BC Government Photo
For those who want to stay right up to date with what’s happening in the City on COVID-19, please join me daily on the City of Victoria’s Facebook page at 3:30pm. And please share this link and information with your friends and neighbours. We’re getting lots of emails with lots of questions and we’ll do our best to keep you and the media up to date with these live daily updates. Here’s some of what I shared today. And more detailed information below from the Provincial Government’s important press conference.
We’re really encouraged to see the additional supports coming out from the Province this afternoon. Especially those supports for small businesses and people that work for them. And we’re really happy to hear that more supports will be coming for renters, to be announced by the province on Wednesday. Premier John Horgan said today that no individual will be evicted due to COVID – 19. This is something that Council is very concerned about and I’m happy to see the Province take leadership. We hope the Province will do everything in their power to support renters – which comprise well over half of Victoria’s population.
We’re also happy to see the Province providing $500 million in tax deferrals. And creating a $1.5 billion recovery fund. At the beginning of an economic crisis is a good time to begin to prepare for recovery. I appreciate the Province’s foresight in this regard.
As for what the City is doing, the City’s emergency planning protocol has kicked in, and our Emergency Operations Centre is up and running. This allows us to work closely with Emergency Operations BC, and respond to emerging needs. It also means the City can be reimbursed by the Province for expenses incurred to respond to the emergency.
We have closed all parks facilities, playgrounds in addition to skate and bike parks, basketball & tennis courts, sports fields, outdoor gyms.
The City has convened Island Health, BC Housing, the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness, the Dandelion Society and other local service agencies to identify and implement measures to help protect people who are experiencing or at risk of homelessness. These organizations will have additional supports for vulnerable populations including more places for people to shelter and self-isolate.
These measures include allowing temporary shelters at Beacon Hill Park and Topaz Park, where residents can access up to date health information, meals, washrooms and handwashing stations. BC Housing is working with Island Health to use the Royal Athletic Park as an outdoor shelter for the city’s most vulnerable residents. This location allows for social distancing measures. The Province has the power, under the provincial state of emergency, to use city facilities for emergency measures. In the coming days and weeks we may see more of this, as we work together to look after our residents.
Here is a powerful statement from Jim Swanson, General Manager of the Victoria Harbourcats who are the City’s main tenant at Royal Athletic Park. His response choked me up when I read it today. This is an example of true leadership:
“The Covid-19 pandemic is the most glaring example in history that we all, globally, need to stand together, and act together.
The Victoria HarbourCats fully support the measures so far being put in place by the Province of B.C., led by Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix. The HarbourCats also support the new development that areas inside Royal Athletic Park will be used by the City of Victoria to create appropriate social distancing for the city’s homeless population, with the 900 block of Pandora becoming a problem area for us all to maintain space and give the best chance of everyone coming out of this healthy.
This is bigger than any of us individually, as people or as companies or government departments. Working with Mayor Helps, and with key City staff, this is the right thing for all to do. We all must do our part to flatten the curve, so this can have the least impact on life and health, and allow us to recover sooner.
Baseball takes a back seat right now, that’s for sure — and let’s focus on the HarbourCats only after we focus on each other. Our season doesn’t arrive until June, we have the luxury of time, let’s deal with now and worry about later, later.
When it’s time to play baseball, we’ll play baseball. When we’re able to gather again, and cross borders, we’ll play. Until then, the people in our organization will be dedicated to being part of the solution.”
In addition to the three temporary outdoor sheltering sites, 938 Mason Street, the old Girl Guides building, which BC Housing recently purchased, will be temporarily used as a triaging and testing site for members of the homeless community. Island Health is still working out all the details.
Moving forward – because we can’t have people living in tents for four to six months in a health emergency – the City and our partners are exploring indoor options for residents to be assigned a bed in addition to essential services this could include BC Housing providing hotel rooms, and/or using other public facilities to turn into temporary indoor sheltering areas.
