Tough questions for Lisa Helps

By Stephen Andrew, January 2014

The first-term councillor details why she ought to run for mayor of Victoria without actually announcing that she will.

(Click here for story that appeared in the print version)


Full version of interview:

Lisa Helps, elected to Victoria City Council in 2011, beating out several experienced and well-known politicians, seems to want to distance herself from being an “old-school politician.” 

As the executive director and one of the founders of Community Micro Lending, she works to provide loans for small business ventures for people who cannot obtain credit from banks and other traditional lenders. It’s an organization that has seen immense success, but one that Helps is preparing for her departure.

She may want to distance herself from traditional politicians, but there’s one lesson she has picked up from those around her—the practice of dodging questions and debating semantics. One example: Is Lisa Helps running to be Victoria’s next mayor? You be the judge.

Stephen Andrew: How long have you lived in Victoria?

Lisa Helps: I came here first in 1997 and then I went to Japan for a year and came back in 1999.  So I've been here since then.

SA: Where are you from?

LH: London Ontario

SA:  Why the move out to the west coast?

LH: I came on a road trip to Victoria when I was 18. A friend and I had a van and did the typical thing, drove around the country and North America and we came to Victoria.  And I remember pulling up in front of the CIBC on Douglas Street and we got out of the van and we thought, "People are really beautiful here" and we spent a week camping in Goldstream and spending some time downtown. When I was leaving Japan, I'd finished two years of my university degree before going there, my friends from the university that I went to in Ontario had graduated and so I said "Where do I want to finish? Oh, I'll go to Victoria".  I came back, never to leave again. Ontario is not a place you go back to. 

SA:  What was your degree in?

LH: My undergrad was in History and Women's Studies; Masters in History and my PhD turned into Community Micro-Lending.  I didn't finish my PhD, it was also in History, but out of that was born Community Micro-lending.  

SA:  Are you going to finish it?

LH: Well, you know it's interesting. If it were any other discipline than history I would write up Community Micro Lending as a case study and get a degree, get a PhD for that, but there's not much historical about creating a really innovative organization.  So, maybe one day I'll do a PhD in Economics or something.  But, for now, no.  I have an unfinished PhD, but I like to say that we are all doing my PhD together as we build this organization.

SA: Some could say, looking at that, that you don't finish things.

LH: Oh, I think there's no one who would say that about me.  In fact someone was pointing to my track record, and not only do I finish things, but everything I do, I do with a great degree of success.  So, my PhD was funded by the Trudeau Foundation. I had a $200,000 scholarship.  I'm probably the first person who didn't finish their paddy, but I'm also the first person coming out of the Foundation that was elected to public office. So, I knew that the Trudeau Foundation wasn't disappointed in me for not finishing, because they invited me back to be a keynote speaker at one of their events.  So, I think, not only do I finish things, I took my PhD and turned it into something meaningful in the community. My dissertation would have sat on some bookshelf and what I'm actually doing is Economic Development and Poverty Reduction, which was what I was studying.  So, people can say, "Instead of studying, she does."

SA:  When you were in university, what did you think your career would be?

LH: Well, it's really interesting, because at the same time as I was doing my PhD, I was renovating the Cornerstone Building (in the Fernwood Community).  I was on the Board of Fernwood Energy. I would go and renovate the building in the morning and come home and write my dissertation in the afternoon.  I think at one point, early in the game, I thought "You know, I will be a prof.", but then I watched myself and the kind of success that I had bringing people together and getting things done.  Not finishing my PhD was the first time I have made a non-decision, in that I usually say "Okay, I'm going to do this and then I'll finish this, and then I'll do this." With my PhD, I realized I wrote my introduction, my first couple of chapters, and then I noticed that I'm writing grant applications for this organization more than I'm writing my dissertation. And then "Oh look, here's a person who was sliding into poverty and she's got a loan" and then I thought "Oh, I guess this is what I'm going to do next."  So Community Micro Lending was a new experience for me in terms of not deciding "This is a goal that I'm going to accomplish", rather noticing what is it that I'm doing, and kind of running with that.  

