- Brian Kelcey is a Toronto-based urban policy consultant. He previously served as budget advisor to the Mayor of Winnipeg, and as a senior political advisor at Queen’s Park.
As chair of Winnipeg city council’s finance committee, Scott Gillingham is now one of hundreds of municipal leaders across Canada grappling with plunging revenues and rising emergency costs associated with the COVID-19 shutdown. “If you were waiting for something worse to come along, well, this is it,” he says.
While American mayors can access hundreds of billions in federal grants and central bank loans, Canadian city leaders are coping with the same challenges, but without any promise of comparable federal aid so far. No choice is easy: laying off a cashier or a city planner saves money in the future, but it also forces a drain on reserves to pay severance in the present. Cancelling public works projects may seem prudent, but local construction firms are depending on that work to stay alive through any eventual recovery.
Last week, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities called on the federal government to offer billions in emergency transit subsidies and increased gas tax transfers. Others have proposed Bank of Canada interventions, or conversion of federal infrastructure subsidies into a share of GST revenues to move cash to cities more quickly. At the provincial level, British Columbia is allowing local governments to hold on to education property tax revenues that they would normally remit to the province as a short-term cushion.
Here’s a sample from west to east of how local officials are navigating the early days of the biggest financial crisis anyone in municipal government has ever seen.
Translink (Metro Vancouver’s transit and transportation agency)
Serving: 2.6 million people across the Vancouver Metro Area
Burn rate: Translink had already lost $75 million from plunging fare and gas tax revenues by mid-April. Even after implementing a wave of announced service cuts, Translink still expects a burn rate in the tens of millions once those measures are complete.
Translink is one of Canada’s largest transit agencies, but as of this moment in the COVID-19 crisis, it’s shrinking. By the end of the month, Vancouver transit riders can expect to lose as much as 40 per cent of service capacity, including fifty-six bus routes and cuts to rapid transit service. Over 1,500 layoffs were announced on April 20.
“Transit systems don’t turn on and off like a light switch,” says New Westminster Mayor Jonathan Coté, the chair of Translink’s mayor’s council. He told Maclean’s that he and his colleagues are concerned about the future consequences of the service cuts they’re being forced to make today. “The significant cuts we are making to transit service aren’t just going to impact us during the health crisis,” he says, “but they will also hinder us during the recovery phase.”
City of Calgary
Population: 1.5 million
Burn rate: $15 million a week
“The good news is that Calgary is exceptionally well run,” says Mayor Naheed Nenshi in a plug for Calgary’s success in building up emergency reserves. But the third-term mayor wasn’t pulling any punches about the scale of the bad news: Calgary is facing a “perfect storm” with the pandemic, the economic shutdown and the ongoing oil price shock all damaging local revenues and expenditures. Calgary City Hall has already laid off 10 per cent of its workforce and suspended seasonal hiring.
Since Alberta’s economy was already facing tough times before the pandemic, Nenshi is more focused than other mayors on the potential risks for business property tax revenues. “If that business goes bankrupt, who’s paying that tax?” he asks, floating the real possibility of a chain reaction if several business failures outpaced various landlords’ resources. “Our estimated loss [of between $400-$450 million] through to September assumes everyone can pay their taxes,” he says, an assumption he himself acknowledges may be tested given the City’s desire to be flexible with tax collections. “We know from research and experience that when a disaster shuts down businesses, 30 to 40 per cent of them never reopen,” he said. “After the 2013 flood, we got that down to five per cent,” but with the combination of economic pressures, Nenshi believes it will be tough to get similar results this time.
City of Selkirk, Man.
Burn Rate: illnesses and self-isolation have prevented the City’s tiny finance team from calculating a projection yet, “but day-by-day this pushes our consolidated operations towards the red,” says City CAO Duane Nicol.
“It’s a tighter community,” he says. ”We know the names of the people losing their jobs or who own businesses struggling to make rent or payroll… For our staff and Council, the economic impacts are not just numbers on a briefing report, it’s the quivering voice we hear on the phone as people ask about their water bills. It’s personal for us.”
Nicol has a list of mounting worries to consider, including lost user fee revenue for arenas and halls, a 50 per cent drop in transit use and an “almost complete collapse” of accessible transit use. Despite residents rallying around local businesses, the city is uncertain who will be ready to pay when business property tax deferrals run out. While Nicol believes the city’s reserve policies are generally conservative, he notes that Selkirk was already paying for three major capital projects this year. “For the first time in decades, the city has had to establish a line of credit to ensure we have the liquidity to fund operations,” he says.
City of Mississauga, Ont.
Burn rate: $20 million per month to date, with projections of $90 million in cumulative six-month losses once ongoing savings measures fully kick in.
Mississauga has a reputation for modern city services, but efficient management hasn’t been enough to protect Ontario’s third largest city from an economic shutdown that leaves Canada’s second-largest employment centre — the area surrounding Lester B. Pearson Airport — operating at a tiny fraction of its capacity.
