VIDEA Hosts Global Storytelling Sessions Monday Evenings – All Welcome

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 2:30pm. 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 answer them and keep you and the media up to date with these live daily updates. I’ll also post the videos here from now on. This video is my address from Friday. We’ll be back Monday at 2:30pm. 

We learned yesterday that we have had one additional death due to COVID-19 in the Island Health region. On behalf of myself and Council, I want to offer our deepest condolences to the friends and family of this person.

News from the federal government

Today, the federal government announced more help for small and medium-sized businesses. The Government of Canada will provide $962 million to the Federal regional economic development agencies and to the Community Futures Network of Canada to provide help to small business that don’t qualify for the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) or the federal loan program.

The Government will also provide $270 million to Futurpreneur Canada and to the Industrial Research Assistance Program to support innovators who don’t qualify for these other funds. Both of these new programs are good news for Victoria businesses. We’ve heard from businesses that have fallen through the cracks. If you think your business might qualify for these new programs, please head to the City’s Business Hub website. It has has all the latest information on federal and provincial programs.

Today the federal government also announced funding for arts, culture and heritage.  The Government of Canada is providing $500 million to establish a new COVID-19 Emergency Support Fund for Cultural, Heritage and Sport Organizations to help address the complex financial needs of affected organizations within these sectors.

This fund is meant for organizations that can’t qualify for the existing Wage Subsidy because of the irregular nature of their revenues; it will also cover contract workers. The fund will also provide advances on future grants and contributions to help maintain liquidity as well as small subsidies to cover some fixed costs. We know that many people and organizations in Victoria will benefit from this. Minister Guillbeault’s office has already reached out to me to learn more about the need in Victoria.

As mayor I feel grateful that the federal government is working hard to ensure that the people and organizations that contribute to the cultural life of our city have some of their needs met and can stay afloat through this period and – with the support of the community – come back stronger than ever when this pandemic is behind us.

News from the provincial government

Yesterday I mentioned some great community resources for youth in our community. And yesterday the provincial government announced a new program to help post secondary students who are struggling with anxiety, depression, addiction or any other challenges at this difficult time.

Here2Talk is their new platform, available in English, Chinese and Punjabi. The platform offers free, confidential counselling for post secondary students by app, phone or online chat, 24 hours a day, seven days a week with trained counsellors. There is a Here2Talk app you can download, or you can visit their website here.

News from the community

I want to mention just a few of the ways people are connecting in new and different ways online. We’ve heard that the Lindyhop dancers of Victoria are using Zoom to continue to meet and dance with each other!

We’ve also heard that VIDEA is doing a community storytelling hour every Monday night at 7pm, with the link posted on VIDEA’s Facebook page. People are connecting from all around the world to share stories in a celebration of global community. You can also just listen. What a beautiful idea.

We’re going into another weekend, and I want to encourage everyone to keep on doing what you’re doing – stay home, wash your hands, practice physical distancing. As we saw from Dr. Bonnie Henry’s updated modeling this morning, it’s working! But we must keep it up. Only if we keep it up will we see some restrictions lifted.

Council Provides COVID Relief to Residents and Businesses

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 2:30pm. 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 answer them and keep you and the media up to date with these live daily updates. I’ll also post the videos here from now on. This video is my address from Thursday. We’ll be back Tuesday at 2:30pm. 

News from the provincial government

Today the province announced an expansion of virtual mental health supports. Working with partners, this will include online counselling supports, including for youth and immigrant and refugee populations. There will be a lot of resources available, check them out on the province’s COVID 19 website. This is a really important resource. We know there are people who are struggling right now. Please reach out if you need help.

News from the City

Today, at our Council meeting we made amendments to the 2020 Budget to deliver a financial relief package to help those in the community who may be experiencing financial hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • There will be no property tax increase this year for residential or commercial ratepayers
  • The deadline to pay property taxes has been extended to August 4 and a reduced penalty has been put in place for late payment
  • The deadline for utility bill payments has been extended to 90 days

Council has shown leadership in making these important decisions. We’re making these significant changes, while continuing to provide the services our residents depend on and leaving a little bit more money in people’s pockets. We understand the challenges out there. These decisions will help in some small way to reduce the financial hardship many of our residents and businesses are currently experiencing due to the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Council will also advocate to the provincial government to reinstate the property tax deferment program and extend the program to commercial properties, as well as amend the homeowner grant program to increase amounts and create a new category of grant for those who have suffered financial hardship.

Most of the City’s capital projects will still go ahead as planned as they preserve existing infrastructure, are safety related or are already in progress. To take advantage of lower traffic levels, the City will accelerate some of its major capital projects slated for the downtown core.

While the City is reducing work in some areas, it has more than $80 million in capital projects moving forward supporting the local economy. The $21.8 million in capital project spending that Council has deferred as of today will serve as a stimulus during economic recovery.

