Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart voiced his “great displeasure” this week over a funding decision by the provincial government that he said left him feeling “gobsmacked.”
During a meeting on Wednesday, Stewart spoke about the fact that when COVID-19 first hit in the spring, the Big City Mayors Caucus “met with senior federal officials to express the need for operating funding for cities. Of course, the federal government has never provided direct operating money for cities, so we knew this was a long-shot.”
But as part of its response to the pandemic, the federal government did allocate $19 billion to the provinces and territories to help them in their restart efforts – money that Stewart said “was supposed to be distributed on a per-capita basis.”
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Stewart said Vancouver was originally slated to receive around $60 million but that he was informed this week that amount would instead be closer to $16 million.
“As we’re in a caretaker government, this is a personal decision by the premier to do this,” he said. “The province decided to renege on the federal agreement and not distribute the money as agreed.”
This decision, he furthered, “is a detriment to BC’s biggest cities, including Vancouver, Surrey, and Burnaby. We’re the cities that are having the most difficulty; we’re the cites that are having to shoulder the burdens as we all know, and that was the intention of the federal funding.”
However, “this is not what happened,” said Stewart. “I am communicating my great displeasure with the provincial government, and I’m really pretty gobsmacked about getting shafted over this.”
Asked by Councillor Pete Fry what council’s next steps in response to the decision would be, Stewart said he’s hoping the $16 million “is the first instalment of a larger package, and you can bet your bottom dollar I’ll be working on that.”
In the meantime, Stewart said the province’s decision means “means more tough choices ahead like increasing property taxes or making cuts to core services” in the city.
For his part, Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum expressed satisfaction with the way the money had been distributed, and the fact that his city will receive $15 million of the funding.
“I want to extend my sincere thanks and appreciation to the federal and provincial governments for their support to Surrey and all municipalities,” said McCallum in a statement. “This new funding ensures that Surrey will continue to operate in a position of relative strength despite the challenging circumstances.”