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B.C.’s road to recovery: Governments peer anxiously at post-COVID-19 horizon

Municipal, provincial officials aim to mitigate damage while considering their next moves
Vancouver city officials are considering their options for getting operations back to normal after the COVID-9 pandemic subsides, but their first concern at the moment is to ease steep losses in revenue | Dan Toulgoet

Part of a series on the next steps for B.C. businesses across a wide range of sectors as the province edges closer to the easing of COVID-19 safety measures.

B.C. municipal officials, civic politicians and members of the legislature continue to discuss what returning to some semblance of normalcy looks like in government.

But with all involved taking their cues from Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, who has cautioned about lifting physical distancing restrictions too soon, plans for reopening governments to pre-pandemic operating levels remain a work in progress.

“It’s something we’re thinking about and talking about, and trying to figure out how to be ready,” said Sadhu Johnston, city manager for Vancouver, whose present worry is the $5 million per week loss in the city’s revenue.

That loss, which has come mainly from suspending parking enforcement in most of Vancouver and closing community centres and other facilities, will mean the city won’t be able to immediately restart large parts of the organization.

Libraries, for example, are not big money-makers for the city, said Johnston, acknowledging they are an important service for citizens but are largely funded by property tax.

“Many of the recreational programs that have been cut would bring in revenue, but the question would be, ‘When are people going to want to participate in those types of programs again?’”

Cowichan Valley BC Green Party MLA Sonia Furstenau anticipates some changes to how government eases back to work both in the legislature and in her constituency.

Furstenau, who is the Greens’ house leader, said she received a letter April 20 from the clerk of the legislature about possible options for the next sitting.

That may include having a reduced number of MLAs present, as occurred in the March 23 sitting of the legislature, where she attended with about a dozen other politicians.

“It was a bit surreal,” she said. “However, I think it’s important that we find ways to ensure that democracy and our institutions continue to operate as best they can in these types of circumstances.”

That connection with people and colleagues during the pandemic has come via the suddenly popular Zoom online conferencing platform.

Furstenau said the technology has allowed committee meetings to continue and make for more efficient use of time in the busy calendars of an MLA.

“I think there’s going to be a shift on how widely online meeting tools can be used,” she said of anticipated changes in how politicians govern.

This story is part of a series on the next steps for B.C. businesses across a wide range of sectors as the province edges closer to the easing of COVID-19 safety measures. Check out all previous stories in this series, and stay tuned for further stories being published throughout this week.

Previous stories in the series:

B.C.’s road to recovery: Restaurant reopenings could start in May

B.C.'s road to recovery: Province’s fashion retailers face multiple barriers

B.C.'s road to recovery: Big energy projects await return to full power

B.C.’s road to recovery: Pandemic could usher in online era of property sales

B.C.'s road to recovery: Public confidence is key to B.C. tourism resurgence

B.C.’s road to recovery: Smaller crews, higher costs face post-pandemic film industry

B.C.’s road to recovery: Post-secondary schools focus on the fall