Community Summary Report: BC, primarily Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island

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Community Partner: The Columbia Institute 

Conversation Date: December 8, 2021 

Report Date: February 23, 2022

1. Introduction 

A. Summary 

The Columbia Institute’s community conversation “What’s Next For Local Climate Action and  Resilience for Local Electeds” took place on Wednesday, December 8, 2021, following an  exceptionally tough year for British Columbia as the Province was facing multiple climate, health,  and socio-economic challenges. The conversation brought together local elected officials with the  goal of sharing best practices, resources, and solutions for tackling these emergencies in their  communities.  

The conversation highlighted that local elected officials (Mayors, Regional Directors, Councillors,  and School Trustees) recognize what needs to be done to alleviate many of the issues in their  communities, but lack funding and resources to address them. Furthermore, it reiterated that systemic  issues hinder progressive action from taking place and the urgent need for bold leadership. Despite  this, the conversation offered many innovative solutions and initiatives that local elected officials are  leading to strengthen community resilience across the Province.  

B. About the Green Resilience Project 

This community conversation was part of the Green Resilience Project (GRP), a Canada-wide series  of conversations exploring and documenting the links between community resilience, income security  and the shift to a low-carbon economy. Working with a designated partner organisation from each  community, the GRP aims to create spaces in which a wide range of participants can talk through the  links between climate change and income security and identify possible next steps to build or  maintain community resilience in the face of these challenges. 

This Community Summary Report reflects what we heard and learned in our community’s  conversation. Each Project partner organisation across Canada will be producing a similar report. In  March 2022, the GRP will produce a final report summarising findings across conversations, which  will be available to the public and shared with Environment and Climate Change Canada.  

Funding for the GRP is generously provided by Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Climate  Action and Awareness Fund. The Project is managed and delivered by Energy Mix Productions, Basic Income Canada Network, Coalition Canada Basic Income – Revenu de base, Basic Income Canada  Youth Network, national experts, and local partners 

C. About the community partner organization 

The Columbia Institute is an independent public policy think tank with a mission to foster and support  leadership for inclusive, equitable, and sustainable communities. We believe that communities who  value social justice, the environment, and strong local economies are healthier and happier places to  live. We work with local elected officials to ensure they have the skills and networks they need to put  progressive policies into place.  

In collaboration with NewStories, the Columbia Institute participated in the GRP to bring together  Mayors, Regional Directors, Councillors, and School Trustees for a larger conversation on big-picture  problems like climate change, unsteady incomes, and structural racism and discrimination. We also  explored and documented the links between community resilience, income security, and the shift to a  low carbon economy. We focused on the necessary action that these local elected officials could  implement to foster community resilience.  

D. Why this community was selected to have a conversation 

Locally elected officials from across British Columbia were invited to participate in this community  conversation. The Province faced an incredibly tough year in 2021 with multiple health, climate, and  socio-economic challenges, including the COVID-19 pandemic, the toxic drug crisis, the heat dome,  

and severe flooding and landslides. Furthermore, the Province faces ongoing housing and food  security crises, with climate disasters exacerbating these issues.  

Participants were progressive leaders in local government, with the ability to develop, share, and enact  positive change within their communities. They were connected to networks across BC and were  familiar with the conversation topics.  

E. About the conversation participants 

Participants were invited from the Columbia Institute’s network of locally elected officials,  particularly Mayors, Regional Directors, Councillors, and School Trustees. Columbia builds and  supports a network of local leaders who set out to advance progressive values and ideas, to build  sustainable, inclusive, and equitable communities. They discussed the key themes of community  resilience, climate action, and income security. Additionally, we opened the invitation to individuals  planning to run for local office in the Fall of 2022.  

More than 50 participants registered for the conversation, with participants primarily attending from  the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island.  

F. The community conversation  

The conversation took place via Zoom on Wednesday, December 8, 2021, from 9:30AM to 12:30PM.  It was structured with four 15-minute breakout room discussions followed by a 10-minute harvest of  ideas for each discussion led by Jenn Meilleur from NewStories and Kevin Millsip from Columbia.  Conversation questions included: 

1. How are the changes to your community’s environment and economy affecting the most  vulnerable people in your community? If possible, share a specific example. 

2. What are the most important initiatives or approaches you are already doing related to climate  and income security? Where are there already resources and momentum?

