Mayors in the Spotlight: A Q&A with Lisa Helps of Victoria

A Q&A with Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps on how she will handle the key issues.

Lisa Helps, Mayor of Victoria. Photograph by Jeffrey Bosdet.

What did you learn from the election campaign?

What I learned is Victorians are overwhelmingly, by a margin of 3,800 votes or so, going to support positivity over negativity, optimism and hope over fear and anger, and a vision for the future that’s engaging and inspiring.

Did NewCouncil’s negative campaign tell you this isn’t the same Victoria as it was when you were first elected mayor four years ago?

Oh, I think it’s profoundly the same Victoria. When I went around the city and listened … I heard all the things people love and care about. They care about affordability, the natural environment and climate change. At our core, I think people have a desire to hold on to those values even as the city grows and changes.

Any sense the Together Victoria councillors plan to hold you accountable for some of the more progressive elements of your social policy?

What we heard on the campaign trail is that the key issues in Victoria right now are affordability and climate change. If we don’t take bold action on those issues in the next four years, we are going to have a very different city and a very different planet. I think there’s strong alignment from most of us at the table on those two issues …

Which of the trio of controversies — bridge, bike lanes, Sir John A. MacDonald statue — have been the most politically damaging?

I would say none of them … If they were, I would have been thrown out of office. People say, “Well, she didn’t have the majority of the votes,” but I received the most votes of any mayor, ever, in recent history.

You’ve been accused of a top-down approach to consultation, pushing ahead with decisions, only to back down or apologize when it’s clear those affected aren’t on board. Will you change tactics?

That was a story from NewCouncil. This is the problem with being an effective leader working with a council that gets a lot done … We did over 200 projects in the last four years, and people wanted to criticize and poke holes in four or five of them … I think that was a story that got created and got a lot of legs.

What do you say to downtown business owners fed up with vandalism, violence, needles, etc.?

What I say is thank you for being part of the solution. They’ve been incredibly patient, generous and compassionate. But I also say that, for the first time in the region’s history, we actually have money and a plan to deal with it.

Given the recent backlash from developers to a motion put forward by councillors Isitt and Loveday to require 10 to 15 per cent affordable units in all new condo developments, what is your view? How should we move forward?

In response to the motion, council directed staff to form a working group including people from the development industry, renters and others with a keen interest. To come up with a viable path forward — and avoid unintended consequences like slowing down the development of new housing in the city — we need to first understand each other’s perspectives.

You said former police chief Frank Elsner was the best thing to ever happen to Victoria, but two months earlier you were informed about allegations of sexual harassment. How do you move forward with the police?

I’ve got a very good relationship with the police union head. What’s needed now is healing and trust building. That was an impossible situation for everyone for so many reasons. When I made those statements, I was representing the position of the board as the board chair. What we need to focus on now is, the police are woefully under-resourced, they do not have enough officers out there, they’re stressed, and what I can do is make sure they have enough resources to do their job.

I heard someone during the election say, “Make Victoria boring again.” Are we storming ahead too fast?

No, we’re really not. We’re at a critical time. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report came out midway through the election campaign. It said we have 12 years to get our act together and hold global temperature increases to less than 1.5 per cent. We’re so woefully behind as a city, country and world that we can’t move fast enough on climate change or affordability, so there’s no slowing down.

This article is from the December/January 2019 issue of Douglas.