We will update you on plans at details as they become available on the City’s Facebook page at 3:30pm every day. Please tune in!
Further Details on Provincial Press Conference
- Action Plan is focused on: Protecting British Columbians, direct immediate economic relief, and planning/funding for long-term recovery.
- $5 billion dollar plan for British Columbians and businesses. This is a starting point and there will be more support if needed.
- $1.7 billion in investments for critical services – to be allocated in weeks and months ahead as needed (including healthcare, shelters, rental support programs, extra disability assistance, and support for individuals/families and businesses).
- $1.1. billion specifically for workers and families: Emergency Benefit for workers will provide a 1 time payment of $1000 dollar to anyone who cannot work because of COVID-19. This is a first step – other measures may be needed later. Even those not eligible for EI can claim the payment.
- An enhanced BC climate action tax payment will occur in July. Need to file taxes to determine eligibility, in order to receive payment.
- Looking at details for how to support renters – including increased support for seniors and the working poor. Requesting that landlords halt evictions.
- $50 million in added funding for United Way.
- As of March 30, all student loan payments will be paused until September 30.
- BC Hydro will work with customers to defer bill payments or arrange for flexible payments without penalty. ICBC will offer more drivers license renewals online or on the phone and defer payments for 90 days with no penalty.
- Deferring most Provincial tax filing deadlines (municipal and regional taxes, Provincial tax, carbon tax, and several others) until September 30
- Delaying increase to carbon tax indefinitely, will review by September 30.
- Establishing a recovery task force that will include members from business and labour. Have set aside $1.5 billion dollars for longer-term recovery – will be deployed when signs of recovery are apparent.
Q&A – Select Questions
- What supports are there for renters and mortgage-payers? Is there a ban on all evictions in B.C.?
- Premier Horgan: Nobody will lose their apartment because of COVID-19 (evictions for other reasons could occur). Further details on support for renters will be publicized on Wednesday. Joint Federal-Provincial support for mortgages are in place. We are working on common language for program delivery.
- Is this package in addition to the Provincial budget and where is the deficit projection at?
- Minister James: Yes, this spending is in addition to the budget – will be enacted by the legislation being passed today. Deficit will be impacted by COVID-19 spending undoubtedly. Right now we are focused on dealing with immediate impacts, but we will have a broader fiscal update in late summer/early fall.
- How fast can you get the application process set up for COVID-19 funding and when will the money flow to citizens?
- Minister James: We will get everything set up by May. The application process will be streamlined and as simple as possible.
- Should small businesses stay open with bare bones staff or close completely and lay-off people so that they can collect EI?
- Premier Horgan: It is a tough call. We’ve put in place as many incentives and supports as possible for small businesses, but each business needs to make their own call. I realize that is an imperfect message, and I sympathize with the predicament of these business owners. We will continue to monitor the situation and provide more support as needed.
- Quebec and Ontario are going to a full shutdown of all non-essential services tomorrow. Are you considering that?
- Premier Horgan: I’m considering it on some level, of course. But it’s easy to say “lockdown” or “shutdown”, but the lists of exceptions you end up seeing in those situations (i.e. in California) look similar to the limitations that we already have in place in B.C. I don’t want to create confusion by changing our terminology. We are taking a science-based approach to all this and also being mindful of the economy as well.
- Do you see a need for municipalities or the Federal government to declare states of emergency to increase enforcement of social distancing?
- Premier Horgan: They can do so if they want, but we have all the powers we need at the Provincial level to enforce social distancing. People need to do the right thing here.
- How are you considering the impact of COVID-19 on other crises, like opioids abuse and homelessness?
- Premier Horgan: I would also expand that to peoples mental health. We are putting more resources online.
- Recession is virtually a given at this point? What are your projections saying?
- Minister James: Right now we are focused on dealing with immediate impacts, but we will have a broader fiscal update in late summer/early fall – it’s too difficult to project at this point. That is also why we are setting aside funding for long-term recovery.