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Victoria to provide $200,000 reconciliation grant to Songhees and Esquimalt Nations

Council vote was 6 to 2. Mayor Lisa Helps brought forward the idea, saying the intention is to share the city’s wealth with the First Nations on whose land Victoria sits.
Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

Victoria councillors have approved allocation of $200,000 in the 2022 budget to create a grant for the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations, demonstrating the city’s commitment to reconciliation.

The grant will come from the city’s 2021 surplus and would be included in the five-year financial plan as a pilot project, to come from new assessed revenue in subsequent years.

Mayor Lisa Helps, who brought forward the idea, has said the intention is to share the city’s wealth with the nations whose land Victoria sits on.

In a 6-2 vote, councillors approved a grant Monday that was substantially altered from the original proposal put forward by Helps, which called for a grant of 15 per cent of new assessed revenue — the amount of new tax revenue that a local government receives in a year from new development. The grant would grow on a cumulative basis each year, because when a new development goes up in the city, it brings in revenue first as new assessed revenue and then every year after as property tax.

“The idea behind the reconciliation grant to the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations is that as the city grows, the nations on whose lands the city was built should also benefit from that growth,” Helps wrote in a recent blog post.

She amended the proposal in response to public feedback. Of nearly 50 items put to the public for comment, the reconciliation grant received one of the lowest rankings of support, with 40.2 per cent of respondents saying they strongly agree with the idea and 52.8 per cent strongly disagreeing.

Coun. Marianne Alto, who chaired the special committee of the whole meeting as acting mayor, said council received a letter from the Songhees Nation saying they’re pleased the city is considering the grant, as well as a letter from the Te’mexw Treaty Association, which represents Scia’new, Malahat, Snaw-naw-AS, Songhees, and T’Sou-ke, supporting the initiative.

“I think, for me, this step today is a tangible step supported by the nations, seen to be a gesture moving beyond our words and paying the price in something that we value. We value money in our society… so if that is a value to which we adhere, then we need to be able to assign that value as something that we can share,” she said.

Coun. Charlayne Thornton-Joe pushed back on the idea that the grant might be outside council’s purview, saying, “I think this is supportable in the fact that I think the work that will be done will benefit the city overall, so not only the nations, but the city.”

Coun. Stephen Andrew, who along with Coun. Geoff Young opposed the grant, said the city should focus on day-to-day services for residents, like waste management, policing and recreation facilities.

“These things matter. This is what we’re elected to do, and the City of Victoria has already demonstrated a long, strong commitment to reconciliation,” he said.

The Grumpy Taxpayer$ of Greater Victoria had pushed for the city to put the proposal to a referendum, calling it a significant measure that requires broad public support.

Coun. Ben Isitt said a referendum on the topic would be “an extremely bad idea.”

“It brings the worst elements of all of our communities out of the woodwork and gives them the platforms to articulate reprehensible views that do harm to individuals,” he said.

When a future council, to be elected in October, deliberates on 2023 financial planning, they could decide to change or drop the grant from the budget.

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