UVic alumna Lisa Helps is a front-runner in the mayoral election, taking place on Nov. 15.
Helps, 38, announced her candidacy on Jan. 1 when most candidates announce in August. “I don’t do things like most people I guess,” she said. Unlike the other politically based front-runners, Helps comes from an educational and community-building background.
She completed an undergraduate degree in women’s studies and history before moving on to her masters in history at UVic. Helps then moved on to the University of Toronto where she began her unfinished PhD, which led her to Community Microlending. The project helps small business by providing loans, and is still active today in Victoria.
“I’ve always been a community-oriented builder, although in my younger days I certainly considered myself to be an activist,” she said.
Helps also founded Fernwood’s Village Vibe, based on the experience she gained as managing editor at UVic’s Martlet newspaper. Published bi-monthly, Village Vibe will be celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. In 2005, as vice-chair on the board of the Fernwood Neighbourhood Resource Group, she helped revitalize the Cornerstone Café. “I’ve always had a passion for building things with people. Whether it’s a building or an organization,” she said.
“When I make a motion, or bring forward a plan, or undertake a project, people can actually see their ideas as part of it,” she said. “That really enriches our democracy and people’s willingness to participate in it.”
From community building to business startups, she claimed a spot on Victoria’s city council, which she has held for the last three years. “It’s long enough to see that we could be doing a lot better—particularly on behalf of my generation, and [the student] generation.”
When it comes to her platform, Helps wants to appeal to a broad audience. “I’m not left-wing or right-wing, part of this party or that party. I’m here on behalf of all Victorians,” she said.
Victoria’s last and only female mayor was Gretchen Brewin, elected in 1990. Helps says many tell her that she does not “look like a mayor. A mayor looks like a man.” Although Helps admits gender is vital, she stresses a generational change. “There’s this huge swath of the population who is currently not at all represented at City Hall. Not at all,” she said. “I understand profoundly the needs and desires of my demographic, and your demographic,” she said.
Helps has found interacting with the community “nourishing,” and helps her understand their needs, two of which are opportunity and affordability. “Victoria is increasingly unaffordable. That’s a serious concern,” she said.
“Let’s put it simply. What does everyone want when they graduate? A job. That’s why we go to university,” she said. Although City Hall cannot create jobs single-handedly, they can encourage a “positive context for job creation.”
“Students should be marching on City Hall, saying ‘I want to stay in Victoria, I want to live in paradise, what are you going do for me?’ If City Hall says nothing, don’t accept that as an answer,” she said.
Helps finds her strength in her call to action. “I hate sitting around and talking for the purpose of talking,” she said. “I’m very focused on taking action.” She wants everyone at the council table to feel empowered, fostered, and supported, and to take action.
“We really live in paradise, [so] we need to make sure we keep enhancing paradise,” she said.