Victoria mayor and cycling advocate Lisa Helps announces that she'll seek reelection in 2018

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      Victoria's unconventional mayor is hoping that voters will give her a second term in the October 20 municipal election.

      "In the past three years we’ve accomplished almost everything in my 2014 platform," Helps wrote on her website today. "In addition to lots of doing, we’ve created detailed, forward-looking plans that I’d like to see through to implementation." 

      Today's announcement comes after a term marked by efforts to increase affordable housing and cycling, as well as a brouhaha over an Airbnb rental suite in part of the duplex that she rents.

      During Helps's tenure, Victoria has created its first arts and culture master plan, a 10-year housing strategy, a climate leadership plan, a downtown public-realm plan, and a parks and open spaces master plan.

      The city also began regulating cannabis shops in advance of federal legislation legalizing marijuana.

      She's been an outspoken opponent of the Kinder Morgan pipeline, which will sharply increase the number of oil tankers in Juan de Fuca Strait.

      In August 2016 Victoria city council approved a motion to try to make the city 100 percent reliant on renewable energy by 2050. It became the second B.C. city to do this after Vancouver.

      Bike lanes remain a hot issue

      Perhaps most controversially during the Helps era, new separated cycling lanes have been built along Pandora and Fort streets, and a third one is going along Johnson Street.

      The Pandora bike lane has been nicknamed the "Lisa Helps Highway" by some of its critics because it runs from Helps's home in Fernwood directly to Victoria City Hall.

      Others have questioned whether the Fort Street bike lane will harm local businesses along this well-travelled thoroughfare.

      In a blog post, Helps defended the cycling initiative, noting there will be a 5.6-kilometre network of "all ages and abilities" bike lanes in the downtown core by the end of 2018.

      She pointed out that this cycling infrastructure is funded by gas taxes, which are collected at the pump and given to local municipalities.

      "They must be used for projects that have a sustainability impact; they cannot be used for affordable housing," Helps emphasized.

      Meanwhile, the Airbnb unit was advertised at $85 per night in a Fernwood house owned by Marianne Unger.

      Helps told the Times-Colonist in June that she has no pecuniary interest in the Airbnb unit, which is on the other side of the duplex she rents. 

      Moreover, Helps said that she does not participate in council discussions about short-term rentals to avoid any perception of bias.

      At the time, she vehemently denied that she was in a common-law relationship with Unger, who has been a large donor to Helps's political campaigns.

      In today's statement on her website, Helps declared that her top concern isn't affordable housing or the lack of transit from downtown to the western communities of Colwood and Langford.

      Rather, it's how political discourse is conducted in Victoria.

      "There’s a bigger challenge that threatens us: we’ve forgotten how to have hard conversations, to really listen to each other, to allow each other the space to speak, without quickly deteriorating into name-calling, accusations, and dividing our community into 'us' and 'them'," Helps wrote. "This is hurting us all."

      In 2014, Helps defeated former mayor Dean Fortin by 89 votes. This was due in part to her opposition to the costly Johnson Street Bridge replacement when she was sitting on council.

      At the time, Helps had plenty of support from members of the B.C. Greens in beating Fortin, a provincial New Democrat, and a third candidate, former B.C. Liberal cabinet minister Ida Chong.

      Shortly afterward, Helps demonstrated that she wasn't going to follow the usual script when she refused to swear allegiance to Queen Elizabeth at her swearing-in ceremony.

      She said she didn't have anything against the Royal family and she had no intention to offend anyone. But monarchists in Victoria were still outraged by the move.

      Two years later, Helps gave a warm welcome to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge when they paid a visit to Victoria.