SA: At some point during that, you say to yourself I'm going to run for council?

LH: The run for council was precipitated by a number of things.  There was a by-election in 2010, people were asking me to run then, when (Councillor) Marianne Alto won.  I said it was not the right time, because I still need to campaign for Community Micro Lending, because that organization was still kind of getting up and running.  Council seemed like the next logical step for me; I'd done some activism at UVic, I was the Managing Editor of (the UVic student newspaper) the Martlet and did a number of things there.  Then I stepped into the Neighbourhood and did Fernwood Energy; built ten units of affordable housing, got the Cornerstone going, and then I did Community Micro Lending; which is kind of region-wide economic development.  So, it seemed like the next logical step was a run for council.  And it's kind of interesting, (for) my Masters and my PhD I was studying the history of Victoria. So, I read all these bylaws for years and years and years of policy formation, and it seemed a really interesting proposition; to take the action I was doing in the community, marry it with the things I'd studied, and be able to make a contribution that way.

SA:  There has be to be a defining moment when you say, "Yes, I'm going to run"?

LH: By the end of January of 2011 I had a team of people in my living room saying "Alright Lisa, we've got to get you on council, let's do it." From the very beginning it was the "We Campaign".  We started talking from the very first meeting in my living room, "We're going to win. What do we have to do to win? We've got eleven months."  I think that first meeting was the defining moment about, not only how I would put together a campaign but, how I would be, once I got to council.  I realize I'm just the conduit, or the representative of this grander vision of the community that really wants me there. 

SA:  So, when did "We" decide to run for Mayor?

LH: We haven't yet made any public announcement about that.  And this is really important to me, and I've said this to everybody who asks, people did not elect me to run for Mayor.  People elected me to be a councillor.  And until such time as the next campaign begins, as the election comes close in 2014 and until such time, I'm going to be the best councillor that I can be.  I think it's disrespectful to the process and to the current mayor to start running now.

SA:  You've taken steps to do exactly that. You've revamped your web site, your social media presence has changed, you're being more vocal about issues on a region-wide level, every sign points to you running.  It looks like you're laying the groundwork for that.  

LH: Yeah.  And I may well be laying the groundwork for that, but I really want to emphasize; we still have a year to get things done and if everyone flips into campaign mode now, we're not going to get things done for the next year.  Absolutely, groundwork is being laid.  

SA:  I have to say that, and this is where the tough questions come in, people are tired of hearing that line.  If I go back and do an analysis of everything you've done in the past two months, it's clear that you are setting up a campaign to run for mayor. You may not have officially said "I'm running for mayor", but everything you are doing indicates that.  I don't think people should evaluate a mayoral candidate just based on the campaign; when they say "I'm running".  It's fair to say that everything that you are doing now has to be looked at through the lens of somebody who is considering moving their office from council to mayor.

LH: Absolutely.

SA:  That is a very fair question.

LH: That is a very fair question. What's really, really important to me, if we start this campaign too early, everything that I do will be seen as "Oh, she's just doing that cause she's running for mayor," but if you look at what I've been doing since I've sat down at the table, has nothing to do with ultimately with running for mayor, but has to do with working my ass off to the best job that I can for people.  April 2012 is the most important contribution that I've made at the table.  That's when I said, "Lets freeze property taxes to no more than 3.25 percent," and more importantly "Let's move to a three year budget."  It is just flabbergasting to me that this $200 million organization budgets yearly.  Was I doing that because I was running for mayor?  No, I was doing that because I looked at the organization with outside eyes and I said "We've got to get a handle on how we do our budgeting." I guess people are going to see whatever they see.  But, it's important to me that I'm seen as a hard worker, as someone who's there with integrity doing things, not because I want to get elected again.  I'm not in this game to get reelected again; I'm in the game to make a difference in the city thirty years down the road.