3. What would make the biggest difference in your community now? Where are the biggest  barriers? What do you need the most help with? What would help advance this conversation  and movement in your community? 

4. Complete the following statements: (Final summary question) 

● Something that surprised me… 

● A theme I’m noticing… 

● A question I have… 

● One next step I will take is…… 

The breakout group questions were designed in advance of the conversation and adjusted from the  template questions provided to us by the GRP, to better reflect our community’s knowledge of climate  change, resiliency, income security, and socioeconomic and environmental policies.  

The conversation was a success with fruitful discussion from local elected officials and planned next  steps for the community to continue the conversation at High Ground 2022, the Columbia Institute’s  annual civic governance forum.  

2. What we heard 

A. How are the changes to your community’s environment and economy affecting the most  vulnerable people in your community? If possible, share a specific example. 

The housing crisis has affected communities across BC significantly. “There used to be a part of the  [Vancouver] Island that was affordable, but in recent years, housing prices have sky-rocketed”.  Communities are facing rising homelessness and eviction rates. With the changing climate, “the  capacity to live outside in a safe way has been compromised”.  

Environmentally, the heat dome and climate has affected everyone, with close to 600 deaths across  the Province. “Many folks lost their lives [during the heat dome], it was a huge wake-up call”.  Seniors, especially, were affected. “How many people were in their homes, and nobody knew they  needed help?” “I’m 82 years old, folks my age are disappearing”. Additionally, there has been a  heightened awareness within coastal communities about possible sea rise and flooding and how this  will affect the housing crisis.  

In Metro Vancouver, housing prices are going up significantly and there are not enough shelters, let  alone permanent housing for the homeless and underhoused. “The Province needs to implement a  living wage provision for all of their contracts”. Furthermore, officials across the Province continued  to shut down homeless encampments during the pandemic without providing safe spaces for their  residents. Public washrooms and gathering places closed and when the heat wave hit, there were few  places to go.  

In Cumberland, the pandemic and the impacts of climate change have put enormous pressure on the  parks systems, with forests in the area destroyed from recreational and industrial over-use.  

In the Comox Valley, there were four issues raised consistently in the recent campaign: climate,  affordable housing, finding a family doctor, and protecting natural spaces. These issues were felt  across age, gender, income, and race. Education was disrupted during the pandemic as some  community members could not access WIFI or a laptop. Furthermore, this heightened food insecurity  as schools play a role in feeding the most vulnerable children.  

In Victoria, Get Growing, Victoria! provides seedlings and garden materials to citizens in need,  including people disproportionately impacted by the ongoing pandemic. In 2020, over 81,500 edible plants were grown, and 200 cubic yards of garden materials were distributed, supported by over 44  community partners that directly served over 10,000 households. 

In Richmond, thousands of people are facing houselessness but it is hidden with many living on  friends or family’s couches. New city guidelines have stated that 10% of housing developments need  to be affordable for any new developers, but some are taking over large green spaces. “How does the  community protect these green spaces while also solving the housing crisis?” 

In North Vancouver, many residents live in multi-unit housing so during the pandemic they often did  not have a safe space to go outside. This has highlighted the disparity between renters and owners, as  well as the importance of public spaces.  

B. What are the most important initiatives or approaches you are already doing related to  climate and income security? Where are there already resources and momentum? 

Across the Province, there are several initiatives that are already underway related to climate and  income security. However, more needs to be done. “[We] need to design and build communities that  allow for localization, with the ability to shop within walking distance for example” and “lower the  cost of transit [to] help climate and income [security]”. 

In the Comox Valley, a powerful and vocal group of youth, the Comox Youth Climate Council are  leading the Green New Deal for Municipalities. These teenagers work together as they are worried  about their future. “I see the resource we need is popular support”. There is also the Food Policy  Council and the Lush Valley Food Action Society. During the pandemic, they distributed food from  farmers and restaurants to individuals and families in need. Comox’s official community plan is  climate centred, focuses heavily on densification, and promotes active transportation, but it has been  hard to implement natural asset management and green infrastructure planning. “Our biggest  challenge is working with staff to try to get the kinds of changes we want down to the public works  level and into our bylaws.”  

In Courtney, there is the Warming Centre and Addictions Clinic which are being accessed by people  across the Island. There has, however, been pushback on “progressive issues” so climate change  hasn’t been a priority.  

