British Columbia·Video

Vancouver asks province for answer to $200M aid request before deciding whether to cut services

While Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart has asked for $200 million from the provincial government to mitigate the financial impacts of COVID-19 and warned the city is at risk of bankruptcy, other B.C. municipalities are taking a different approach. 

B.C. municipalities can't run deficits, and there's worry people won't be able to pay their property taxes

Mayor Kennedy Stewart addresses the media on March 16. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

While Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart has asked for $200 million from the provincial government and highlighted negative consequences if they don't get support, other B.C. municipalities are taking a different approach toward mitigating the financial impact of the pandemic. 

"[Bankruptcy] is a lovely dramatic phrase, and no disrespect to the good people of Vancouver … but it's not gonna happen," said Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog. 

"Not gonna happen in Vancouver, and not gonna happen in Nanaimo. We will trim our sail to match our cloth, as my granny told me."

Nanaimo council has passed a "revenue anticipation borrowing bylaw", allowing them to take up to $50 million for any immediate cash crunch that could come if not enough people pay their property tax bills. 

Several other municipalities have taken the same decision in the past week, including Delta ($35 million), New Westminster ($15 million) and Port Coquitlam ($30 million). Many others are hoping the province will provide clarity on whether they should extend the deadline for property tax payment from July to September.

"None of us know how long it's going to take, and that's the point of the borrowing bylaws. It's not that we need the cash next week, or next month," said Krog. 

"There's no doubt we're getting squeezed, but … we have appropriate cashflow to get us through this." 

On Tuesday, Vancouver council voted to wait two weeks until beginning a process for loaning money or cutting services, in hopes the province would provide more clarity by then.

"We need to hear from the provincial and federal governments right now," Stewart said on Wednesday.

"If they are not going to help us, tell us. If they are going to help us, tell us. Don't leave us hanging in the middle of this massive crisis. 

Metro Van and TransLink under strain, too

Local governments are facing a crunch because they have limited ways to raise revenue outside of property taxes, and legally aren't allowed to run deficits.

While it's expected the B.C. government will be providing assistance to both municipalities and other transportation organizations under its jurisdiction, that hasn't come to fruition yet. 

Selina Robinson, the minister responsible for both municipal affairs and TransLink, rejected an interview request from CBC News, though on Wednesday John Horgan said the policy response from the government is coming soon.

B.C. Liberals transportation critic Marvin Hunt said he sympathized with the province taking its time. 

WATCH | Mayors' Council chair Jonathan Coté says Metro Vancouver's transit system will be 'unrecognizable' without emergency funding: 

Vancouver mayor: we need financial help but have heard 'nothing concrete'

1 year ago
1:47
Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart says his city is still waiting to hear back from both the provincial and federal governments for financial help, but is reassuring the public Vancouver is not on the verge of bankruptcy. 1:47

"This is certainly a challenge because, let's be honest with ourselves: there's TransLink, there's BC Transit, we're seeing similar situations at BC Ferries," he said.

"And if we're talking about the federal government dealing with the response here, they're dealing with this right across Canada. Every major city has the same challenge."

One level of government less concerned, at least for the moment, is Metro Vancouver. The regional organization responsible for services like waste, water and sewage says the next round of payments from member municipalities isn't due for several months.  

"We got most of the money coming in until about July," said Metro Vancouver chair Sav Dhaliwal, who is also a Burnaby councillor.

"After that, it could be impacted. But we're hoping that before those payments are due, there would be some solution or some support from [the province]."

For now, like the rest of the local leaders across B.C., Dhaliwal can only wait.

"It's very worrisome and frustrating to some extent," he said. 

"But I can tell you, I also understand ... we're hoping that as soon as they think they have complete control of coronavirus, they will turn their attention to us."

If you have a COVID-19-related story we should pursue that affects British Columbians, please email us at impact@cbc.ca.  

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