SA:  So, why not just throw the gauntlet down now and say "This is what I intend to do," and then, as you say, people can make up their own mind about it; your reputation will determine how people view you, rather than being viewed through this lens of punditry?

LH: Because as soon as anyone makes a declaration about anything, the media tends to see that person as one dimensional, for example, as only a mayoral candidate. And the worry that I have is that Community Micro Lending won't get coverage on its own merits and there may be   hesitation by media to contact me to offer my comments.

SA: You think if you announced, your organization (Community Micro Lending) would suffer?

LH: Not just my organization.  I'm very practical.  Everything I say at the council table with my fellow councillors will be "Oh, Lisa's running for mayor."  If we flip into campaign mode, you already see the happenings of that at the campaign table; people bringing their motions and err. we're doing a real disservice.

SA:  Who is in campaign mode now at the table? 

LH: I would say that Ben Isitt's been in campaign mode since he got elected, and he'd probably tell you that as well. Probably that's the only person.

SA: Honestly, I cannot ask you a question prefaced with "If you run for mayor," because I know that's really the way you are focused.  What would change your mind about running for mayor?

LH: Hmmm.  If there were another candidate who stepped forward who I think had as much as a good chance of winning as I do; who I could share a vision with and sit around the table with that person as the Chair of that board. 

SA:  What's the challenge that you see now on Council?

LH: I could go on and on forever about this.  It's a really great group of people at the table, really strong opinions and really strong views. I feel we lack discipline as an organization; the staff are doing a good job, we lack discipline.

SA: What do you mean by that?

LH: We'll have one thing on our agenda and then all of a sudden we'll be talking about. we lack discipline, we lack focus, we lack high-level vision. We're like. talking about that "lunch thing" (when Council debated over whether they should order in lunch). That was the lowest moment.  I just kept my mouth shut and I was "Please let this be over, please let this be over." Like, honest to God!  

SA:  What's the detriment to the city?

LH: We meddle way too often in staff affairs instead of just letting them do their jobs. Staff is ultimately accountable to us; we set the vision, they deploy.  The other detriment to the city is it takes us so long to make decisions.  The biggest waste so far; we sat down at the table December 8, 2011, when we were all sworn in, and it took us until the following fall to set our priorities.  That's a waste of a year.  We could have gotten so much more done. Staff had their hands tied.  If I were the mayor, I'd say "Alright, in the first meeting in January, everyone come with your priorities, come with what you want to do," and empower people. Last meeting in January, we affirm the plan, staff is on board, and we're running.  

SA: You say that you want to be positive, but it seems like that is a criticism against Dean Fortin; not providing the leadership and the discipline to bring his council together to be able to achieve those goals.

LH: Sure. Dean is a compassionate guy and he cares deeply about the city.  He's made some great strides in terms of affordable housing and the homelessness coalition.  He has done a great job. He said to me, "You know, Lisa, my job is to be the city's number one cheerleader." And with respect, I disagree.  The job of the Mayor is to roll up his or her sleeves, and say "What do we need to do at the high level to set in place the kind of things that we want to see happen in ten, twenty, thirty years down the road." As governors of the city, our job is to think about now and the long term.  People around the table don't seem to feel empowered to be their best and most shining selves. The key quality for a good leader is that each of the eight councillors feel like we've got an opportunity to shine, like we've got an opportunity to make a valid contribution, we've got an opportunity to get the things done that we were elected to do.  Maybe that means going back to some portfolio based approach.  There's a culture at that table that I think is not the best culture for serving the city well.

SA:  You say being a cheerleader for the city is not the job for the mayor, so would a Lisa Helps office be running to China and other countries?

