Vancouver asks province for up to $200 million in emergency funding

Vancouver mayor-elect Kennedy Stewart pauses while addressing supporters in Vancouver on Sunday, Oct. 21, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

In the midst of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the City of Vancouver is asking for up to $200 million in financial support from the province.

Mayor Kennedy Stewart gave the update during an afternoon news conference Wednesday after outlining the significant financial impact the city is facing. 

"The fact of the matter is we're still losing millions of dollars a week," he said. "We are bleeding money."

Stewart estimates the city will lose $4 million to $5 million per week in lost revenue like parking and rec centre fees. 

"We're also incurring costs to respond to the crisis, including our focus to protect the vulnerable population in the Downtown Eastside," he said. 

"We're facing a problem here in the city that at the same time we're losing all this revenue, we're having to step up and provide resources to those who are in most need, so that's why we really need the province to step up here."

Stewart said the emergency grant would help the city continue its essential services while also supporting vulnerable residents. 

The $200-million amount comes from a report from the city manager, which outlines projections based on how long public health restrictions last. One scenario considers what would happen if restrictions were lifted in May, a second considers the situation if restrictions last until August and a third assumes restrictions won't be lifted until the end of December. 

"The province has better projections of how long this thing is going to last, however we need to do economic planning," Stewart said. 

Last week, the city announced it was temporarily laying off 1,500 city workers because of the pandemic. Restrictions have also been placed on new hires and travel for employees. 

Stewart said more job cuts might be necessary if the city doesn’t get support from the province. 

"COVID-19 has been tough on our city," Stewart said. "We're facing a serious gap in funding at city hall. Something we will not be able to make up in the near future."

During a news briefing Wednesday afternoon, Premier John Horgan said the province is working closely with cities to make sure it's doing what it can to ensure residents can pay their bills, including property taxes.

"We haven't got a plan in place today but it's obviously front and center, not just on the individuals who owe the taxes, but to those municipalities that depend on those taxes, to provide the services that we all come to expect," he said. 

Stewart said he, along with other local mayors, began calling on the provincial government for financial help two weeks ago. At the time, some Metro Vancouver mayors asked the province to expand its property tax deferment program, which would give cities funding to replace money lost from any deferred payments. 

"We need this program to include all residents, businesses and non-profit agencies experiencing financial hardship," Stewart said. 

"This would provide immediate support for the thousands of Vancouver home owners, business owners and non-profits who will soon be faced with the defaulting on their taxes if we do not find a way to help."

Stewart said he's also asking for the province to delay remittance of non-city property tax items they collect on behalf of others like provincial school taxes and TransLink fees.

"We would not be asking for this if it was not for the dire financial situation we find ourselves in," he said.