We had a most unusual Council Meeting on Monday. An emergency meeting just to get Council caught up on the various actions the City is taking to the pandemic situation. We did not meet in Council Chambers, but did a video conference. For technical and modesty reasons, the video conference was not recorded as video, though an audio recording was made for the record. So you can’t watch the meeting, but you can read the agenda and listen to the audio here, if you are so inclined. The audio isn’t great, and we were all working it out as we went along, but it is there for the record.
There were two agenda items, both framed around the Working Groups developed in City Hall to get us through this unprecedented situation.
COVID-19 Pandemic Response – Action Items from the 7 Working Groups Seeking Council Approval
The City has (as previously reported) put together 7 working groups to manage aspects of our pandemic response. The reporting structure right now will be for them to update Council in these meetings, and more specifically ask for direction or approval if and when needed, for actions they are proposing.
This week, there were two Working Groups asking for specific direction:
Business and Working Economy:
With many businesses closed, there is some concern about lack of eyes on the street and resultant heightened security concerns. There is a call here for more on-street police patrols, or a change in patrol patterns, perhaps some redeployment of City Staff such as parks operations or engineering operations staff who are otherwise undertasked to provide extra eyes, or helping coordinate private security operations if needed. The Working Group is going to work with the BIAs and neighborhood business groups to develop this idea, and come back to Council if there is a funding request attached.
Some discussion arose here about other aspects of policing that are deserving of extra attention at the time when people are housebound and under increased stress, including domestic violence and power-based crimes. We need to be clear here that Council does not direct police in their operation, but we are able to allocate further resources if needed to achieve community goals.
The Working Group is also establishing a sub-group to look into supporting the arts/culture sector, and how the City can best support them. The impact of this crisis on not-for-profits is similar to that on small businesses, even if they have fewer tools to call attention to the issue.
Education and Enforcement:
The provincial government is issuing variety of orders to protect public health, and are asking local governments for help to enforce them. This is, of course, an expanding demand on City resources. We can hire some extra staff trained in this type of work, and potentially be reimbursed through the provincial emergency funding program.
It is hard to hire enforcement staff in a hurry. Becoming a Bylaw Officer requires specific training courses such as those offered through the Justice Institute, as there is a fair amount of complex interacting legislation and enforcement powers, so getting a bunch of them on-board in a short period of time (when every other City is no doubt in the same situation) will be challenging.
However, a big part of progressive enforcement is education and responding to concerns, and there are likely a bigger pool of folks who have experience being in “public facing” jobs at the City, and have training and knowledge of what the City does and how it operates. Some of them are not able to do their regular jobs – recreation program staff, library staff, lifeguards, etc. – so we may have more luck on-boarding these folks with less training and preparation required.
However, when education shifts to enforcement, we are going to need some expanded local Bylaw powers and ticketing/fines to make enforcement possible. That requires edits to a couple of our Bylaws. This will be addressed in upcoming meetings, and I hope we can see significant fines for serious offenders of those violating the rules for profit, and smaller fines/tickets for those doing it through simple stubbornness.
Finally, the City has established a single contact number if people have questions about the restrictions, supports, or anything related to our local response to the pandemic emergency. This will make it easier for City staff to track complaints, concerns, and inquiries, and will allow you to have a tracking number for your concern to make it easier to follow up.
That number is 604-636-4343 or you can e-mail
COVID-19 Pandemic Response – Update and Progress from the 7 Working Groups
These reports are simply the working groups reporting out, and if you are interested in the breadth of work the City is doing, you can read them in the on-line agenda.
And there is always the City’s website dedicated to the response which you can find here.
Finally, a bit of a programming report.
I am having a hard time finding non-Pandemic things to blog about, because things that I am usually jawing on about seem out of context right now. I also don’t feel as great talking about the bigger COVID-19 thing outside of the City’s response, because I there is already too much information out there, and too many non-definitive information sources (like this), and I would rather people pay attention to Public Health officials and senior government information channels right now. I’m not sure I have anything useful to add.
This is a really shitty time. Like many of you, I am constantly bouncing between anxiety, hopelessness, and glimmers of joy when I see the positive work communities are doing to hold things together. I just want this to be over, but recognize it isn’t going to be over any time soon. I want to do something to make it better, but recognize there is not a lot I can do, and that sitting at home straining to concentrate on my work is actually the best thing I can do right now.
I’ll probably get around to writing a few things here about what it means to be in this job at a time like this, but I’m not sure I can handle that emotional labour right now. Like the rest of Council, I am hearing from residents, from businesses, and from friends; this thing is hitting a lot of people really hard. The only thing we all share is uncertainty, and that is causing a lot of anxiety. A bit of respite is found in seeing the great work that staff in the City is doing in completely uncertain times, doing things they were not trained to do, and demonstrating great perseverance when they are just as stressed and anxious as the rest of us.
People pulling together – even when they keep their distance – is going to be the key to recovery here. Stay safe, folks.