In Squamish, there is the Food Policy Council and Climate Emergency Councils. They have  developed a strategic plan with four pillars including climate and economic development. However,  there are “challenges with prioritising highly skilled sectors for development [such as green tech]  rather than lower-income, more traditional sectors.”  

In Summerland, they have hired a Sustainability and Alternative Energy Coordinator for the district  who has “ramped up climate action work”. They have launched an organic composting facility, a solar  array and battery storage project, and a Community Climate Action plan.  

In the Okanagan, they have initiated a bioregional food systems project and the Council supports the  local food bank every year. Furthermore, they are working on establishing a food hub within the  community.  

In Gibsons, they are the only municipality that has valued wetlands and watersheds into an accounting  system for the asset management process. However, this data collection requires a significant amount  of funding to complete.  

In Victoria, the city has allocated carbon within the Corporate Energy Emissions Management Plan.  “It is exciting and ambitious” with the “aim is to have accountability and aid departmental and divisional leaders [to] understand how they impact GHG reductions”. Furthermore, the city has fare free transit for youth and there is demand for free transit for low-income residents.  

In North Cowichan, the council adopted an updated Climate Action and Energy Plan, aiming to  reduce the municipality’s energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050.  

C. What would make the biggest difference in your community now? Where are the biggest  barriers? What do you need the most help with? What would help advance this conversation  and movement in your community? 

There are several barriers facing the Province such as the homogeneity of many communities, “old,  colonial perspectives”, a lack of understanding of Indigenous rights and titles, as well as systemic  racism across policies and institutions. “How does this group, who already support these issues, speak  to, and engage with folks who may not be familiar, care, prioritise, or value these things?”.  Furthermore, there is a barrier with the restrictions in the community charter, “the Province restricts  the full capacity of regional districts and municipalities to address these pressing issues”.  

Polarisation is increasingly being felt across communities. “How do we deal with polarisation, [and]  make climate and social policy more appealing to a bigger universe?”  

Possible Solutions: 

– Assistance from other governments and agencies to gain a better understanding of  reconciliation and colonialism.  

– Empowering people from within the community to talk about the broader issues they are  facing. People need to hear there is hope and solutions. 

– Elect BIPOC individuals and historically marginalised communities to councils across the  Province for both their bold leadership and their non-traditional/ creative approaches to  working with very complex issues. 

– Work across silos and departments on large issues such as climate, race, etc. “I don’t want to  see it as a separate budget item.” 

– Leadership changes to bring in “a fresh way of looking at things”.  

– A just transition

– “Transition must not destroy communities and livelihoods.”

– Funding

– “We know the answers…Everything requires vast sums of money.”  

– Bold Leadership

– “these leaders will be elected from 2022-2026. Given our deadline of 2030  to make significant progress in addressing climate change and social and environmental  justice, we won’t get a do-over.” 

– Amplification of the issue of polarisation and how it is undermining democracy. 

D. Complete the following statements: 

Something that surprised me… 

A theme I’m noticing… 

A question I have… 

One next step I will take is…… 

“What stood out for me is the commonalities and challenges between the municipalities. How do the  elected [officials] and bureaucracy align together? [I] see the urgency.” 

“As a school trustee, I saw a focus on solving problems rather than asking if this is the right thing to  do. Expediency drives everything, [and we are] disregarding the future…Let’s forget about our  differences and get the best from everyone and have the courage to offend those who want to stay put  in their own ways.”

“Anyone’s future is all of our future in a certain way… [We need to] shift our values so that when  we’re making our decisions, we represent the values that we feel as human beings. We have a chance  to reassess our values and what we can do together if we really put our minds to it.” 

“[Why don’t we have a] progressive tax on property? We have a flat tax currently. We don’t do that  with income, why do we do it with property? It would hopefully have an impact on folks who are  building unsustainable housing.” 

“[At the] local level we’re hampered in terms of raising funds. We can lobby our governments to  change taxation. Have part of the sales tax, this isn’t really progressive. We’re not being brave  enough.” 

“[Something that surprised me is that there are] very few people outside of the lower mainland and  Vancouver Island at this conversation, which is a shame.” 

“[I’m surprised] about the issues that kept coming up during campaigning: climate change, affordable  housing, more family doctors, protecting natural spaces. There is support for these ideas, even if we  don’t hear it from our elected officials or certain other subsets of our communities.” 

“How can we bring people together that are so seemingly vehemently opposed to basic tenets of  social or environmental justice?” 

