Larger B.C. cities hit hardest by pandemic: UBCM president

B.C.’s larger cities have been harder hit financially by the COVID-19 pandemic than smaller ones, the president of the Union of B.C. Municipalities says.

“COVID has flipped plans and priorities,” said Maja Tait, who is also mayor of Sooke. “We can see the sorrow, and we can feel the impact this has on our community.”

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Tait was addressing UBCM’s convention as it opened Tuesday. The annual event is being held this week in Victoria, though most people are attending remotely.

Early in the pandemic, it was clear the UBCM and communities needed to first protect staff and adjust workplaces and priorities, Tait said.

Then, she said, it was in order for communities to ensure they could continue to build infrastructure and support their communities.

That meant working closely with federal and provincial governments as well as organizations such as the Canadian Federation of Municipalities. And, she said, “we needed to reach out to our members to triage impacts.”

The first thing the UBCM heard from members was the need for help in understanding and implementing health recommendations coming from Victoria, Tait said. Then came the “dramatic closures” of facilities to protect people.

It soon became clear that it was going to be the medium and large communities that were going to feel the impact mosts. Larger municipalities faced the most layoffs and closures, she said, and their transit systems were hard hit.

It was transit in the large communities that took a huge hit, she said.

“The bigger the system, the bigger the impact.”

With the coming of the restart plan — a billion dollars for transit and other items — the future seemed brighter.

“They responded clearly to key issues that our members identified,” Tait said.

UBCM represents local governments in B.C. and provides members an opportunity to share information and make policy. Positions are taken to other levels of government and organizations involved in local affairs.

This year’s event — the organization’s 117th annual meeting — is being held online due to pandemic restrictions. It is being hosted virtually from Victoria, whose mayor, Lisa Helps, welcomed delegates sitting at their computers to the event.

“There are very few people here at the convention centre,” she said. “It feels very strange.”

 — With a file from the Times Colonist

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