To make it easier for those who need to come downtown and park, rates in City parkades will be reduced to a maximum of $5 per day and on-street parking rates will be $1 per hour with no time limits except for 30-minute zones. These rates will be in effect for as long as the provincial state of emergency is in place.

Starting tomorrow and for future weekends, Beacon Hill Park will be closed to public vehicle traffic. This will free up space so local residents can stay active while also maintaining safe physical distances. City staff will be out in parks to engage with residents about playground and recreation facility closures and remind park users about physical distancing.

In addition, parking along Dallas Road will be realigned from angle parking to parallel parking in order to maintain physical distances. Parking along Douglas Street and on Nursery Road will remain open with an increased number of accessible stalls.

Beacon Hill Park and Dallas Road are magnets for visitors from all over the region, however, it’s important right now that we stay close to our homes and not travel to parks outside our local neighbourhoods. The Provincial Health Officer has encouraged us all to stay home as much as possible, and when we do go out for exercise and fresh air, staying close to home is the best option.

News from the community

Today I gave a big shoutout to VIATEC. VIATEC is the umbrella body for the tech community in Victoria. It owns Fort Tectoria, which houses office space for local companies and an event and gathering space.

VIATEC let us know that they have waived rent for all Fort Tectoria tenants for April. They’ve also offered membership deferrals, provided their job board at no charge to ViaTec members, and donated $10,000 to the Victoria Rapid Relief Fund. Thank you VIATEC for being such an important part of our city, for supporting your tenants and for helping out the wider community at this challenging time.

I also want to let you know that the Dandelion Society is hiring Shelter Support Staff immediately to support people who are experiencing homelessness. A background in Social Work, Mental Heath, Custodial, Security or Customer Service desperately needed. Experience working with this population is an asset. This posting can be found on The Chamber of Commerce job board, and you can also e-mail expressions of interest to mforbesbc@gmail.com

Have a wonderful long weekend everyone. I’m going to try to take a bit of downtime and begin to reflect on what recovery looks like and how we’ll all need to pull together on the other side of this pandemic to ensure a prosperous, inclusive, resilient and low-carbon future.

Federal Government Funds 100 Per Cent of Wages for Canada Summer Jobs for Students

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 2:30pm. 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 answer them and keep you and the media up to date with these live daily updates. I’ll also post the videos here from now on. This video is my address from Wednesday. We’ll be back Thursday at 2:30pm

Update from the federal government

A reminder that if your birthday is in July, August, or September, today is your day to apply for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit. The application process has been staggered to make it easier for people to apply. Earlier in the week I detailed who is eligible, but you can also learn more and apply here.

This morning the Prime Minister announced some good news for students and employers too – a boost to the Canada Summer Jobs program. This program funds student employment in the summer months. In response to COVID-19, the federal government will offer up to 100 per cent wage subsidy for employers, opening up the program to part time jobs, and will extend the end date for employment of February 28th, 2021.

We will await further details on this program expansion. If you are business planning to take advantage of the program, we’d love to hear from you. It’s so important that we share stories of how these additional funds and benefits are working in our community to give us all hope to get through this challenging time.

Update from the provincial government

All BC Parks are now closed until further notice, effective immediately. This temporary measure means public and vehicle access is prohibited. All trails, roads, day-use areas, beaches, lakes, boat launches, and backcountry areas are closed to the public. All camping is now banned until May 31st.

CRD and City parks are staying open at this time. As Dr. Bonnie Henry says, the risk of transmission outdoors is much less than the risk of transmission indoors. However, I urge you to follow all of the guidelines and orders currently in place to bend the curve.

If you are going for a walk in a park, don’t congregate. Don’t gather in groups. Keep your social distance and please be courteous of others. It’s going to be a beautiful holiday weekend and I understand the desire to get outdoors. We can get those walks in if we all do our part to look after each other and keep our physical distance.

For those around the region, please stay in your home municipalities this weekend. Leave Dallas Road and Beacon Hill Park for Victoria residents. Today at the CRD Board meeting, Chair Plant asked all residents to remain in their home municipalities and to use the parks and trail systems there.

BC Housing and Island Health update

In collaboration with the City of Victoria, BC Housing and Island Health will implement a model of temporary sheltering in Victoria and the CRD to meet the current COVID-19 health crisis. This model will prioritize temporary indoor sheltering across a variety of sites, consistent with the Province’s direction to provide safe spaces to self-isolate and enable physical distancing.

These sites will also provide services such as washrooms/hygiene, and social and health care supports as required, including harm reduction. With the focus on indoor spaces, Island Health has advised that Royal Athletic Park is no longer required as part of the coordinated action plan to support the vulnerable population in the CRD.

