Mayor's Annual Address 2020

Mayor Barbara Desjardins
Monday, December 7, 2020
Council Chambers, Esquimalt Municipal Hall


2020 has been a year! We started out with the usual optimism of our levee and strategic planning review. We then hit the ground running with significant priorities to work through such as tackling the Climate Action Plan, Climate Adaptation Plan, and Integrated Resource Management public engagement, as well as furthering the development of options for the missing middle housing, and finally allocating and making decisions for the use of the CRD Amenity Fund. An ambitious agenda to be sure. And then COVID-19 occurred.

With public health orders and a state of emergency declared in March, Esquimalt, like all local governments, set up our Emergency Operations Centre and immediately followed the Public Health Orders for the safety of our residents and for the people who work for the Township. The Emergency Operations Committee made up of staff, are truly to be congratulated and thanked for their measured response throughout the year. They closed when closing was needed and developed safety protocols for gradual reopening. The Committee measured event benefits and allowed what could be allowed safely, pivoting and weaving to maintain what services we could throughout this time.

It is important to recognize staff for their continued work through this year. Parks, Public Works, Police, and Fire are essential to the operations of the municipality. They have no option of working from home. They showed up every day and continue to show up to keep our community infrastructure running and our community safe.

As far as council priorities are going, they continue to be advanced. Council uses the vision and mission statements as our lens for strategic direction and decision making.

The Esquimalt Gorge Park Pavilion is rising from what was the parking lot and we are hopeful for completion by Christmas 2021. Integrated Resource Management is awaiting early budget approval and with the New Provincial Cabinet now in place I will be seeking an audience with the Minister of Environment to outline the desires of Esquimalt. Staff will follow up with Ministry of Environment and CRD on steps forward within the development of the business case.

2020 was a year of getting our plans for Climate Adaptation and Climate Action going. Council declared a Climate Emergency in 2020 and we are currently seeking your input by online survey. The survey responses will be used to refine the proposed actions to align with residents’ priorities for climate mitigation. This will result in a set of strategies that will move the Township towards achieving its targets for GHG reduction.

The Township has set challenging goals to reduce green house gas emissions (GHG) in the community so as to help keep future global temperature rise as low as possible. Ultimately, the Township plans to be a 100 per cent renewable energy community by 2050. We can only achieve this if both government and citizens work together for the common goal. Meeting this target will require strong resolve but the benefits of increased health, safety, and happiness are ones to work hard for.

Esquimalt continues to be a place of interest to the development community. Council has approved many multi-family projects as well as infill opportunities. We have balanced an increase in ownership and rental dwelling projects, and we are balancing the provision of housing for families, seniors, and young persons getting into the market. Affordability is a challenge for all parts of the region, but Esquimalt remains one of the more affordable areas, giving us meaningful opportunities for our residents and future residents.

The economic development work done for Esquimalt by the South Island Prosperity Project concluded and next steps are included within the budget discussions for 2021.

In the face of the second wave of COVID-19, which is showing itself to be even more voracious through the fall and winter months, we are being challenged in a way we never have been before. Individuals are being challenged to maintain what was a normal family routine, including getting children to school, parents going to work, providing food and clothing and experiencing needed social interaction. A constantly shifting situation, our local business community is pivoting to stay alive and thrive during this extraordinary time with much of their prosperity controlled by outside forces of public safety.

As a municipality we are challenged to be responsive to the provincial health orders both for those who work for the Township and those who live, work, and play here. As Mayor and Council, we must be responsive to our community at all levels to maintain their safety, health, and the wellbeing.

As Mayor, I have struck a community leaders group that includes sectors from social services to business, from DND to volunteer organizations, from our federal and provincial government representation to school officials. The purpose is to hear from each other as to what our challenges and opportunities are as we navigate through the winter. Its purpose is also to quickly bring Esquimalt solutions forward to support each other through shared learning of each others’ resources, knowledge, and needs. This has already happened in our truly Esquimalt fashion. We have held our first Zoom meeting in November and will continue monthly through this challenge.

Esquimalt, all of us are up for the task. The Vision and Mission are strong. The Township of Esquimalt is a vibrant, distinct, and diverse community for people to discover and belong. The Township of Esquimalt works to make our economic, cultural, social and environmental community a better place for today and for the future.

Going into 2021 there are truths we must face:

COVID-19 will not go away on its own and will take time to overcome.

Normal as before is not likely the normal of the future.

COVID-19 has brought significant challenges, but there are also significant opportunities.

It takes a village to raise a child and this is so applicable now. Esquimalt collectively, can and will thrive, but we must be there for each other now more than ever.

2020 was the year of cancelling and closing. 2021 is the year of creating, opening, and building our community resilience and health through bold environmental initiatives and actions, strong fiscal decisions, and weaving and strengthening our social fabric of Esquimalt tightly. I look forward to working with my colleagues and community in the coming year. I will say it again, we, Esquimalt are up for the challenges. Thank you.