PEI

Having public service work from home would be hit to downtown Charlottetown, mayor says

The P.E.I. government’s plan to have a third of its workforce to continue to work from home after the pandemic is being met with concern by political leaders and business owners in downtown Charlottetown.

P.E.I. government working on a plan to have 33% of its employees continue working from home

Christine McQuaid, left, and Steve Murphy, co-owners of Slaymaker & Nichols, a bar and restaurant in downtown Charlottetown, say the potential of losing a third of the public service will have a major impact on their business. (Wayne Thibodeau/CBC)

The P.E.I. government's plan to have a third of its workforce continue to work from home after the pandemic is being met with concern by political leaders and business owners in downtown Charlottetown.

Last week, Transportation Minister Steven Myers said the province is working on a plan to have 33 per cent of its employees keep working from home to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions. The province has already identified 16 per cent of the workforce who are interested in working from home.

Myers said the plan would be for employees to work three days from home and two days at the office to avoid social isolation. 

Charlottetown Mayor Philip Brown said the loss of the public service workers downtown during the pandemic has already had a huge impact on businesses and the city's own coffers, with parkades and metered parking spots sitting empty for the past two months. He said losing a third of them permanently would be tough. 

"That's not only a hit for city revenues, but if you look at your coffee shops, if you look at your restaurants, your bars, clothing stores — less customers mean less sales," Brown said.

'Opportunity to grow the local, small economy too'

Myers said the move will also have a positive impact on many rural communities. 

Transportation Minister Steven Myers says the province is working on a plan to have 33 per cent of its workforce continue to work from home after the pandemic to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

"It's great for the economies of Rustico and Cardigan and Georgetown and Souris and Morell and Murray River and Belfast to have people who work for government work in their own communities," said Myers.

"I don't think for a second that people won't come to Charlottetown to shop. Obviously, if you live in the eastern end of the Island it's the big centre.… But I think there is an opportunity to grow the local, small economy too. As you know, that's something I have always stood behind." 

Russ Compton, president of the Eastern Prince Edward Island Chamber of Commerce, said he thinks there may be a "small uptick" for rural communities, but he doesn't think it will have a major impact. He's also concerned about the impact on the town of Montague, which is home to the province's Fisheries Department. 

'Tough on local business'

Dawn Alan, executive director of Downtown Charlottetown Inc., said provincial and federal employees "represent thousands within that daytime community and so losing any, especially in this year of COVID-19 when we will expect few tourists, will certainly have an impact on downtown businesses, the economy and beyond."

Steve Murphy, co-owner of Slaymaker & Nichols, a bar and restaurant in downtown Charlottetown, said the potential of losing a third of the public service customers he serves will have a major impact on his business.

There may be fewer cars in the parking lot at provincial government buildings in Charlottetown after the pandemic. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

"We're already faced with a season where we used to have 1.6 million visitors, we're down to 160,000 population, so [taking] anybody out of the downtown core would be tough on local business," said Murphy.

Murphy has been providing takeout during the pandemic. He's now getting his establishment ready to welcome customers back inside the restaurant early next month.  

He said provincial government employees help fill his restaurant at lunchtime. 

"We really value that lunchtime crowd to come in and spend some time with us during the day. It's a really high percentage of our lunchtime business."  

The province has not said how much this move may cut greenhouse gas emissions. 

Brown said he'd like to see all levels of government work together with the major centres of Charlottetown, Summerside, Stratford and Cornwall to find a way to balance the need to protect the environment, while also ensuring the sustainability of the major centre's downtown businesses. 

"If the provincial government is looking at ways to reduce that carbon footprint, they need to put more money into our transit system to expand that system so that workers and employees can get between their home and place of work," he said.

"We need more money to boost public transit and to promote it and leave cars at home."

COVID-19: What you need to know

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Common symptoms include:

  • Fever.

  • Cough.

  • Tiredness.

But more serious symptoms can develop, including difficulty breathing and pneumonia, which can lead to death.

Health Canada has built a self-assessment tool.

What should I do if I feel sick?

Isolate yourself and call 811. Do not visit an emergency room or urgent care centre to get tested. A health professional at 811 will give you advice and instructions.

How can I protect myself?

  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly.

  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.

  • Clean regularly touched surfaces regularly.

  • Practise physical distancing.

More detailed information on the outbreak is available on the federal government's website.

More COVID-19 stories from CBC P.E.I.

About the Author

Wayne Thibodeau

Prince Edward Island

Wayne Thibodeau is a reporter/editor with CBC Prince Edward Island. He has worked as a reporter, editor, photographer and video journalist in print, digital and TV for more than 20 years. He can be reached at Wayne.Thibodeau@CBC.ca

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