In partnership with BC Housing, the City of Victoria and Island Health, sites have been identified and will continue to be identified to support this population. We are doing everything in our power to try to prevent an outbreak in this community. That’s critically important not just for those who are living on the street, but for our entire community if we are going to flatten the curve and slow the pace of infection.

Health-specific messages from Island Health

The inside locations will support the Provincial Health Officer’s direction to better support social distancing and provide basic services such as food, washrooms/hygiene health and harm reduction for individuals experiencing homelessness. Island Health and BC Housing will work together to determine individuals’ needs and prioritize indoor shelter and housing accordingly.

Island Health will provide health care services and supports at these locations, including primary care, mental health and substance use and harm reduction programs. Island Health has identified sites where people experiencing homelessness who are COVID-19 positive will be able to self-isolate.

News from the City

flag at city hall heart

As promised, we raised the “we love front line workers Canadian flag” at City Hall this morning! They are available at the Victoria Flag Shop on Fort Street. Paul Servos the owner of the Flag Shop was inspired by the Victoria Rapid Relief Fund so they made a Canada Heart Flag and donated it to support the Fund and to thank essential workers.

The Flag Shop is now  making and selling the Canada Heart flags at lowest possible price so they can get wide distribution, and they are donating $5.00 to the local Victoria Rapid Relief Fund for every flag sold. By buying a flag you are also helping a small local business to stay afloat in these unusual times.

Many people have been asking  about parking. Last week Council asked staff to look at adjustments to parking fees due to COVID-19. Thursday, we will debate the options that staff have come up with. This is a balancing act – parking revenue makes a significant contribution to the City’s budget. And this revenue is down as people are working from home and not coming downtown.

However, we recognize that those working in essential services right now are still using parking and also facing additional pressures.  We’ll be considering daily and monthly parkade rates, on-street metered rates, parking lot rates, and enforcement of time-limited zones. To read the report and the staff recommendations, check out the agenda for tomorrow’s Committee of the Whole meeting at victoria.ca and tune into our live webcast at 9am tomorrow morning.

News from the community

Starfish Medical, based right here in Victoria, is helping to lead the production of made in Canada ventilators. Starfish is designing an open-source ventilator design for companies to produce, and will help connect manufacturers and suppliers to speed up production. The Times Colonist wrote a great story about this here.

And Camosun College – Camosun’s Innovation Centre will be manufacturing 9,000 face shields for frontline health care workers with Island Health in the coming weeks. This will fill an urgent need.

I’m so proud of the creativity and innovation that happens here in Victoria – we are helping each other and helping the national effort at the same time.

 

Dr. Henry Says Act as if COVID-19 is in Every Community in B.C.

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 2:30pm. 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 answer them and keep you and the media up to date with these live daily updates. I’ll also post the videos here from now on. This video is my address from Tuesday. We’ll be back Wednesday at 3:30pm. Note the new time for Wednesday.

News from the federal government

A reminder that if you need to apply for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit and your birthday is in April, May, or June, today is your day to apply. The application days have been staggered to make it easier for people to apply. Yesterday we detailed who is eligible, but you can also learn more and apply here.

News from the provincial government

Today Dr, Bonnie Henry wrote an op-ed which I encourage you all to check out, called, “No Boundaries with COVID-19″.  In it, she addresses how much information she discloses about the location of confirmed cases and why specific locations – neighbourhoods or cities – aren’t disclosed.

I want to share this important point from her article with you: “While I understand the desire to know and understand what the COVID-19 situation is in your community, I need to emphasize that knowing where the positive cases are does not protect you, your family or your community. The actions you take will do that. No one is immune from this disease, but everyone can make a difference. Every British Columbian has a part to play to flatten the curve.”

It is a good reminder for all of us who have not had the virus that we are not immune. We ALL need to commit and re-commit to the measures that will keep our community safe and healthy.

 News from the City

This Thursday at Council we’ll be re-opening the City’s budget in light of the COVID-19 crisis. Just like many businesses and households that have less revenue than usual and less cash on hand, the City’s revenue is also down, which means we have difficult decisions to make.

What some people might not know is that legally, municipalities have to balance our budgets. We can’t spend more in a year than we bring in. We are not permitted to run a deficit. This makes our work even more difficult.

But, we do have some ways we can help residents and businesses financially through the City’s 2020 budget. We are looking at potentially delaying significant capital projects and other new city initiatives in order to reduce the city’s 2020 budget.

If we reallocate over $11 million from those projects, as staff are recommending, then we can extend utility bill due dates by 90 days, and extend the property tax deadline to August 1st. Additionally, staff are recommending we create a larger operating contingency budget by deferring city projects and initiatives because we don’t know how long this pandemic is going to last. This will put us in better shape to provide stability for city services that we all depend on – like garbage collection and clean water – even if the crisis continues for some time.

