Deepa Pillay remembers arriving in Victoria two years ago. “I was struck by the lack of diversity,” she says. ”I knew there were other cultures in Victoria. But why couldn’t I find them? At networking events, I was often the only person of colour in the room. This made me shy away from events altogether. And as welcoming as my employer was, I still felt the challenge of integrating into my new community. From the language to the food to the healthcare system, everything is different from India. The added layer of not knowing anyone made things even more difficult.”
Pillay, a communications specialist, felt that part of making new friends and integrating into Canadian society involved contributing to her community in a meaningful way. It is why she joined the Steering Committee for the City of Victoria’s Participatory Budgeting Initiative. And it is why she’s excited about its latest project, investing $50,000 in projects benefiting new immigrants and refugees in Victoria.
Creating a Welcoming Environment for Newcomers
Close to 20 per cent of Victoria’s population are newcomers, or people who are new immigrants or refugees to Canada who have settled in Victoria, according to the 2016 census. They face significant social and economic barriers to integration into the community and Canadian society, which is why the 2020 Participatory Budgeting Initiative has chosen to focus on projects that foster diversity and inclusion.
Anyone with an idea for a project or activity that will enhance or enrich the lives of newcomers in greater Victoria is invited to apply online at engage.victoria.ca/participatory-budgeting by July 31, 2020.
“This is a great opportunity for the Victoria community to get involved and create solutions that will make things easier for newcomers,” says Pillay.
“This year we are turning our attention, energy and resources to newcomers, while also increasing participation in an exciting form of democracy,” says Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps. “We’re encouraging residents from all walks of life to get involved and bring forward creative project ideas that foster a welcoming city for those getting a new start in our community.”
Diversity and Inclusion Focus of Participatory Budgeting Initiative
A City of Victoria media release says Participatory Budgeting is an “innovative, democratic process that gives the entire community the opportunity to participate and decide how to invest a portion of the City budget. Community voting will determine the top projects for funding.”
This year’s citizen-led volunteer Participatory Budgeting Steering Committee is being coordinated by the Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria and includes 20 community volunteers and one City staff liaison.
Projects can be put forward by an individual, groups, or non-profit organizations. All projects must take place within the City of Victoria and must benefit newcomers. Proposals can include art installations, projects that address issues of racism and discrimination, events to build a culturally-inclusive community or anything else designed to benefit newcomers in Victoria.
Immigrants Provide Fresh and Engaging Perspectives
“Newcomers enrich our communities and a welcoming city is not just welcoming of newcomers, but of all: as an inclusive, diverse, resilient and connected city. Projects like Participatory Budgeting help us create a city in which everyone is welcome, and everyone is able to participate — economically, socially, culturally and politically – in the ongoing evolution and direction of Victoria,” says Victoria City Councillor Sharmarke Dubow.
After a successful pilot project in 2017, the City committed to three more years of Participatory Budgeting. So far, 11 community-led projects have received $110,000.
Pillay says they wanted to ensure an easy application process “making it accessible to anyone who is interested in participating. We are putting it out to everyone — if you have an idea on how we can make Victoria more welcoming towards new immigrants and refugees, make sure you submit a proposal!”
Participatory Budgeting Learning Events
The Steering Committee and City staff will co-host a series of web-based learning events for residents and organizations interested in submitting a proposal. These take place on Tuesday, July 7 from 5 – 7 pm and repeat on Saturday, July 11 from 10 am – noon.
Learn more and RSVP at engage.victoria.ca/participatory-budgeting