Victoria has a new mayor and almost an entirely new council, after a swearing-in ceremony at city hall on Thursday.
Marianne Alto, who had served as a councillor since 2010, has replaced outgoing former mayor Lisa Helps after she announced in October 2021 that she would not be seeking re-election.
When Helps made this announcement she said she had no immediate plans for life after being mayor but wanted to remain involved in city building, inclusive prosperity and addressing climate change.
Now that her duties as mayor have come to an end, Helps is looking back on her time fondly, regardless of the hard times she endured. She is also looking to the future and what it may hold for her.
“It’s been an enormous privilege to serve as Mayor of Victoria for the past eight years,” Helps said in a recent statement.
“Working together, council, staff, residents and businesses laid a lot of groundwork during this time to prepare Victoria for the future.
In her time as mayor, Helps was able to deliver a new regional sewage treatment plant, which is hardly glamorous but it’s something Helps and council thought the city and its people needed.
Helps and her council members throughout the two terms she served as mayor also managed to complete the Johnson Street Bridge, built a new Firehall #1, leveraged city land to now have close to 600 affordable housing units moving forward, and adopted long-term plans to help shape the city.
Helps also worked on implementing initiatives such as a Climate Leadership Plan, Zero Waste Victoria, the Victoria Housing Strategy, Create Victoria Arts and Culture Master Plan to name a few.
She focussed on meaningful reconciliation, housing and climate issues on top of issues that arose day-to-day in Victoria.
“Thanks to all of you along the way who enthusiastically supported the ideas, policies and programs that Council put forward,” said Helps. “Your support helped to stoke our courage to move ahead, even when sometimes it felt difficult to do so.”
But Helps knew that not all policies are accepted and beloved by the community.
“Thanks to all of you who challenged the ideas and policies proposed by Council. Your feedback along the way helped to improve these policies before they turned into action, resulting in better outcomes for more people in the community.”
“I’ve realized that as a species, we’re losing the ability to talk with each other about the big issues that matter – the housing crisis, climate change, reconciliation, economic disparity, racism – especially when we disagree,” said Helps in her post-mayoral statement.
“We are either ‘for’ something or ‘against’ something, and we amplify our positions easily in social media echo chambers.”
“I’ve witnessed the degradation of public discourse locally and globally during my time in office, and I’ve seen how social media leads to short-term decision making. We’re losing the ability to think and act together to resolve challenges.”
Despite thinking this, Helps remains hopeful the new council will learn from the tribulations of the old council.
“My hope, as Mayor Alto and council took office today, is that the community will give them the time and space they need to explore and discuss new ideas without jumping to conclusions too quickly about whether they are ‘good’ or ‘bad’ ideas,” the former mayor stated.
“I also trust that this mayor and council will undertake their work with a spirit of inclusiveness, authenticity and with stable, spacious and open hearts. Leading in this way can be difficult, but it can be very satisfying, and our city, its residents and businesses, and our collective future, will be better for it.”