We will also need to have a difficult conversation about the property tax increase. As of now, 2020 taxes are proposed to go up by 3.35% We could put less money in our reserves this year and lower the property tax rate. This will be another difficult conversation that Council has on Thursday.

In short – I hope we can make the most of our resources to help residents and business owners in this time, without reducing the services you all depend on. These will be extremely tough decisions, and we will be making these decisions publicly in our Committee of the Whole and Council meetings Thursday.

As I said yesterday, we don’t have the same tools as the province and the federal government to be able to provide big financial relief packages. That’s why staff are recommending that we ask the Province to:

    • Increase amounts for Homeowner Grants, and create a new category of grant applicable to people who have lost income due to the pandemic
    • Reinstate the financial hardship Deferment Program and extend the program to commercial properties
    • Change the date that we have to pay taxes to other agencies

You can read the full staff report here, which includes the lists of projects we are considering deferring. And you can, as always, watch our webcast as we hold our budget debate.

News from the community

The Rapid Relief Fund, started by the Times Colonist, the Victoria Foundation, and the Jawl Family Foundation have now set a target of $4 million in donations, and Victoria is really coming through. They are almost there! So many people have been helped already through this fund – every dollar raised goes to COVID relief in Greater Victoria. If you’re in a position to help them get to $4 million, you can do so here.

Canada Emergency Response Benefit – Applications Now Open

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 2:30pm. 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 answer them and keep you and the media up to date with these live daily updates. I’ll also post the videos here from now on. This video is my address from Monday We’ll be back Tuesday at 2:30pm.

Federal government updates

The application process for the federal government’s Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) is now open. In order to manage the volume of applications through the week, the system is open today only to those born in January, February, or March.

A reminder about eligibility: If you have already applied for EI, you do not need to additionally apply for the Emergency Response Benefit.

The CERB will support Canadians who have stopped working because of COVID-19 by providing $500 a week for up to 16 weeks. Some examples of support to workers provided by the CERB include:

  • Workers, including those who are self-employed, who must stop working due to COVID-19 and do not have access to paid leave or other income support;
  • Workers who have lost their employment, as well as workers who are sick, quarantined or taking care of someone who is sick with COVID-19;
  • Working parents who must stay home without pay to care for children who are sick or need additional care because of school and daycare closures; and
  • Workers who are still employed, but are not being paid because there is currently not sufficient work and their employer has asked them not to come to work.

Head here to apply.

Today Marc Garneau the Federal Transporation minister, announced new measures to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission on commercial passenger vessels and ferries.

As of today some of the mandatory requirements include implementing alternative practices to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 among passengers on board their vessels, such as keeping people in their vehicles, when feasible or enhanced cleaning and hygiene measures.

In addition to these measures, Transport Canada is issuing guidelines to ferry operators respecting health screening for all passengers before boarding to better protect their employees and passengers. These guidelines are based on advice from the Public Health Agency of Canada.

The reminder for all of us is to keep traveling on ferries only when it’s essential.

BC Transit

I also want to bring you an update from BC Transit. BC Transit will be extending rear door boarding until at least April 30th . This will enhance physical distancing measures and safeguards transit drivers. This also means that fares will not be collected at this time. For passengers with accessibility needs, the front door and ramp are still available.

News from the City

Today we have nothing new to announce today but I want to clarify some of the measures we announced last week and tell you more about what’s coming this week.

Last week council announce an expanded Growing in the City program. There have been some questions about this program. I’d like to share some facts that help put it into context.

Our Parks staff will be growing vegetable plant starts and distributing them through the Urban Food Table and the community centre network to get them into the hands of people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford vegetable starts this year.

During the Depression and World War Two, Victoria City Council took similar actions. In the Depression, Parks workers grew thousands of pounds of potatoes in Beacon Hill Park and donated them to the Old Men’s and Old Women’s homes. In World War Two parks workers were involved in the Victory Garden movement.

Additionally, while the Provincial government is doing a good job with respect to the supply chain and grocery store shelves are relatively well stocked,  we don’t know how long this will go on so it’s important to be prepared. The expanded Growing in the City initiative is the City doing its small part.

There have also questions about why we did this before bigger measures or measures to support small business.

It’s easy to give staff direction to plant vegetables. It’s more difficult to cut millions of dollars from the City’s budget to grapple with falling revenues, trying to keep the tax increase as low as possible, preferably at zero, and looking at all measures to support both residential and commercial property taxpayers. This is the difficult work we’ve been doing over the past few weeks, there will be a comprehensive report for Council’s consideration on Thursday.

We know many people are really worried about their financial security. We hear you. That’s why we’re working as hard as we can to bring in measures to provide relief, even though we don’t have as many fiscal tools or powers as the Provincial and federal governments. We’re going to do the very best for you with the powers we have.