LH: No. A Lisa Helps' office would be doing exactly what a Lisa Helps councillor has done.  You know when I wrote that bold letter to the Times Colonist that said "Off the mayor goes again to China, how about a delegation to Upper Fort Street which is redefining itself from 'Antique Row' to an up and coming really innovative place?" I got a call from the merchants on Fort Street, "Great. Saw your letter, let's have a conversation." So I've had a conversation with them. If we build a thriving city here, China will come. There are bodies such us the Greater Victoria Development Agency, Tourism Victoria, the Conference Centre, and others that are responsible for promoting Victoria. I think we need to, as a Mayor and Council, for the next three to six years, build something really strong here.  If I were the mayor, I'd be going Seattle, Portland, Vancouver, Calgary and say, "Hey you're doing some really great business here, interested in expanding? Interested in a branch in Victoria?" Build on the strengths. I'm just blown away by the amazing innovation, entrepreneurship, all the things that are bubbling up in Victoria as the "Hanging Baskets" and "High Tea" image dissolves.  There's a huge, huge possibility here.  

SA:  Let's talk about partisan politics. 

LH: Do we have to?

SA: Yes, we do. First, are you a member of any political party?

LH: No

SA: Have you ever been?

LH: No

SA: What would you say your political leanings are?

LH: Sometimes people look at me and think "My goodness, she's such a right-winger."  And sometimes people look at me and think "Oh, my goodness, she's so far left." I think that partisan politics is a dead way of thinking about making change.  One of the reasons that I think I got elected is because the anti-poverty activists voted for me and the business people voted for me.  I'm done with left and right; it's not a useful way of organizing politics, it's not a useful way of organizing the world.  I'm inherently practical and I'm going to make decisions that are common sense decisions based, not on what some party tells me to vote, or what some ideology suggests I should do but, exactly what makes sense in the moment.

SA:  People say for Dean Fortin to win again, he must succeed in getting the Victoria Labour Council support and the union support.  What's your take on that?

LH: I think he's had the support of those organizations.  I guess that makes sense.  I wouldn't have thought that they wouldn't support him.

SA:  But, is that a reason to vote for mayor, because there's a clear NDP connection there?

LH: Oh, I think it's the exact wrong reason to vote for anyone because of their political party.  If people want to represent a political party, then go to the province or go to the Feds.  We are here to serve all Victorians. We are here to make decisions based on practicality, based on evidence, based on common sense, not on ideology.  I've been very clear on that from the minute that I stepped into the campaign for council.

SA: So in run for the Mayor's seat, do you think a candidate is taking on Labour as well?

LH: Absolutely not.  I've just finished reading the most fantastic book.  It's called, "American Turnaround".  It's written by Ed Whitacre who was appointed by U.S. President Barak Obama to GM when they got the $50 billion bailout.  He took that organization from the status it was in to profitability within about 18 months.  His number one lesson is "The workers are most important."   If you ask the workers, "Where do we need innovation?" they will tell you. A run against Dean Fortin is not a run against Labour.

SA: What about the province's relationship with the city? I see you're laughing.

LH: Well, it needs work. One of my strengths is, I'm inherently collaborative; it's probably in my DNA.  It doesn't mean that I'm a push over.  It doesn't' mean that I'm going to go and take whatever comes. But, in order to get things done in the 21st Century Organizations and companies that aren't collaborative are going to go under.  Governments that are not collaborative are not going to be successful.  We've got huge strides to make with the province.

SA: So, we take collaboration, and we take another big issue that you have been looking at; the amalgamation of Victoria and Esquimalt policing.  I see you are smiling again. 

LH: I thought you were going to say amalgamation in general.

SA: What about collaboration?  This should have been dealt with, according to the guidelines that the province set down, more than a year ago.  Here we are, and there is no steadfast deal.

LH: It's the same problem that permeates the whole CRD; "If we win, you lose.  If I win, you lose.  If Victoria gets this, Esquimalt doesn't get this." There's got to be a different approach brought to the whole issue saying, "What do we, as these joint municipalities, need?"  Maybe someone needs to give a little.  It's still "us and them", and that's the problem with the policing agreement, and that's the problem with the CRD.

