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Comment: Government is sacrificing downtowns for remote work

Into the vacuum of remote work and virtual conference meetings, our downtowns face a moment of crisis.
A boarded-up window at a Johnson Street business in February. By encouraging remote work, the province is sacrificing Victoria’s downtown to appease public-sector unions, David Fulbrook writes. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

A commentary by the principal of Merchant House Capital, which has developed hotel, office and residential buildings in downtown Victoria.

A Victoria police officer was on the phone. Over the past three or so years, it was not an unfamiliar request.

Could we provide footage from one of our security cameras overlooking a busy downtown Victoria intersection? The officer would not explain what we should be looking for, but said “you’ll know it when you see it.”

The Times Colonist on Wednesday explained the request: Unprovoked knife attacks in the downtown.

It is not a surprise that the City of Victoria faces an existential blight of empowered, mentally unstable criminality in its downtown core. What is a surprise is the complete failure at all levels of government and local business advocacy to recognize and address the situation.

It is moments like this when democracy is undermined. When the rights of the few are prioritized over the general welfare of the many, where government falters in its ability to manage change and resolve an existential threat to our way of life.

It is particularly disappointing to see that government has the one essential tool to help resolve the lawlessness afflicting our valued urban centres, but instead of deploying that tool has elected to disregard it for political reasons.

Into the vacuum of remote work and virtual conference meetings, our downtowns face a moment of crisis.

Government has failed to recognize its leadership, and instead of bringing back public employees to the locations where we all benefit from their service, the NDP provincial government and Victoria city council determined that remote working is the new standard.

Instead of leading the way back to work, our governments have succumbed to the pressure of government employee unions to signal they are on board for a deserted and economically depressed downtown.

Remote work all the way.

While happily exploiting the devastating impact of COVID to our downtowns by converting hundreds of hotel beds into housing for the drug-addled criminal class, city council elects to increase parking costs to finance a beautification campaign to bring people downtown. To bring people downtown, bring your workers back.

The course back to a vibrant and engaging urban environment is people.

Government should lead the way, and the private sector must follow. Employees need a reason to come back to work.

It is here that initiatives must be brought forward to enhance the downtown work experience. Daily outdoor city-wide recess, campaigns around services for employees, car sharing, free parking/gym/entertainment draws, lunchtime cinema, music and lectures.

A city that benefits from such a diverse and creative business community in a location that is world-class can solve this problem, but not if government abdicates its responsibility and succumbs to the desires of its employee unions.

The future economic success of our region, economic productivity, future jobs and growth, depends on it.

The pendulum on remote working is swinging back. Remote work has issues around mental and physical well-being, work quality, value-added relationship building, and institutional continuity and memory.

It’s time for government to show leadership and signal its faith in our urban centres and call its workers back. It’s up to the private sector to create exciting and compelling work spaces that give employees a reason to come to work again.

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