We’ve also had questions about how we are going to maintain transparency even while we meet less in person and more on the phone. Transparency is a key element of local government. The City of Victoria was one of first to go to webcasting years ago now. All our meetings are continuing to be web cast and include the public.

We have also created a mechanism for people to make presentations to Council via Youtube or in writing. Last week Council gave staff direction to look at ways to increase electronic participation of residents and committee members in land use decisions. Staff will be reporting back soon.

It’s important to me that we keep land use proposals moving forward – especially for rental housing, affordable housing, and commercial ventures. These will all be critically important to Victoria’s economic recovery. So we’re balancing public participation – including creative ways for people to participate online – with keeping the business of the city moving.

We’ll have more information on all of this soon and I’ll be happy to share it with you all.

News from the community

I heard over the weekend that Current Taxi – Victoria’s first fully electric taxi company – is offering free transportation to work for Island Health hospital employees in appreciation of those working to keep our community safe. Current Taxi is following strict disinfecting and social distancing protocols, and uses app based payment, so no cards or cash is exchanged. For all of the details, download the Current Taxi app. Thanks for doing this for our front line workers, Current Taxi.

And thanks to all of you who are helping out, in big ways, in small ways. I’d love to highlight what you’re doing to help out, or something creative your business is doing, so don’t forget to comment in the feed or drop me an e-mail at mayor@victoria.ca.

As we go into another week, I want to encourage you, as Dr Bonnie Henry says, to stay the course. We are in the thick of this, and if we keep doing what we’re doing, we WILL flatten that curve.

 

Volunteer Victoria Stepping Up Big to Coordinate Helping Hands

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 2:30pm. 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 answer them and keep you and the media up to date with these live daily updates. I’ll also post the videos here from now on. This video is my address from Friday We’ll be back Monday at 2:30pm.

Today I had Mary Warner, a sign language interpreter arranged by Island Deaf and Hard of Hearing Centre join me. She will now be interpreting my daily addresses. Thank you Mary!

Yesterday we saw the first two COVID related deaths on Vancouver Island. Our hearts and deepest condolences go out to the families and friends of the two people who passed away.

News from the federal government

This morning, the Prime Minister announced $100 million dollars to meet urgent needs food security needs across the country, to improve access to food for Canadians facing social, economic and health impacts of COVID-19. In addition he noted that the Canada child benefit that was scheduled for May will be sent out a month earlier, and GST credits will roll out sooner than scheduled.

News from the provincial government

Yesterday the province announced a new Economic Recovery Task Force to respond to emerging needs and to plan for the longer-term economic recovery that will be needed in the wake of COVID. The task force is made up of cabinet ministers, senior government staff, representatives from business, labour, First Nations, and the non-profit sector. I’m glad to hear that there is a dedicated team looking at this. We also look forward to the addition of some representation from Vancouver Island on the Task Force.

In addition, following yesterday’s announcement on emergency financial aid for students, today the Province is providing an additional $1.5 million to supplement the Indigenous Emergency Assistance Fund, which assists Indigenous students who are experiencing an unexpected financial emergency that may affect their ability to finish their studies.

Students who access the emergency funding do not have to repay it. Indigenous students can contact the Indigenous Student Service Centre on campus, which will help with the application process to receive the financial assistance.

News from the City

BC Housing has been working hard this past week along with community partners at the Coalition to End Homelessness. As of today, 102 motel rooms have been filled by people who were previously sleeping outdoors. BC Housing continues to look for more options to move folks inside where they can stay healthy and safe. This is a good first step, but as Dr. Richard Stanwick the Island Health Medical Health officer advised on our daily call today, the goal is to get everyone inside. This is important for the health vulnerable populations and the health of our community.

News from the community

I’d like to tell you today about the important work Volunteer Victoria is doing right now. They have a roster of trained, vetted volunteers working hard in so many ways. They’re helping families who can’t get out with chores and other tasks. They’re helping people get to medical appointments. And they’re helping when people just need someone to talk to.

As we’ve all seen, Victoria is really coming together and if you’re interested in volunteering got to Volunteer Victoria. We’ve heard from so many people with extra time on their hands who want to help out others in their community. Volunteer Victoria is the way to get connected. If you need help, please also go to Volunteer Victoria.

At the end of another long week, and on behalf of myself and Council please be in touch and let us know how you’re doing. Please hang in there. And please, this weekend, reach out to someone who could use a phone call or an e-mail. It is so important to stay connected. It what will get us through.

 

City Scales Up Growing in the City Urban Agriculture Initiative in Response to Community Demand During COVID-19

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 2:30pm. 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 answer them and keep you and the media up to date with these live daily updates. I’ll also post the videos here from now on. This video is my address from Thursday. We’ll be back Friday at 2:30pm.