SA: What about the criticism from Former Victoria Police Deputy Chief John Ducker that the police file is not receiving the attention that is disserves from the Chair of the Police Board.

LH: Yeah, I think it's another situation where there is so many levels.  There is Victoria Council, there is Esquimalt Council, there is the Police Board, the negotiating team, the Province, and there is no accountability. Who is ultimately responsible for bringing this together?  I would say it probably is the Police Board, but it's been handed off to staff in both municipalities to come to some agreement. 

SA:  Do you think the mayors themselves need to sit down and make this happen?  You say that Council sets policy, but ultimately whatever the police board decides, comes back to council for budget approval. Do you think that it's time that more attention was given to this file by both councils of Esquimalt and Victoria, and more so by the Mayors.

LH: I think that would be great.  I think that would be wonderful if Barb Desjardins and Dean Fortin would sit down and say, "Okay, this has being going on for too long.  Let's find something what works for both of us." Someone's going to have to give, and it's in the best interest of the safety and security of residents of both municipalities.  

SA: Are you for amalgamation?

LH: It makes sense to more closely collaborate with our neighbours.  We need to start with small steps, pilot projects, and see what works and go from there.  As a really practical example; everyone in Esquimalt, Oak Bay and Victoria needs to get paid every two weeks and we all need our blackberries and our computers. So, what if those municipalities came together and said, "Let's synchronize our payroll and let's share our IT services" Work out the kinks on what is quite apolitical; we're not talking garbage, we're not talking policing.  Get staff working more closely together, test at a really small level. If it's a dismal failure, we haven't wasted millions of dollars. If it's a success, then we say "Well, that worked, what's next?" That is my approach to amalgamation; it's kind boring, but it's very practical, it doesn't waste a bunch of money or a whole bunch of time, and it gets results. We definitely need to move in that direction because I don't think the CRD is the body to govern this. I am reading another book called the "Metropolitan Revolution", how cities are fixing our broken politics and our fragile economy. The thrust of the books is that, while these other governments are "dilly-dallying" and working on things that take a long time to trickle down, cities need to take leadership. Cities need to be collaborative, innovative, all of those things - and that's the first chapter.  There's a fascinating chapter on Denver. I think they had 13 mayors.  They started a mayors' caucus.  The mayor of metro Denver won the election and then invited all the other mayors from the region to party in his living room.  Out of that grew the mayors coming together which started of informally into a formal way.  And I think now they don't regional level of government, but they have the mayors' caucus.  There's a different mayor who is Chair after every election cycle and they meet in various municipalities. I think this would just serve our region so well. Because, over time, and they've been doing this for about 13 or 14 years, the mayors go to this table with a deep sense of collaboration and with a deep sense of commitment to their own municipalities and also to region.

SA: But isn't that what the Capital Regional District is meant to do?

LH: No.  Maybe it was meant to be, in its original incarnation, but I've sat in as an Alternate (Director) there's still (issues like) gas taxes; "Well I'm not going to vote for that because I'm from the Highlands and we don't have transit." There's still this parochial thinking, not from all sectors, but again I've only been an Alternate, I'm not on that board because I wanted to spend my time at Council and with Community Micro Lending.  In its original incarnation that is what the CRD is meant to do.  But the CRD is a giant bureaucracy and I think the mayors as representatives of each municipality/district, I think it would be absolutely fantastic if we could do something similar here to have a mayors' caucus where each mayor comes with the hat as the representative of their municipality, but with the hat on of building a strong region. We say, "Oh, Langford is stealing our business, Saanich is stealing our business," I don't buy that for a second.  If Langford flourishes and Saanich flourishes, then Victoria's going to flourish too. That's not the current thinking and that's dead wrong.

SA:  It appears to be a repetition of that same kind of "mine, mine, mine. I must protect my territory."

