Lisa Helps has been the Mayor of Victoria since 2014. She was elected Mayor on the platform of unleashing Victoria’s potential and creating inclusive prosperity. Mayor Helps speaks passionately about improving the lives of the citizens and ensuring long term economic stability. She also takes an active role in climate initiatives which address both local and global concerns. We spoke with Mayor Helps to find out more about her work with the City of Victoria, and the city’s influence beyond Vancouver Island.
It is immediately apparent how passionate Mayor Helps is about her work, and the city of Victoria. Having been reelected in 2018, she was keen to tell us that the opportunity to bring people together and get things done while forming a vision for the city were her main motivators behind running for a second term.
Having led several initiatives for stimulating Victoria’s economy, Mayor Helps was keen to explain more about the City’s strategic Prosperity and Economic Inclusion objective for the future.
“What it means is growing an economy that will be able to withstand the ups and downs like the one we are going through right now, and an economy focused on high-value jobs for the long term.”
Helps has identified the global demand for innovation and recognizes that while Victoria may be small it is a ‘powerhouse’ that can have global influence with the technologies and products that companies in the City are exporting.
“Success looks like Victoria having a thriving innovation ecosystem where we’re anticipating and solving problems that the world has and creating products and services that can be sold in the global marketplace for addressing all sorts of challenges and opportunities. Whether it is climate change, ocean acidification, or new needs that business has in a digital age such as software solutions.”
The technology industry in Victoria, as in Canada and much of the world beyond, has escaped the most damaging effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Helps spoke passionately about the role the industry plays in a city hit particularly hard by the downturn in tourism.
“The tech sector is absolutely key to future-proofing our economy of all of the sectors ... the last results that came in from Viatec show that people are still at around 70% of their regular business. So, what that shows me is that tech can not only withstand the economic downturns, but also can create some of the solutions that are needed. I can’t imagine how high Zoom’s stocks are right now, maybe the next Zoom for the next pandemic will come out of Victoria.”
“I think that not only is tech key for avoiding the ups and downs, and creating some economic stability, but also, for innovating. The other catastrophe on the horizon is climate change and I know that there are a lot of tech companies and ocean tech companies that are working on clean solutions and there’s a massive global marketplace for clean technology and green technology so I think there’s room for almost unlimited growth in the tech sector here”
Any discussion around Victoria will inevitably involve the ocean, and there are a number of exciting companies that are working to address both commercial and environmental aspects of the waters around Vancouver Island. One of Helps’ initiatives has been to create the Ocean Futures Cluster with the aim of connecting companies on the island and helping them to deliver products and solutions to the global marketplace.
“I think that we are punching way below our weight right now in terms of ocean science technology and product and service creation, when people think about oceans in Canada they think about Halifax, and I think that there is so much going on here that before I lifted the rock - or before I lifted the seashell - and looked under it - everyone was quietly doing their own thing, but we are bringing everyone together right now.”
“We’ve had quite a few conversations with the East Coast, and it’s not an East vs West competition, we’re actually looking at in the summer at getting some of our companies and their companies together online, to say what are you working on and how can we grow better together.”
In early 2020, Helps announced Victoria 3.0, the City’s new economic action plan. This has since been revised to reflect the challenges that people and businesses will face because of the pandemic. Helps was particularly candid about the efforts that the City must undertake as a member of the South Island Prosperity Partnership to connect local businesses with those in the Cascadia region.
“To be honest I think we still have more work to do in that regard. One of the pieces of feedback we got when we were developing Victoria 3.0 was that the City needed to be more involved as a ‘champion of tech’ in the Cascadia Corridor, so we got action items in Victoria 3.0 for us to do just that. We need to be more proactive, when I was first elected we did some trade missions - one to San Francisco - and another short one to Seattle and those were very successful.”
“What I regret though, only a little bit, is that we promoted Victoria as a great place to do business with some great companies and we started to actually see the migration of quite a few people here which then put pressure on our housing stock, and now we have an affordable housing crisis. We’re working hard on that front too.”
Helps has taken an active role working with local businesses to find innovative solutions to economic and environmental issues. The City of Victoria has worked with several tech companies on initiatives that benefit both the local economy and the environment.
Eco-Counter Canada is an active transportation company that provides technology for capturing data on cycling and pedestrian numbers in the City. Their company has a strong Corporate Social Responsibility profile and is now moving beyond a Greenhouse gas inventory into ecological footprint measurement. They have take-back programs, donate to non-profit organizations, and support special events and advocacy initiatives to prioritize walking and cycling in cities.
The City has also started working with Vancouver-based RecycleSmart on sensors for their new waste receptacles. The company’s goal is to protect the environment by revolutionizing the way that we think about waste.
We asked Mayor Helps if she had any advice for young people looking to get into politics:
“The best advice that I can give to anyone that wants to get into politics is don’t be a politician, just be yourself. You will be much more successful that way. Authenticity is more important than politics.”
Her passion for serving the people and business of Victoria is palpable and infectious.
“Victoria is a place like none other in the world. We have a thriving tech ecosystem, and growing ecosystem, a growing ocean ecosystem, but in addition to that, we really care about each other here and I think that’s what makes Victoria special.”
We asked Helps if she could go back to being 21 years-old, what would she tell herself:
“I would say - your impatience is good, don’t lose that. Sometimes people say that I'm too ‘fire, ready, aim’ instead of ‘ready, aim fire’. My advice would be don’t change that. Don’t listen to people when they say you are moving too fast, that’s how things get done. There is too much to be done in the world to slow down.”
You can find out more about Mayor Lisa Helps here: https://lisahelpsvictoria.ca/