“How hard should progressive councillors push for a progressive agenda? If we push hard, are we  risking a rebound effect in the next election?” 

“[I’m} Looking for ways to find common ground. How can we find common ground and get more  people onside, even if they don’t necessarily agree on every single one of these issues? [We need to]  focus on what we unify us, like housing for all.”  

3. What we learned 

Please summarise your perspective on the key points you listed in section two. Why were they  important? Were they brought up frequently, met with contention, surprising to you or your  facilitators, etc.? Was there a strong consensus on any of the key points?  

The conversation aimed to gather perspectives on big-picture problems like climate change, unsteady  incomes, and structural racism and discrimination. These issues have been exasperated by the  multitude of climate and health emergencies that have plagued communities. It’s clear local elected  officials are aware of what is needed in their communities to address these issues, but they lack  resources and strong leadership. Furthermore, they are facing increasing polarisation as their  communities face greater hardships including homelessness and food insecurity.  

To what extent do you think your conversation built a wider and deeper understanding of the  links and synergies between community resilience, livelihoods, income security and the low carbon transition? Please explain your response. 

○ 1 – Not at all 

○ 2  

3  

○ 4  

○ 5 – Very much so

As elected officials, participants were aware of the links and synergies between community resilience,  income security, and the low-carbon transition. However, they gained a greater understanding of the  challenges facing other communities across the Province and the similarities of these issues. The  discussion added to this understanding by providing suggestions from other communities that could  enhance the Province’s approach to resiliency. The conversation also reinforced, for a number of  participants, the understanding that local governments are limited in terms of the legislative and  taxation related tools at their direct disposal and that supporting actions and funding from higher  orders of government are essential in making wide progress on these issues.  

To what extent did participants demonstrate increased awareness of climate change and their  own capacity for climate action? Please explain your response. 

○ 1 – Not at all 

○ 2  

3  

○ 4  

○ 5 – Very much so 

Akin to the previous question, participants were local elected officials who are aware of the impacts  of climate change and income insecurity on their communities. They did, however, network and  connect with other elected officials which could inspire climate action from solutions that have  worked in other communities.  

To what extent were new relationships between community partners and conversation  participants created and fostered? Please explain your response. 

○ 1 – Not at all 

○ 2  

○ 3  

4  

○ 5 – Very much so 

Participants were able to network with other local elected officials that face similar hardships in  enacting progressive environmental and socioeconomic policies and initiatives within their  communities. They were encouraged to share solutions and to connect on best practices and  innovative initiatives. The conversation also served as a point of inspiration for those attending in  terms of seeing that they are not alone by being concerned about these issues and trying to make  progress on tackling them.  

To what extent did your conversation create opportunities to foster ongoing discussion of  solutions related to climate change, income insecurity and community resilience? Please explain  your response. 

○ 1 – Not at all 

○ 2  

○ 3  

○ 4  

5 – Very much so

Participants were encouraged to continue the discussion within their councils but also with other  attendees on the call. Through sharing solutions and next steps, participants can bring these examples  to demonstrate best practices and case studies from across the Province. Participants were interested  in possible next steps coming out of the conversation and how they may continue to support one  another. 

In your opinion, what does the community need to do next to build or maintain resilience in the  face of climate change and rising income insecurity? 

This community needs resources from the provincial and federal governments to support their work in  tackling the interconnected issues raised, for example, the climate and income security plans such as  the Climate Action and Energy Plan in North Cowichan. The Ministry of Municipal Affairs has begun  the necessary work to address some of the significant funding issues.  

Local governments should promote examples of policies, by-laws, and projects that have made  headway and create analysis on best practices and lessons learned from these examples. These will  support further work to promote resilience and climate action in their communities.  

4. Next steps 

The Columbia Institute plans to continue this community conversation at High Ground 2022, our  annual civic governance forum. It’s crucial that these participants continue these discussions as these  issues: climate change, income and food insecurity, homelessness, etc., are affecting their  communities daily.  

At High Ground 2022, participants will be surveyed to identify which issues are most prevalent as we  move closer to the municipal elections. The community conversation, alongside this survey, will  inform programming for the next year and feed into how the Columbia Institute can better support  local elected officials.  

Finally, this report and the GRP’s work will be disseminated with participants and our network. An  in-person or virtual follow-up conversation may take place later this year.