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NB We have received new information from the federal and provincial health authorities since this was posted originally on Saturday afternoon. Extraordinary social distancing measures should be put in place. The Prime Minister is encouraging people to stay home if possible to help flatten the curve.  Instead of visiting your favourite restaurant right now, considering buying a gift card (this can often be done on line) to help them through a cash flow crunch right now so they’ll be here for the long term.

NB This post was written after the update from Dr. Bonnie Henry, the Provincial Medical Health Officer at noon on Saturday. Her next update is at 10am Monday. We can adjust our behaviours then as needed according to her advice.

The City of Victoria has been following all the health protocols required by the Provincial government and keeping our residents up to date by email, website and social media. We hope that all Victorians are following the advice of Dr. Bonnie Henry to keep themselves, their families and our communities healthy. She’s calm, measured and thoughtful.

We know that in addition to worrying about the health of themselves and their employees, some of our small local businesses are starting to worry about their survival. We’re already seeing a massive slow down in visitors to Victoria. People aren’t traveling, conferences have been postponed, and the cruise season is delayed until July 1st at the earliest, taking another swath of potential customers away.

I’m starting to get emails from small businesses. I got this one just now:

“I am hearing a great deal in the media about the growing fear among the public.  This is despite the fact that there are currently no health advisories against participating in many of the tourist activities in Greater Victoria—only those of gatherings of greater than 200 people.  Yet, we are seeing the public reacting with fear and making irrational decisions, such as not patronizing local businesses or cancelling existing bookings for activities.

“What I am not hearing is any of our government officials or local community leaders using their voices to help calm those fears and encouraging individuals and local businesses to support one another in order to help us all weather this storm—particularly in light of the profoundly negative impact decisions, such as cancelling cruise ships, is having on the local tourism industry.”

Let’s support this business owner and others through these hard times. Let’s eat out. Let’s drink some great local beer. Let’s stop buying online. Let’s shop local. Heck, let’s even do some of our holiday shopping now, really, really early.

As a city government, we want to provide as much certainty and hope as we can to our small business owners. That’s why Councillor Loveday and I are bringing an emergency motion to Council this Thursday asking staff to “examine all of the City’s fiscal, legislative and legal powers to support small businesses and jobs, arts and culture, and the visitor economy in order sustain the local economy during the pandemic and recover stronger and more resilient than before.”

For sure, senior levels of government have more tools at their disposal to support jobs and workers and we will continue to advocate to and partner with them. However, it is also incumbent on local governments to take action to support our local economies. There may be small things the City can do – or not do – to stimulate and sustain the local economy so that we can prepare for economic recovery in a sustainable and resilient way.

While we’re debating these issues and looking for solutions at City Hall, I hope we see Victorians out in the city, enjoying all of the wonderful experiences our small businesses have to offer – of course practicing the social distancing that Dr. Henry recommends. Now’s the time to show them our love.

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