News from the City

In response to many people in our community involved in food growing and urban agriculture, today Council passed a motion brought forward by Councillors Isitt and Loveday to temporarily reallocate some of our resources in the Parks Department to enable staff to contribute to food programs in our region.

By simply scaling up our already existing Growing in the City program, City parks staff will grow between 50,000 and 75,000 food plant starts and work with partners such as the Urban Food Table to distribute them in the community. This is one small thing the City can do to help people in our community with food security during the COVID-19 crisis, without adding any additional costs to our current operations.

We have also directed staff to examine all of the City’s fiscal, legislative and legal powers to support small businesses and jobs, the non-profit sector, arts and culture and the tourism sector. Next Thursday we’ll be re-opening our 2020 budget and looking at what projects and new hires can be deferred to 2021. The City’s revenues are down substantially, primarily at this point because of a significant downward trend in parking revenue.

We are looking at every option to sustain the local economy during the pandemic and recover stronger and more resilient than before.

News from the Province

We know that this crisis has hit students hard, many who have been left in uncertain circumstances mid-term. Today the Province announced a $3.5 million emergency fund for post-secondary students. This supplements existing student emergency financial assistance. This funding will support domestic B.C. students who are experiencing an unexpected financial emergency that may affect their ability to finish their studies and handle expenses. Students in need of this help should speak to their institution’s financial aid office.

Today Minister Simpson, the Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction announced of a $300 a month COVID-19 supplement for those on disability and income assistance, and BC seniors supplement. This benefit will start on April cheques. There will also be a temporary exemption on claw-backs for those receiving the $2000 Canada Emergency Response Benefit. Additionally, those who qualify for bus passes will have the amount of the bus pass added to their cheques for the duration of free transit.

News from the community

I want to talk for a minute about grocery shopping, and say a massive thank you to another group of front line workers – grocery store employees. Country Grocer recently made a post on Facebook which I think sums it all up well. They write: “Try to lessen your shop to once a week. If possible, send only one member of your household to shop. Wash your hands prior to shopping and after. And please, be kind.”

We’ve heard some stories of impatience at the grocery store check out. Even simple things like grocery shopping are stressful for many people right now. Those of us shopping get to get in and then get out. The cashiers who ring our groceries through are there for hours, risking their own health so we can get food. Please show them courtesy and kindness. This just makes it nicer for everyone.

Grocery stores are doing an amazing job of keeping shelves as stocked as they can, keeping stores clean, and providing social distancing guidelines. Please respect the distancing measures stores have put in place. And please don’t stockpile goods.

Feedback from Councillor Thornton-Joe

Many members of council watch the daily feeds and have been sending input and ideas to share. We know that many of you who are able to are working from home, or at home caring for children. You may have seen a post going around social media that was written by a psychologist, ‘Wellness Tips for Quarantine’. Councillor Thornton-Joe wanted me to share this with all of you. It is really valuable, detailed thoughtful  advice. Please read it and share with those who you think need it too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

City of Victoria Artist in Residence Kathryn Calder Performs Live Concert – From Her Living Room to Yours

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 2:30pm. 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 answer them and keep you and the media up to date with these live daily updates. I’ll also post the videos here from now on. This video is my address from Wednesday. We’ll be back Thursday at 2:30pm.

With music venues closed and public events postponed due to COVID-19, musicians around the world are finding creative ways to perform and share access to live music. The City of Victoria’s Artist in Residence, Kathryn Calder, is no exception.

Kathryn will live stream a concert from her home in Victoria Friday, April 3 at 7:30 p.m. Tune in to Kathryn’s YouTube channel to watch live. The 30-minute solo set will include a selection of Kathryn’s own songs, as well as a couple of her favourites written by others.

Kathryn Calder was selected as the City’s Artist in Residence in 2019. For the past 15 years, Kathryn has been recording and touring as a vocalist and keyboardist with indie rock group The New Pornographers. She has also released three solo records, five albums with Immaculate Machine, and one album with her latest project, Frontperson.

So as you’re practicing social distancing or isolation, take the opportunity to tune into what is sure to be some great music. Thank you, Kathryn, for doing this!

News from the provincial government

Today, the provincial government announced a three-month credit on BC Hydro bills for individual customers, and a three month payment holiday for businesses. Premier Horgan asks that only people who need to apply for this do so.

News from the community

Today I want to tell you about a new initiative called supportlocalyyj launched this week by Think Local First. It’s a way you can support your favourite local businesses by buying gift cards. As we know, so many local businesses are shut because of emergency provincial health orders.

Any local independent business can join the supportlocalyyj initiative, no cost no membership required. And what’s so great about this is that supportlocalyyj takes on the admin and payment for the businesses. Any gift card value is 100% transferred to the business.

Vancity along with Think Local First is administrating and developed the platform including covering all payment processing costs. Shopify donated the webhosting and page. Each week the cash generated by gift card sales is sent right to the local business.

