $13 million for implementing the Bicycle Master Plan in 2022. Public feedback to the draft budget shows the usual divide around bike infrastructure is still present, with some wanting those funds redirected to roads and walkways while others want more cycling lanes.
For Helps, improving the city’s cycling network is an important part of addressing two issues – making a transportation system that works for all and fighting climate change. She noted that if everyone drove into and around the city, there’d be massive congestion.
“The whole point of the bike lanes is to give people who want to ride their bike a safe option to do so, and what that does is it frees up road space and parking for others who don’t want to bike or can’t bike for various reasons.”
Devastating fires and floods this year signal how climate change is here, the mayor said, so the planned 32-kilometre bike network is a key part of the city driving emissions down. Helps is tired of hearing about a so-called “war on cars” and said having diverse transportation options will help everyone get to where they need to go quicker. The $13 million is also a small fragment in terms of what’s been allocated to roads and sidewalks over the last decades, she added.
“When we build a bike network, we put in new crosswalks, new benches, new street trees – so it’s an improved experience for pedestrians, for people cycling and often for motorists,” Helps said. “This is what cities look like in the 21st century.”
After two terms of leading the city, Helps’ mayoral tenure will end in 2022. She’s not running in next fall’s municipal election but said the next mayor and council will need to tackle the issue of housing – for young families, seniors, workers and the rest of Victoria’s growing population.
“The housing supply and the affordable housing supply isn’t growing nearly as quickly as it needs to,” she said.
The outgoing mayor said action the city can take to mitigate climate change and the ongoing pandemic recovery will also loom large on next year’s election.
Helps hopes her last months as mayor will see progress on revitalizing the Capital Iron lands into an arts and innovation district. Circling back to housing once again, she also wants council to finalize the Missing Middle Initiative.
“If we don’t approve that, we’re really going to set Victoria back decades.”