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April 25, 2020, Nanaimo City Council Update

As you have probably been following, numbers continue to move in the right direction in B.C. in terms of a reduction of new Covid-19 cases. On Thursday, there were only 5 people hospitalized on Vancouver Island. It is believed that we have passed the peak of the outbreak, at least on the Island. Despite our successes, we will still have to maintain 50-60% less contact until a vaccine is found which could take up to a year and a half. According to the provincial government, we will likely have no large gatherings for the rest of the year. Nonetheless, in the next couple weeks we should be getting some direction as to how we can loosen some of the restrictions we have been living under.

On the Nanaimo Council, we have gotten into the swing of using the online video conferencing software Zoom. The virtual meetings have been effective and council will be be utilizing the technology to restart all of our committees. I’m particularly looking forward to continuing with the work of the environment committee.

Businesses are definitely taking the brunt of the economic impacts resulting from the shutdowns. Low cashflow to pay rent and bills are a huge issue for many to stay afloat. This impacts the personal finances of many individuals. To help, council has approved the extension of payment due dates for water, sewer and garbage services from 30 days to 90 days and maintained the early payment discount to 90 days. We will also be removing the penalties for late payment of municipal taxes until the fall to allow businesses and individuals the option to defer paying until revenues return. Some good news for commercial tenants and landlords: The federal government announced the Canada Emergency Commercial rent program which will lower commercial rent for small and medium size businesses impacted by Covid-19 by 75%.

Other challenges faced by council and the community include the increased pressure the shutdown has placed on individuals living with homelessness, addiction and mental health issues. This has led to an increase in the problems associated with individuals who are struggling having to survive on the streets and shelter in parks and open spaces. The Health and Housing Task force, comprised of B.C. Housing, Island Health, city staff, council members and community service organizations, has been holding meetings over the last couple weeks to insure a coordinated effort is in place to support these individuals and reduce negative impacts on the community. It is important that we advocate strongly to the provincial and federal government to help mobilize comprehensive action and provide the proper resources necessary. We need to adequately help lift individuals out of the desperate situations many on the streets are living in, when we don’t the negative impacts are felt by everyone.

On a positive note, I had a great Zoom meeting with Councillor Brown and some community members to celebrate Earth Day. With the slow down there are a lot more people out walking, on bikes and in their gardens. A question the group pondered was, “what opportunities exist in how we respond to the economic and social challenges resulting from Covid-19 to do things differently and create a more sustainable and resilient community?” Thoughts?

Best,

Ben

Ben Geselbracht

Ben Geselbracht is a City Councillor in the City of Nanaimo, British Columbia.