Please share this with businesses who might want to register. And here’s yet another way for those with the means to support our favourite businesses through this hard time while benefiting ourselves from credit at our favourite stores!

An update has come in from the Boxes of Hope program that is supporting local restaurants and feeding those in need at the same time. I’d like to give a shout out to Aryze, who donated 1000 meals and challenged others in their industry to do the same on Twitter – GMC Projects and Kang and Gill Construction are joining them in donating. Thanks to all, and keep it up!

What Eveliina shared with us on the Facebook live feed

Yesterday Eveliina wrote in about something she’s doing to spread joy in her neighbourhood. She says:

“I live along Fort St and have been periodically starting up my bubble machine during the day, as well as for the 7pm salute, to bring joy to neighbours and those who may be out walking. When the wind is with me they drift right down the street and out of view!”

Thanks Eveliina, that’s such a fun way to create joy with neighbours.

 

 

Daily stories of hope and despair amid the crisis

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 2:30pm. 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 answer them and keep you and the media up to date with these live daily updates. I’ll also post the videos here from now on. This video is my address from Tuesday. We’ll be back Wednesday at 2:30pm.

This blog post was originally published here in today’s Times Colonist to support the Rapid Relief Fund.

It is a privilege and a great responsibility to be the mayor of Victoria through this crisis. Over the past few weeks, since the coronavirus has transformed lives the world over, my email inbox has filled up daily with heartfelt stories of despair, and of hope.

There are worried notes from people suffering from job losses and business closures, and an email from a mother with a son living on Pandora Avenue, concerned about her son’s health and asking if we can install handwashing stations. (We have — our public-works team built them themselves.) I’ve heard from seniors who are feeling isolated, or scared to go out for groceries.

There are partners of front-line health-care workers who’ve emailed or called, wondering what they should do, and where their partners can go instead of coming home after working all day, at risk of exposure to COVID-19.

I’ve also received emails and had conversations with service providers and front-line workers who work with people living on the streets. They are worried about their clients who were already vulnerable before this crisis hit. As Dave Obee noted in his piece on the Rapid Relief Fund on Sunday: “When the economy takes a body blow, as it has this month, the people at the low end of the income scale will suffer the most.”

But also flowing into my inbox are stories of hope.

One of the best stories to date is the Boxes of Hope program created by local restaurateurs — led by Chris Jones of Jones BBQ — and the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness, with support from the Jawl family and the Downtown Victoria Business Association. I love this program. People in need of meals are being fed, local restaurant kitchens can stay open and staff remain on the payroll.

Last Saturday morning, for the first time in a long time, 21 people woke up inside, in motel rooms rented by the city through Emergency Management B.C. And when they did, there was a warm meal waiting for them from the Boxes of Hope program.

The Rapid Relief Fund is another story of hope. More than $2.7 million has already been raised through generous contributions of Victorians. The first round of funding has already gone out the door to organizations providing help and relief to people who need it.

On Monday, more funding was announced to organizations that meet a wide range of needs, from the Sooke Food Bank to the Aboriginal Coalition to End Homelessness, to the Together Against Poverty Society, to the Soap for Hope Program and more.

These organizations are working around the clock to meet the needs that keep flowing into my email inbox. And now, when I respond to these emails, I’ll be able to give better, more hopeful answers.

This is why I donated $1,000 to the fund within days of it launching. And it’s why I encourage others who can to do the same.

This is not the first time in Victoria that we’ve come together in this way. During my PhD research, I discovered the Citizens Emergency Relief Fund, created in the 1930s in Victoria by a group of community leaders and supported by the local newspapers.

Each day, the papers would publish the names of donors and the amounts they donated; some people gave as little as $5. Each name and donation amount was printed, no matter how much or how little. Every dollar counted.

The similarities to the present day are inspiring. People back then donated generously and helped their neighbours through a hard time. We’re doing the same thing now. And it’s imperative that we act quickly to help keep each other afloat. This will make the crisis shorter and recovery quicker, and it’ll create the kind of resilience that we need going forward as a community.

Thank you to the Times Colonist, the Jawl Foundation, the Victoria Foundation and everyone who has contributed already.

To those who haven’t yet, the opportunity awaits. You can donate here.

 

Now Is Not the Time To Party – Police Called to Nine Gatherings Over Weekend – Stay at Home!

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 2:30pm. 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. I’ll also put the videos up here from now on. This video is my address from Monday. We’ll be back Tuesday at 2:30pm.

Chief Constable Del Manak is urging members of our Victoria and Esquimalt communities to continue to follow social and physical distancing orders from Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry after officers were called to multiple gatherings over the weekend.