LH: Yeah, I profoundly believe that in 2008 when the global financial collapse a turning point.  It was certainly a turning point for business. But I think it was a larger turning point.  Pre-2008 we could afford to do business as usual. We could afford to leap for the highest profit, if we were a corporation, to the detriment of whoever else.  We could not really pay attention to what people were saying, if we were government.  In a post 2008 world, those things don't work;  "This is mine and you can't have an of it because it's mine, and if you benefit I'm going to lose." The "Zero-sum game" is old thinking.

SA:  Let's talk about some of the successes and weaknesses of the City of Victoria.  The big one that comes to mind, and is perhaps the biggest controversy that we've had so far, is the issue of the Johnson Street Bridge.  Has it been done well?  Has it been done reasonably? Are we in for some trouble there?

LH: I think the process leading up to the building of the bridge was awful. It was disingenuous on the city's part. I wasn't there for most of it, but I didn't vote for the bridge in the end. I actually read through the 453 pages of the contract and thought I could convince my colleagues of the reasons that we don't need to build a $92.8 million bridge. I think we, and I think staff too, made some errors in the process.  When I cast my vote I said "I'm going to vote this way and I hope the bridge does come in on time and on budget".  And for all intents and purposes, things are actually very positive in that regard.

SA: If it doesn't come in on budget?

LH: We're hooped.  I mean taxpayers are hooped. We raise taxes.

SA: Let's talk about sewage.

LH: Do we have to?

SA: Sewage increases, water increases, Johnson Street Bridge, Hydro -

LH: Garbage!

SA:  When is this going to end?

LH: It's going to end when we take a different approach and when we steal some cards, ideas from the private sector.  As governments we need to say, "How can we be more creative?  How can we be more innovative? How can we be more entrepreneurial?  Sewage; there are places around the world that are making money by treating their sewage.  Just like the Johnson Street Bridge, these giant infrastructure projects seem to carve a really deep path. And once they are even inching down that road, people who are voting say "We have to do it because we are already started.  We have to do it because we're going to lose money" rather than some sober second thought.  I firmly believe, and again I'm not on the CRD, so I haven't had the pleasure of voting on some of those things, but when I've been there as an alternate, every opportunity that I've had, I've voted against the plan as it stands, because I think it's a bad plan.  "It's so great; we're going to treat our sewage for the next 20 years" Awesome.  We need to be thinking longer term than that for these giant projects. 

SA: What about infrastructure;  Fire Station Number One, Crystal Pool, and I wonder if the people sitting around the council table, when they make these decisions, as to whether to move forward with a certain project, are thinking that they are spending taxpayer money as opposed to inanimate object money.

LH: My next door neighbours are Bob and Maddy.  Every time I make a decision I think I'm spending Bob and Maddy's money.  "Taxpayers" is this kind of generic thing. We need to think about spending actual people's money.  One of the things that I heard on the campaign trail in 2011, when I did my budget consultation, and it came out in the most recent Victoria Vital Signs report; the number one concern is the cost of living. Not homelessness, not affordable housing - cost of living.  We're not just talking about people who are ending up on Pandora Street, and obviously that's an important demographic to house, we're talking about seniors, we're talking about young families.  I've been asking my friends, my age, late thirties - early forties with a couple of kids, "How is it for you to pay propertyv taxes?"  The answer is "Well, we can do it but, we don't have any savings." We want to create a resilient community and a resilient economy.  We need people to be able to save for their kid's university, for their retirement. 

SA:  What do you think of city priorities to replace the Crystal Pool, the Fire Station on Yates Street and the Bay Street. 

LH: The Bay Street Bridge and the Fire Hall have been decided.  We're moving forward with those.  We directed staff to be "grant ready" when the new federal infrastructure funding comes.  We will be getting further analysis on the pool and the fire hall and the Bay Street Bridge. We've got some money in our reserves, so we can borrow from ourselves, which again is great, and then the pool is between the twelve and fifty-six million dollar question. 

