Last week Vancouver City Council received a presentation from staff on the 2021 Budget. During the time period allocated for Council questions, Mayor Kennedy Stewart came out blasting the Province of B.C., advising he was “gobsmacked” by the news that only $16 million in federal COVID-19 restart funding had been allocated to Vancouver, since he was hoping for $40-60 million.
Mayor Stewart continued firing on all cylinders, issuing statements and doing interviews saying he felt shafted, while provincial reps said the money was distributed as intended with a base amount to every municipality and then an allowance on a per capita basis, and that allocations recognized the investment in transit shortfalls the Province had to make since large B.C. municipalities don’t directly fund transit like in other provinces.
Meanwhile, other Lower Mainland mayors – including Surrey’s Doug McCallum and Burnaby’s Mike Hurley – expressed their gratitude for the funding to help alleviate losses and costs incurred by cities due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The current reality isn’t easy. Revenues are projected to be down for 2021 and there is uncertainty about the depth and length of the recovery period. The 2021 Vancouver Budget Outlook presented by staff clearly showed the city plan to fill its revenue gap through the use of reserve funds.
Receiving relief funding was never budgeted or planned for as part of the recalibration plan, but it will help improve the outlook for next year. Regardless of the mayor’s aspiration for a bigger bailout, the bottom line is that Vancouver has work to do to keep operational spending in line with the new reality, and to hold off on non-priority capital projects. We’re in a different state of normal and we need to adapt and get our own house in order.
Vancouver is facing more than a pandemic crisis.
We have an opioid crisis that has taken more lives than COVID-19.
A homelessness crisis that isn’t getting better.
And a mental health and addictions crisis with a huge gap in desperately needed treatment services to get people the help they need to move them forward.
It’s clear the current paradigm isn’t working and major change and major investment is needed.
These critical social issues all have a much deeper and devastating impact on our city than the difference in relief dollars the mayor aspired to. Vancouver cannot tackle these critical social challenges effectively without major help and funding from senior levels of government including the Province. And that investment will need to be much more significant than it has been to date.
So let’s build strong, respectful relationships with our provincial counterparts, or it will be the residents of Vancouver who pay the price.
Sarah Kirby-Yung is a first-time Vancouver City Councillor and former Vancouver Park Board Chair and Commissioner