As you can see in the top corner, I am very much involved with the Open Victoria campaign. I also write this blog because I like to and it is an expression of my opinion.
So why Open Victoria?
Lack of Consultation with the Public
Much of my professional work is connected to consultation between government and the public/First Nations/communities/business. I know from experience that most municipal governments are not good at consulting with the public but I have rarely seen anything quite as bad as the last three years of City of Victoria. I have no end of examples but I will only quickly focus on two.
First is the Johnson Street Bridge. I am someone that is not a fan of the existing bridge and should have been supportive of the move to a new bridge, but the process involved in the decision making was not open and transparent. There was also no attempt early on to find out what the public thinks and if it is possible to integrate that input.
Second is the Official Community Plan. I have seen good OCP processes, they tend to be rare in BC. What Victoria has done gives me no impression that the input they did get in the process was used. Even then, the way the process was created, the results of the OCP were entirely predictable. I could write reams about this.
From what I know of the four candidates from Open Victoria. they are driven by an interest in really hearing the public.
Lack of Priorities
The last three years has seen the City of Victoria suddenly have new priorities on a regular basis. Two of these were the Johnson Street Bridge and the Traveller's Inns. There is a lack of a consistent plan or vision from council.
Dean Fortin in his election material very much reflects that. I do not get the sense of a vision for the future. I actually get no idea why Dean Fortin wants to be elected other than to keep the "Momentum Going", which is the one thing this council does not have. It does all sorts of things, but there is no plan behind it.
Almost three years ago Simon Nattrass pointed out to me how bad the City finances were. I had not honestly paid that much attention and let it stay off of my radar till this year. Open Victoria has a lot about this.
I look at the existing budget and the projections into the future and all I see is an unsustainable future. Costs can not keep rising significantly faster than the rate inflation forever, it has to stop and can either done thoughtfully or done via crisis. Based on the last three years of the council, the re-election of Dean Fortin and "Keeping the Momentum Going" is headed to the crisis.
The operational budget is bad enough, the capital budget is simply catastrophic. The City of Victoria has not been putting enough aside for many years, this goes back to before Dean Fortin being elected mayor. The capital projects the City has to do over the next five years is staggering and there is not the money nor ability to borrow enough to pay for the projects.
Finally, the City could be on the verge of a major property tax problem. If the commercial lease rates fall in the City, the assessed value of the commercial properties will fall. Any shortfall will have to made up by residential properties. I do not think there will be a major fall in the 2012 values that come out on January 1st, but unless many more vacant store fronts are not filled by July 1st, there will be a significant drop in commercial values.
The final reason I like Open Victoria is because of the candidates.
Paul Brown brings more experience of the type we need for the City than ever before. For years he has been advising and training senior civil servants in BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Washington other Pacific Northwest states on financial management, governance and risk management. When we are headed towards a fiscal wall, this is the guy you need.
As you all should know, I am very political person. Paul is not a political person. The people who knows are not MLAs or MPs but the most senior government bureaucrats. If anyone is going to be able to provincial help of Victoria, it is Paul.
Aaron Hall is this interesting combination of real estate agent, geek and foodie. He is also passionate about this City in a way few other people are. His generations long family roots in the City of Victoria means he has a longer civic memory to call on than almost anyone I know.
Aaron is also thoughtful and realistic about what is possible.
Linda McGrew is young but it would take too many much time to explain everything about her. Just a few points, she started two successful business, learned to speak Mandarin, and is a Green. Linda thinks outside the box and does not accept that something is not possible. She will challenge the status quo of how things work in City Hall.
Sukhi Lalli is someone who has been active day in and day out in his community. The list of boards and such is too long to list. He has done this for thirty or more years because it was what needed to be done and not because he wanted recognition. He also seems to have the best understanding of the situation of the business community downtown of anyone running. Sukhi wants to address the root issue of the problem, poverty.