Officers were called to nine noise complaints, including several parties and other gatherings, as well as to a group at Saxe Point Park over the weekend. Officers spoke with some attendees about the risks that violating Dr. Henry’s orders present to those gathering, to their loved ones and to the wider community. These gatherings also present additional, unnecessary risk of COVID-19 exposure to front-line officers responding to these calls.

“We need to do better,” Chief Del Manak said. “The first line of defense against COVID-19 is social and physical distancing. Please, think of the greater good. Think of our officers who are attending these calls. Think of the grocery clerks, the cleaners, the nurses, the doctors, the care workers and all the other front-line and essential service workers who cannot stay home, but who are putting themselves at risk for others. Please, stay home.”

News from the federal and provincial governments

This morning the Prime Minister announced more information regarding the wage subsidy for business and non-profits. Some important details: All businesses are eligible if business revenue has decreased by at least 30% due to COVID19; no business is too small to be eligible; the federal government will provide 75% of salary on the first $58,700 an employee earns; the program is retroactive to March 15.

On Friday, the provincial government announced new funding for arts and culture. They have developed a $3-million Arts and Culture Resilience Supplement which will be administered by the BC Arts Council. Those eligible will receive a supplement of up to $15,000 in early April to help them pay their bills.

And starting in April 2020, the BC Arts Council will provide eligible organizations a 50% advance on 2020-21 funding to help with cash flow. They are also extending application deadlines, relaxing reporting requirements and allowing organizations to use funding to cover immediate needs like rent and utilities.

This is so important to Victoria because our arts and culture events are a key part of what makes Victoria so amazing, vibrant and alive. AND they’re a key economic driver.

Small business, non-profits, and arts and culture are all areas that Council has been advocating for relief for, and I’d like to thank the federal and provincial governments for providing assistance to these important sectors in this challenging time.

News from the City

I’d like to address some of the questions that came in on Friday’s Facebook live about Topaz Park so first I’ll refresh you on what Island Health, BC Housing, the City, the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness and the Dandelion Society are working on together.

The Phase One shelter and service provision sites that are being put into place at Topaz and Royal Athletic Parks are temporary stopgap measures. These are needed to ensure social distancing is possible. The current situation on Pandora St. does not facilitate people following Dr Bonnie Henry’s orders.

The temporary park sites were chosen due to proximity to washrooms, appropriate space for social distancing, and because some, in the case of Topaz Park, people were already sheltering there. Phase Two, which will be underway as soon as possible, will move people to indoor shelters. And it’s already started. Over the weekend, 27 of the first 35 motel rooms were filled with people who were sleeping outdoors. Forty more motel rooms have been identified and social service providers will be out in the community identifying people who would be suitable to move in

It’s important to note that the Province is securing motel rooms across the island and around the Province. And I know that all mayors on the island are working hard with BC Housing and Island Health to provide the supports that people need in their own communities.

News from the community

I’ve been encouraging everyone to participate in the 7pm cheering for health care workers. And it’s working – last night the whole string of backyards along our street were out there banging pots and pans, and waving to each other as well. It feels like a good way to stay connected!

And today I learned of another way we can thank our local health care workers, and that’s the Hospital Heroes of Victoria campaign from the Victoria Hospitals Foundation. You can send a personal message to our frontline workers, our hospital heroes right here. This is a simple, heartfelt way you can boost the spirits of healthcare workers.

Feedback from the community

A resident got in touch after Friday’s address asking me to please remind everyone to help those who are vision impaired in our community; they can’t see appropriate social distances, so please be observant and move away. She wrote:

 “I’m just talking with a friend who is vision impaired with an assist dog. They are conscientious. They are adhering to the CoVid 19 safety guidelines. Today while walking the Dallas Road walkway, they did their best to HEAR where people were and to keep away from them. Yet, some people did not keep their distance from them and seemed unconcerned and indifferent. When they reminded them of the two metre distance, they didn’t care. In some cases, people were hostile when reminded.

“We think it is important for everyone to obey the physical distance rule. And, if everyone did so, then my friend could go for a CoVid safe walk which is important for their mental and physical health.”

We’re all learning lots about each other’s needs and points of view in this health emergency. Let’s keep each other’s needs in mind.

Please, let’s look after each other. And please continue to write to me in the comments or to mayor@victoria.ca to tell me what you’re seeing in our community. I’d love to share more of your stories about what you are doing to keep social connection while physically distancing.

Today Dr. Bonnie Henry told us that the next two weeks are our watershed moment. The things we are already doing are making a difference. But we are not through the storm yet, we have not reached our peak in cases.

She thanked people for taking the measures she recommends seriously – and I want to do the same – the health of our city and our community depends on it. Keep up those social distancing measure. Don’t gather in small groups inside. Keep your distances. Don’t play basketball, you could take something home and infect your parents or grandparents. Stay at home. And stay connected with your community and with the people you love! The next two weeks are make or break. Together, we’ve got this!