I hold my hands up to the Lekwungen speaking people, the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations, and recognize with respect their homelands where I have the honour of living and working.

Photo credit: Jane Player

Meet Lisa Helps

“The future can’t be predicted, but it can be envisioned and brought lovingly into being.”
– Donella Meadows, Thinking in Systems, 2009.

While I’ve learned a lot over the past eight years as mayor of the City of Victoria, BC, one key insight is shaping my future. I’ve realized that as a species, we are losing the ability to talk with each other about the big issues that matter – the housing crisis, climate change, reconciliation, economic disparity, racism – especially when we disagree.

We are either “for” something or “against” something, and we amplify our positions easily in social media echo chambers. I’ve witnessed the degradation of public discourse locally and globally during my time in office, and I’ve seen how social media leads to short-term decision making. We’re losing the ability to think and act together to resolve challenges.

What I’ve come to think by the end of my term, is that it should not be so hard to do the right thing. It shouldn’t be so difficult to take action to create the future we need, not for the next four-year political cycle, but for the next 50 years. I’ve also become convinced that without a different approach to problem solving, we could be headed down a dark path and we won’t be able to take the necessary action on the pressing challenges facing us.

In his book, Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together, William Isaacs provides some inspiration that has guided me over the past few years and that will help to shape whatever projects I take on next.

He says that there are two habits that pervade human consciousness, “Losing respect for and so rejecting what is uncomfortable and unfamiliar, and becoming fixated on one’s own certainties.” As a way to break these habits, we need to be mindful of, “The ways we think and feel – the levels of internal freedom we allow ourselves, the inclusiveness we are able to sustain, the authenticity we are able to muster, the flexibility of perspective we are able to take, and the stability and spaciousness we have in our hearts.”

Whether it was navigating through pandemic-related homelessness that saw 600 people displaced from housing and shelter, or developing Victoria 3.0, the City’s long-term economic plan, or bringing innovative housing ideas to the Council table, inclusiveness of difference, making space for authenticity, and maintaining a stable, spacious and open heart has helped to deliver real action. Visit my portfolio to learn more.

Over the last few years as mayor – and particularly during the pandemic – I’ve also learned that generosity and curiosity are key leadership qualities. When someone walked into my office or called me and was clearly angry, once they had finished speaking and were likely anticipating a defensive response or justification or explanation, I found that the most productive response was to check my defensiveness and to get curious. When I’d say, “Tell me more about how this is affecting you, how this makes you feel,” I saw over and over again that generosity can be disarming and open up a space for genuine dialogue. And I learned that genuine dialogue makes it more possible to make transformative change.

What I loved most about being mayor is this ability to take real action and work hard with a diversity of people and organizations to make transformational, irreversible change to get the city ready for the future.

In my own career, what I want to do next is continue to work in spaces where big ideas can turn into action, to inspire people to come together, find a common purpose, and take action on complex problems. I’d like to do so in a way that builds a sense of community, connection and belonging, especially on challenging or controversial projects.

As I look to the future, I would like to:

  1. Build Housing and Create Prosperous Local Economies – It’s difficult to bring new housing projects or transformational economic development or civic projects to fruition when people become so quickly entrenched “for” or “against.” I’d like to work on housing, civic, and regenerative economic development projects and help shift the dialogue by understanding the aspirations of communities and how projects can help bring these to life. Working together in this way, government, communities and the private sector can build housing, civic infrastructure and local prosperity that are embraced by communities and that regenerate communities.
  2. Build Nationally and Globally – I’ve enjoyed the connections I’ve made nationally and globally and the inspiration and learning that comes with these. There are many cities working on housing, climate change, community resilience building, economic development, and reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. I’d like to stay engaged on these topics and find ways to share what I’ve learned, to build on and grow the connections I’ve made, and to bring back ideas from elsewhere to Victoria.

You can find me via my contact page. I’ll look forward to the conversation!