B.C.’s larger cities have been impacted harder financially by the COVID-19 pandemic than smaller ones, the opening session of the annual Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) convention heard Sept. 22.
“COVID has flipped plans and priorities,” UBCM president Maja Tait said. “We can see the sorrow, and we can feel the impact this has on our community.”
She said early in the pandemic it was clear the UBCM and communities needed to first protect staff and adjust workplaces and priorities.
Then, she said, it was in order for communities to ensure they could continue to build infrastructure and support their communities.
That, Tait said, meant working closely with federal and provincial governments as well as other organizations such as the Canadian Federation of Municipalities.
And, she said, “we needed to reach out to our members to triage impacts.”
She said the first thing the UBCM heard from members was the need for help in understanding and implementing health recommendations coming from Victoria.
Then came the “dramatic closures” of facilities to protect people, she said.
It soon became clear that it was going to be the medium and large communities that were going to feel the impact more heavily than smaller ones. It was larger municipalities that faced the most layoffs and closures, Tait said.
And, it was transit in the large communities that took a huge hit, Tait said.
“The bigger the system, the bigger the impact,” she said.
With the coming of the restart plan with a billion dollars for transit and other items, Tait said, the future seemed brighter.
“They responded clearly to key issues that our members identified,” Tait said.
Incoming Federation of Canadian Municipalities president Garth Frizzell, a Prince George city councillor, said it is essential that local governments be seen as an order of government with the province and Ottawa.
“Canada’s recovery is going to require cooperation from all levels of government – including municipalities – at the table,” Frizzell said.
The 117th annual meeting is being held online this year due to pandemic restrictions.
It is being hosted virtually from Victoria, whose mayor, Lisa Helps, welcomed delegates sitting at their computers to the event.
“There are very few people here at the convention centre,” Helps said. “It feels very strange.”
Helps said it might be hard for delegates to stay focussed on screens with emails and texts flying about.
“We need to remain relentlessly present,” she said.