VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — With the B.C. government going into “caretaker” mode until after the provincial election, Vancouver city councillors say they’re worried their ability to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic — and take care of their constituents — has been hamstrung.
Coun. Sarah-Kirby-Yung says cooperation between all three levels of government has been crucial for responding to the economic and social challenges posed by the pandemic.
“One thing we’ve had to do during COVID is to really be responsive to what happens,” she says.
“You can’t really move forward with any new initiatives or any new funding for new programs. That means it’s much more of the status quo. Any decisions or funding allocations that were made prior to the writ being dropped can carry forward, but new initiatives can’t happen.”
A surge in demand for mail-in ballots could postpone the formation of a new government, so Kirby-Yung is concerned that the election will not be settled on Oct. 24. Mail-in ballots won’t get counted until 13 days after British Columbians go to the polls.
“One of the challenges here is the question of, ‘When is post-election going to be?” she says.
“If there are some really close ridings, which there are expected to be some tough ridings or swing ridings, we could be looking a month and a half or even more.”
#vanpoli #bcpoli thought of day. Increasingly frustrated with snap election. It shuts down key discussions Vancouver needs to have with Province including #StrathconaPark and ability to respond during next couple of critical survival months for #smallbiz.
— Sarah Kirby-Yung 楊瑞蘭 (@sarahkirby_yung) September 25, 2020
She cites two issues the city is grappling with — the encampment at Strathcona Park and the challenges facing small businesses — as problems that the municipal government can’t solve alone.
Council recently voted to move forward with emergency options to house the homeless, but the mayor’s motion acknowledges that funding from other levels of government will be required to implement any plan the city decides on.
“A lot of that is really dependent on some positive conversations with the province, and hoping for their support. Those conversations can’t happen now,” Kirby-Yung says.
When it comes to small businesses, Kirby-Yung says the program to extend patios to increase seating couldn’t have happened without the province.
With as many as 50 per cent of restaurants saying they are facing closures within 90 days, Kirby-Yung says business owners and their employees can’t afford to wait until after an election.
“If you’re a small business, every week is critical. It can be the difference between keeping the doors open or not.”
Another concern is the timing, given federal programs like the Canada Emergency Response Benefit are set to expire and the prospect of a second wave is looming.
“A lot of people argue, at some point ,we’re going to have an election during a pandemic anyway because the pandemic will be with us for some time. But I would argue that the next few months are so critical because we haven’t gone through a fall and winter period yet,” she says.
“It does hamstring the ability to respond in the event that we have a curveball thrown at us during a second-phase of COVID.”
Her frustration is shared by her colleagues.
“I haven’t heard anybody that has welcomed, or has been enthusiastic about having an early election,” she notes.
Coun. Pete Fry took to Twitter to express his “disappointment” that a panel on how cities can address homelessness, particularly the challenge of growing encampments, was cancelled.
An eagerly anticipated homeless encampment discussion at #UBCM2020 for today was cancelled when writ dropped. Hugely disappointing as we need help and this is an issue top of mind for many British Columbians and their local governments.
— Pete Fry (@PtFry) September 23, 2020
Kirby-Yung says she’s getting similar feedback in her conversations with constituents.
“When I ask them if they welcome or are enthusiastic about an election, I haven’t had a single person say yes to me yet.”