“It is in the shelter of each other that people live.” (Irish Proverb)
It’s funny how traveling away from home, celebrating the Christmas and New Year holiday season or lying in bed with the flu can provide the luxury of some time for personal reflection. The end of 2015 found me experiencing all three. I also discovered the quotation above, an Irish proverb that seems particularly apt at this time.
As for traveling, once again, the best part of visiting other places was coming back home. Travel can create new awareness and deeper appreciation of where and how we live, of what it really means to enjoy our quality of life here on beautiful Southern Vancouver Island.
I realize how fortunate we are to live in the Capital Regional District, close to cherished family and many good friends, and like others, I welcome another year as a time for fresh starts, new beginnings and future plans.
On the plus side, we enjoy unmatched wide open natural spaces and stunning landscapes that can take your breath away. We can explore marine coastlines, forests, mountain ranges, wildlife habitats and, as a result, freely participate in a wide range of recreational activities. The majority of us live in active and vibrant communities, safe and friendly neighbourhoods and our children have access to good schools. We have high quality local health care, diverse employment opportunities, vibrant universities and colleges, and networks of strong organizations, agencies and volunteers facing everyday challenges and meeting everyday needs. Our urban transportation woes pale in comparison to the congestion and crush of traffic and people in many other international cities (yes, I know it’s all relative) and our standard of living is among the highest in the world.
Like most locations across the globe, our region faces its own set of ongoing social, economic, financial and environmental challenges but, through collective action and the privileges of living in a democracy, we are able to elect community leaders who are dedicated to making meaningful contributions to addressing such challenges. They work hard to make sure that local and regional governments (governments closest to the people) are responsive and accountable in their delivery of services and programs.
On the minus side, the complexity of competing regional challenges and issues can be difficult to tackle and solve. For instance, how can we effectively:
- eliminate inequality, chronic poverty and homelessness?
- create greater accessibility for those who need and want stable housing options that are affordable?
- develop and implement a regional sewage treatment plan?
- spur economic growth that benefits individual communities and the region?
Admittedly, not all of these challenges and issues are the sole responsibility of local and regional governments; provincial and federal governments must step up to build new partnerships that include community consultation and greater cost-sharing. In the last ten to fifteen years, downloading, offloading and devolution by senior governments have taken a toll on local budgets and resources, with many smaller communities struggling to cope with ever-increasing public demands and expectations. I think most of us would agree, therefore, that senior governments should play a more significant role in supporting local communities and municipalities.
To mark the beginning of another new year, many of us involved in our communities share hopes and wishes for the coming twelve months and, in keeping with this tradition, the following is a list (not exhaustive by any means) of my top ten regional priorities for 2016:
- Solving Chronic Poverty, Homelessness and Inequality (through compassion, acceptance and care)
- Deciding on an Acceptable Sewage Treatment Plan (tertiary, innovative, waste to energy, cost-effective and aligned with the new federal government’s climate change goals for the environment — this region and taxpayers should settle for nothing less)
- Continuing to Pursue Policy Decisions that Address Housing Affordability and Availability
- Welcoming Syrian Refugee Families to Our Region (and all newcomers)
- Continuing to Make Decisions that are Timely, Fair and in the Best Interests of the Public
- Working Together to Achieve Goals of Better Transparency and Public Accountability in Local and Regional Decision-Making
- Collaborating with Local First Nations and Indigenous Communities on Topics of Mutual Concern and Interest
- Ensuring that the Needs of Children, Youth, Families and Seniors are Well Integrated into Social and Economic Planning
- Promoting the Benefits of Volunteerism
- Enhancing Support of Local Agriculture, Local Small Business and Arts and Culture
Finally, I hope that our community leaders and decision-makers will set their sights on what’s “possible,” and not be distracted by what seems “impossible;” that they will be encouraged to focus their talents, skills and strengths on overcoming barriers and limitations to collective successes for “where we live” in 2016.