By Roy L Hales
According to Paul Cheoketen Wagner colonial society has ruled over this land for the blink of an eye and brought it to the precipice of a climate that is ready to collapse. That’s because we, “have not paid attention to natural law.” We need to step back and take a look at how we can govern a place that holds regard for every aspect of [life]. For a government that only seeks to profit from the things around it, “will continue upon those lines.” He was one of the speakers at a weekend conference dedicated to finding Victoria’s common vision for social & ecological change.
Greater Victoria’s Common Vision For Social & Ecological Change
A professor of public health at the University of Victoria, who helped organize the “Common Vision, Common Action” conference used different words.
“It’s about creating a shared common agenda for people to organize around and in particular for people to run on as a platform in the next municipal elections in 2018. The shared agenda is around the theme of social and ecological justice. So how do we live in this beautiful place in a way that both preserves and protects the ecological systems that we depend upon for our life and health, and also preserve the well being of people and communities, and marries these two together in a way that is socially just” said Dr. Trevor Hancock.
Reaching A Concensus
I asked one of the other organizers, City of Victoria Councillor Jeremy Loveday, about the process behind this conference.
“There was a committee that came up with the policy document. That involved some experts in various areas, as well as organizing committee members for “Common Vision; Common Action.” Then that draft policy statement was sent to delegates ahead of the conference so they could read it. This is basically the first time this has been discussed publicly, in these meetings.
“We are so far finding a lot of consensus, and also things that need to be added. Some of the things that are being proposed are added right in the sessions; others will be added later.”
An Agenda For Social & Ecological Change
He stressed the fact that this was not the beginning of a new party.
“I really see this as pushing the needle and starting this discussion about how we can have an agenda for social and ecological change across the region and get these conversations started. Perhaps some of these people will run next year and hopefully get elected. These people will have these ideas percolating and hopefully we will find those ideas on their campaign material.”
Approximately 100 participants took part in the conference, held at the University of Victoria October 13-15. A dozen were elected officials.
The Solutions Statement – Common Vision Common Action – draft, is divided into sections with the headings : “Housing and Land Use”; “Transportation”; “Food, Water & Ecological Systems”; “Education”; “Governance”; “Inclusive Communities”; “Energy Systems and Climate Action”; “Arts & Culture”; and “People and Planet-Oriented Economics”
Each session began with a short introductory lecture.
Housing As A Right
Emily Rogers, a tenant advocate with the Together Against Poverty Society (TAPS) introduced the segment on housing.
“Everyone knows we have a housing crises. It is incredibly difficult to find anywhere to go, because there is a near zero vacancy rate and rents are through the roof. I think I saw in Vancouver that a one bedroom is now $2,000 and we’re not too far behind that…”
Consequently, “Tenants are really afraid to speak up. They are afraid to cause a fuss. They don’t want their landlord to evict them, or even threaten to evict them. Its the roof over their head. They do not want an acrimonious relationship with the person that provides that basic service that is essential to their survival. So unfortunately this results in people living in mold infested suites, rat infested suites… I had a woman come to me and there is literally ivy growing outside of her wall into her unit … She doesn’t want to say anything because, even though it is very precarious, she doesn’t want to do anything to threaten her housing …”
“A second thing is people are staying in relationships that are not working for them because they can not relocate themselves.That ranges from being awkward and inconvenient to being dangerous. And we know that 83% of the people who experience in term partner violence are women and trans people and this housing crises disproportionately effects those people when they are forced to stay in relationships forces that are dangerous to them ..”
Thirdly, when families do not have housing, children are being taken from their parents.
Every time Rogers speaks on the radio, someone will call in and the housing crises is all about supply and demand.
To which Rogers replies it is also about the decomodization of housing and recognizing it as a human right.
Making Sure Affordable Housing Is In Walkable Neighbourhood
Todd Litman, of Cities for Everyone, spoke of the need to ensure that affordable housing is in walkable affordable neighbourhoods.
“A cheap house is not affordable if t is located where households have to spent lots of money on transportation and, conversely, households can afford to spend somewhat more on housing if it is a walkable urban neighbourhood where they do not have to spend much on transportation.
“If you are a very low income household earning, you know $1,200 a month, you can afford to spend about $600 a month on housing and transportation, that would be affordable. Similarly, a low wage worker, earning $15 an hour, say $30,000 a year – can afford to spend $1,200 to $1,300 a month. And a median income household, that’s earning $60,000, can afford to spend about $2,500.”
What kind of housing and transportation can fit into these budgets?
“And one of the key conclusions is, if your a very low income household – that is living on a pension, or a student, or whatever – you basically cannot afford to own a car and pay rent. If you can find free housing out of town, you can afford a car. Or if you do have to pay for housing, you can’t afford a car.”
“The real root to many financial problems is unaffordable housing and transportation.”
After the introductory lectures, participants would break into small groups to discuss the issues in more detail.
Ignoring the materials we were given, someone used much of our first workshop’s time as a forum to express their own beliefs.
By the time the conference ended, most of us realized we needed to start with the draft document. What did we agree with? Where did it need to be improved?
The result, as the reporter for my last small group said to the main assembly, “Our group was very productive, we got through more than any other discussion group I’ve been in this weekend. We just powered through in a lightening round.”
It took six minutes to list our proposed changes to that segment, about people and planet oriented economics on a point by point basis.
Some Of The Draft’s Proposals
This is not a criticism of the original draft, there were hundreds of good ideas in the initial draft. Here are a few samples:
- Make the capital region 100% renewable (“net zero carbon”) by 2030.
- Encourage passive technologies and other measures to reduce the energy inputs of new buildings.
- Introduce incentive programs to encourage owners of older buildings to undertake energy retrofits for high levels of insulation and energy conservation, reducing energy inputs as well as ongoing operating costs.
- Create a regional Energy Services Utility, under the authority of the Capital Regional District, to strengthen innovation in the generation, distribution and conservation of energy in the region, adapting successful strategies from municipal energy systems in Port Angeles, Washington and Nelson, BC.
- Embrace neighbourhood-led transportation planning, working with residents to identify and implement priorities for traffic calming, street closures and other traffic-safety, active transportation, place-making and livability priorities.
- Include First Nations governments in local government decision-making, including seats on the Capital Regional District Board, while implementing and upholding commitments in the Douglas Treaties and respecting Indigenous rights and title.
- Ensure that Zoning Bylaws in rural areas protect and promote the use of agricultural land for agricultural production, including restricting non-farm uses of land, limiting the maximum size of buildings, encouraging the siting of buildings and services in proximity to public roadways, and providing opportunities for on- site housing for agricultural workers.
- Develop and implement a targeted land acquisition strategy to safeguard biological diversity and recreational opportunities in the Juan de Fuca Electoral Area, which accounts for two-thirds of the land base of the region, including protection of the marine shoreline, valley bottoms and high-elevation areas.
Around 60 changes were proposed over the course of the weekend and most await further consideration.
One of the proposals whose fate I lost track of, is the idea public transit should be free.
Another came from a teacher, who pointed out that one of the biggest hindrances to schools wanting to offer First Nation’s programs if the lack of had accepted curriculum.
The last session was dedicated to going further.
One of the event’s key organizers, Councillor Ben Isitt, promised, “We’ll undertake this work in earnest, send out the various revisions and definitely put on a successful event that I think will be extremely action oriented, around how do we implement these ideas and vision in the region, including electoral methods, and whatever else it will take to bring this vision about.”
Click here to see the Common Vision; Common Action draft solutions statement, as it was prior to the amendments from this conference.
Top Photo Credit: Cyclists heading towards Johnson Street Bridge, Victoria – Roy L Hales photo