SA:  Right now, if it came on the table, what would you say?

LH: I'd say what I've been saying; this is where the right verses left thing needs to fly right out the window.  Ben Isitt informed everyone that we were making a decision about the pool - whether to privatize it or not.  In his defense, he said "Well, it was on the agenda as to what kind of funding are we going to seek for it."  Anyways, a whole series of people came and said, "Don't go with a 'neo-Liberal PPP'. Don't privatize the pool". The vote was to keep the pool public.  My vision for the Crystal Pool is emblematic of my whole approach to how we need to run the city.  So, the City owns the land and we own the building.  There's a whole bunch of land there.  If we decide to build a new pool, the approach that I would take it to find a local developer to partner with to build the pool, but not just a pool.  We build a pool and fitness centre, but also a whole retail space that is dedicated to wellness. So, maybe there is Bliss Café, Habit Coffee, a chiropractor, a massage therapist, maybe a family doctor, so we've got some revenue generating happening.  And then, this is (Victoria Real Estate Board Government Relations Coordinator) Jim Bennet's idea; he said "Lisa, let's building housing on top." So, we build housing on top, and somehow, even if it's break even, the city gets a new pool, some new businesses, some new housing by leveraging its assets.  And sure, maybe the developer owns the whole complex, but the city employees can still run it.  This is the kind of thinking we need. But people say, "Oh, Lisa wants to privatize the pool." Absolutely not.  I think our workers do a great job at the pool and they should absolutely run it.  Can the city afford to build a new pool? No.  We've got this great land. Why would we just stop at a pool when we can have a whole series of revenue generating opportunities?  So, that's my answer to Crystal Pool and my approach to lots of things.

SA: If you become mayor, what happens to Community Micro Lending?

LH: That is one of the reasons that I feel I'm so busy ready right now because I need to leave Community Micro Lending in a very good financial place so it can carry on without me.  I've got amazing staff; a part time bookkeeper, but particularly two folks who have been there almost from the beginning with me. They are incredible.  And the three of us have built the organization together. We just had a board meeting this morning, having board retreat in January.  I've proposed we restructure the organization to flatten it, to get rid of the Executive Director position and have four staff positions; Fund Development, Expansion and Innovation. but Community Micro Lending is poised to grow.  We launched Canada's first online micro lending web site.  As a tiny nonprofit on the edge of the west coast we had no business doing that.  I met with some guys from VIATEC who said we need to automate the back end and he said "Okay, I tried to do that a few years ago".  And I said "Oh, we haven't made many loans", and he said "Lisa, I didn't even make one loan.  You've done great." So, we're set to grow.  Since we launched online lending, people from across the province and across the country have been saying "Hey, we'd like to use your lending infrastructure to lend money in our own communities."  So, that's another reason that I'm hesitating to make any kind of declaration on your tape. I need to spend my time not running for mayor, but my time really making sure that organization, which is serving so many people, so well, can continue.

SA: What's the future for Lisa Helps over the next 12 months?

LH: Hope that I have a little bit of time to sit in my reading room and keep reading.  I'm going to keep doing things that I've been doing. I'm going to keep making sure that people who don't have access to credit at banks can get loans are start their businesses.  I'm going to keep bringing motions forward to the council table that propel change.  And try and make some change that is going to steer the ship in the right direction for the long term. And I will be running for something in 2014.  Someone did say to me that "If you run for Mayor, it's going to be a campaign based on ideas." And I really, really look forward to that. 

SA: When are you going to drop the "If"'?

LH: You know what?  When it feels appropriate.  I can't honestly answer that question.  I've got a great team of people working, so that it's not me thinking "Oh, it's all me" with stars in my eyes, 'I'm going to run for mayor." I take the input of the people who are working with me very seriousl


Victoria journalist Stephen Andrew's work has been recognized with numerous national and international awards, including nine Edward R. Murrow Awards. Twitter @Stephen_Andrew.