Citing a need for leadership, first-term Victoria Coun. Lisa Helps says she will challenge Dean Fortin for the mayor’s chair in November.
“I think there are lots of things that I bring to the table that differentiate me from Dean,” said Helps, 37. “One of them is to obviously be focused on now and what we need now but [also] to be focused on the long-term picture and make decisions now that are good for the long-term.”
Helps said the need for leadership was highlighted by a recent Times Colonist article in which councillors actually debated whether to order lunch — eventually letting the matter drop when they couldn’t reach a decision.
“Your lunch article has been pointed to about 17,000 times. The culture around our table hasn’t been that functional. We’ve lacked discipline, lacked focus and lacked the sense of empowerment as councillors, I think,” she said.
“One of the things I’m really good at, if you look at every other venture that I’ve undertaken, is to bring people with a huge diversity of perspectives together and make everyone there feel like they are shining; feel like they can contribute. So my leadership style is completely different from Dean’s, and I think it will be a welcome, refreshing change, not just at the table but in the region.”
Helps has long considered running for the city’s top job. She said she held off confirming until council had concluded its 2013 business and until she had a chance to meet with Fortin face-to-face to tell him first of her intentions.
Helps, founder and executive director of Community Micro Lending, had the third-highest total of council votes in the last election, behind Geoff Young and Charlayne Thornton-Joe.
“When I was elected in 2011 as a councillor, I think my support came from a vast array of people. And I think that’s going to be the same for 2014 because my approach to everything isn’t left wing or right wing. It isn’t ideological. It’s practical and common sense,” she said.
Unlike, Fortin who is a prominent member of the NDP, Helps belongs to no political party.
Helps cites initiatives such as moving the city toward a three-year budgeting cycle, council agreeing to a property tax-hike ceiling of 3.25 per cent, and creating a youth poet laureate position as among the highlights of her two years on council.
“I think the low points are when we, to be quite honest, don’t show up with courage. When we defer decisions for whatever reason. … I think that that’s something we struggle with.”
Helps expects issues in the November campaign to “be all the things that go with running a city.”
“[It will be] swimming pool, infrastructure, new construction revenue, revitalizing downtown, strong neighbourhoods and all the things that people want for a good quality of life,” Helps said. “I think we need to galvanize new energy — startups, entrepreneurship, village innovation, neighbourhood centres, social enterprise — all of the things that have been bubbling up.”
Fortin, in a year-end interview before Helps’ announcement, predicted economic development, taxation and the environment will be the top election issues. He acknowledged that council has had several marathon debates.
“That’s healthy,” he said. “We may not make decisions as fast as possible and we may not make them with a lot of unanimity, but we certainly chew every issue to make sure every side is seen.”