Victoria mayor wants to grow the regional economy

Mayor Lisa Helps addresses Saanich Peninsula industry tour; raises concept of 'Metro Victoria'.

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps speaks to participants in the Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce’s Tour of Industry Jan. 23 at Brentwood Bay Resort. She hopes the idea of a regional economic development effort catches on with her mayoral counterparts.

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps is pushing for action on an economic initiative she has dubbed Metro Victoria.

Helps, elected last November, has been meeting with other mayors in the Greater Victoria area and on Jan. 23 in front of a capacity crowd at Brentwood Bay Resort during the Tour of Industry, issued a challenge to Saanich Peninsula and other municipal leaders.

“What happens in your mind when you think about metro, or metropolitan Victoria?” she asked “I’m not talking about amalgamation, but still, a bigger regional picture.

“Challenges we have with transportation, affordable housing and more are all challenges we face, not just Victoria.”

Helps said she thinks one approach to addressing those issues could be establishing a local economic ecosystem of Greater Victoria.

Helps likened the economic ecosystem concept to a forest, where a variety of things contribute to its overall health. In that metaphor, the Saanich Peninsula’s industrial core makes up one component, as do things like Victoria’s tourism industry and the West Shore’s look to expanding its reach into tech companies.

Helps said there are challenges to bringing all municipal players together on regional economic development.

“There’s a climate of red tape, of isolation and fragmentation,” she said, “it’s a zero-sum game.”

Helps added fear of losing something is preventing a full exploration of what she calls local and regional assumptions about the economy.

Those assumptions, she said, include:

• the Greater Victoria Development Agency is already doing as much as they can to promote Victoria;

• the more agencies the region has, the better off everybody is;

• competition between municipalities is the best way to grow the economy;

• there’s only a limited pie from which to draw, and;

• the City of Victoria is not capable of taking a leadership role in the region’s economy.

“How do we get unstuck? How do we make a plan for Metro Victoria?”

Helps said doing so requires leadership in a current climate of mayors fighting each other for their own communities. While the benefits must resonate in each community, Helps added action must be taken to better the region’s overall health.

That, she continued, will require all municipalities to put up resources to create a plan, set short- and long-term targets and form an appropriate body to champion the idea.

“I feel a sense of coming together, of collaboration,” Helps said. “We can’t stand alone and we can’t talk forever.”

Helps said she’s not married to the term Metro Victoria, for all that that brings to mind. Yet, she is hoping for action. She said she plans to meet with area mayors to discuss similar economic issues and hopes it will lead to a more robust regional economic climate.