Meeting Focuses on CRD Plan

With a 7:45 a.m. breakfast meeting, it was an early start to the day for elected officials and staff representing municipalities and the CRD who met on May 23 at the Forum of Councils to review and provide feedback on the CRD's Draft Strategic Plan, 2009-2011. I attended the session with Mayor Alice Finall and Councillors Chandler, Commandeur, Scoones and Shaw. Hosted and facilitated by the CRD, the day opened with two keynote speakers, Dr. Dastmalchian, Dean and Chair of U-Vic's Business School and S. Angus, Economic Development Officer, Greater Victoria Development Agency. Both speakers outlined the impacts of the current global recession and its relationship to Victoria's local economy.

The following are highlights of their presentations:

> U-Vic employs 15,000, garners about $100 million per year in research grants, has 12 faculties and is a destination university with 80% of students from elsewhere.
> The Faculty of Business currently serves 120 MBA students, employs 35 faculty, works with 670 companies around the world and has a mandatory co-op program.
> Economic recovery anticipated to begin in late 2010.
> While Canada is considered more stable than many of the world's countries, our household savings rates have declined and so has home equity (more critical in the U.S.).
> Eastern Canada has been the hardest hit, especially in the manufacturing and construction sectors.
> Consumer confidence down but showing signs of slow recovery.
> Percentage of mortgage debt per household better in Canada than in the U.S.
> Because of "globalization," economies and world markets are extensively connected and interdependent.

Focused specifically on Victoria, the Greater Victoria Development Agency revealed:

> Victoria is fortunate, with a diversity of industry, entrepreneurship and youth employment.
> The 20 to 50 age group comprises the largest demographic in the region and Greater Victoria has an average median age of 43.1 years.
> Victoria's annual GDP is $11.3 billion.
> Expected market growth for Victoria in the next 1 to 2 years is estimated at 2.5%, with an estimated 1.2% in population growth.
> Second best location in Canada for job creation.
> Victoria has approximately 23,000 public sector employees, about 12,000 in hi-tech, about 5,700 in construction, almost 19,000 in tourism, about 2,500 in agricultural and food production, nearly 7,000 in arts and culture sectors and approximately 14,000 in professional scientific and technical.

Following the keynotes, there was an opportunity for audience questions. Perhaps one of the most profound in my view was a question from second term Central Saanich Councillor and local farmer, Alistair Bryson. Keeping in mind that the theme of the keynote address was titled, "The Capital Region…Building Our Economy for a Sustainable Future," Councillor Bryson asked how we, as a region, can learn to measure our progress in relation to environmental sustainability rather than based only on economics, given that conventional economies and markets have recently failed us and we continue to use non-renewable resources -- a thought-provoking question to be sure and I observed a lot of nodding heads seemingly in agreement with Councillor Bryson's sentiments.

We then broke into small groups to review and give feedback on the draft CRD Strategic Plan for 2009 to 2011, with wide-ranging discussion and very useful feedback provided by Mayors and Council members alike. Mayor Finall, as the Chair of the CRD Environment Committee, made brief remarks to the larger audience (as did all Mayors who are Committee Chairs), outlining the need for continued environmental protection, with a focus on regional food self-sufficiency. You will recall that Mayor Finall and many of us who ran and were elected in the last municipal election identified agriculture, food production and food security as vital to the future of North Saanich.

The Forum wound up at noon, was well attended, participants worked hard and results of their written feedback will be summarized by the CRD and shared with all municipalities. Once that material is forwarded to me, I will post it on the blog, for your information. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to get in touch with me and/or visit the CRD website (link provided on this blog).