With a wide range of community services available before the pandemic, the city is now losing $5 million a month from lost recreation fees alone, over and above $7 million per month in transit fare losses. Mayor Bonnie Crombie adds to that list with “lost investment income, fine collection and interest on deferred tax… we have no way of recovering those lost revenues, which is why we need the provincial and federal governments to step in and assist cities during this unprecedented crisis,” she says. Crombie pointedly notes that “we are the only level of government that has laid people off.” Mississauga has let go of 2,000 staff so far.
City de Montreal
Population: 4.2 million
Burn Rate: None confirmed
On April 23, Mayor Valérie Plante tweeted a French colloquialism — “les reins assez solides,” or Montreal “has strong kidneys” — by way of affirming her belief that the City is in relatively good shape to ride out the crisis. Recent budget surpluses have left Montreal’s reserves in excellent shape. However, Plante has insisted that in the medium term, Montreal will need federal and provincial aid just as surely as other cities, and to prove it, she also announced targets for cuts to Montreal’s central budget of almost $86 million. She also bluntly challenged Montreal’s nineteen borough governments to begin spending cuts to bring the total savings up to $124 million.
Burn Rate: Increased expenses of $90,000 — entirely offset by a grant from the Government of Nunavut for now — and $500,000 in lost revenue since March 15.
In Canada’s northernmost and most isolated city, public sector jobs and regional Inuit associations have kept employment relatively stable. The community has yet to identify a single COVID-19 case. But Mayor Kenny Bell argues that Iqaluit relies “heavily on tourism, construction and transportation industries for services and essential supplies. If these industries experience significant downturns, there will be a detrimental effect to our local economy and the well-being our community, region and territory.”
Lost commercial landfill tipping fees, ice tournament rental fees and Aquatic Centre fees are all high on City’s list of red flags for revenue. While City CAO Amy Elgersma has managed to avoid layoffs so far through aggressive redeployment of staff into community support roles, her team is also reviewing the City’s capital program for potential cuts if they prove necessary.
Halifax Regional Municipality
Burn Rate: Halifax projects that in the absence of new revenue, it will run out of cash in approximately four months.
In a presentation to city council last week, city chief financial office Jane Fraser confirmed that tax deferrals were effectively pushing out almost $200 million in revenue that the City would normally be relying on to manage its cash pressures. Halifax is also one of the few Canadian cities to publicly confirm its losses from parking fees, at almost half a million dollars a month. Even as councillors reviewed the damage, they also voted to make the pressure more difficult, agreeing to plan for millions more in projected revenue losses to cut down late fees and further extend deadlines for beleaguered property taxpayers. Among Halifax’s other emergency steps already taken: a request for a provincial line of credit to maintain services.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the mayor of Iqaluit as Kelly Bell instead of Kenny Bell
MORE ABOUT CORONAVIRUS:
Ontario, Quebec continue to account for majority of Canada’s new novel coronavirus cases – Globalnews.ca
Despite hundreds of new novel coronavirus cases still being reported in Ontario and Quebec, the number of overall cases across Canada continued to trend downward Friday.
More than 600 new lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 reported on Friday raised the national tally past 94,000 cases overall. More than 52,000 people are considered recovered, with more than 1.9 million tests conducted.
The national death toll went up by 66 deaths, for a total of 7,703.
Quebec accounted for the majority of the daily death toll once again. The province has been the hardest-hit region in Canada for the past few weeks, with 55 per cent of the national caseload and nearly 5,000 deaths (more than 60 per cent of Canada’s death toll).
Quebec reported 50 new deaths and 255 new cases on Friday. More than 17,700 people are deemed recovered in the province.
Ontario reported 344 new cases and 15 new deaths, leaving the province with nearly 30,000 cases and more than 2,300 deaths. More than 23,000 people have recovered from the virus.
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B.C. reported one new case and one new death, for a total of 2,628 cases and 167 deaths. The province has seen 2,272 people recover so far.
The Prairie provinces recorded new cases in the single digits. Alberta saw seven new cases — the lowest daily number recorded by the province since March 12.
All four Atlantic provinces reported no new cases or deaths on Friday. Prince Edward Island’s 27 cases have been resolved for weeks now, Newfoundland and Labrador has two active cases left out of 261 cases and three deaths, and Nova Scotia, where 61 people have died so far, saw bars and restaurants reopen.
New Brunswick reported its first COVID-19-related death on Thursday and has mandated face coverings in public buildings. Out of 136 cases, 121 are recovered.
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The Northwest Territories and the Yukon continue to see no new cases, having resolved all their cases for some time. Nunavut remain the only region in Canada that hasn’t reported a positive case of COVID-19 so far.
Worldwide, COVID-19 has resulted in more than 6.7 million cases and nearly 394,000 deaths, according to figures tallied by Johns Hopkins University.
© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
'Safe restart' of Canadian economy will take 6-8 months, Freeland says – CTV News
A ‘safe restart’ of the Canadian economy will likely take at least half a year, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said Friday, a day after Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam cautioned that relaxing current restrictions too much or too soon could result in an “explosive growth” of new cases.
“One other thing that we would like to really underscore is what we are talking about is the safe restart right now. So this is not a long-term plan,” Freeland told reporters when asked about the government’s plans for the $14 billion earmarked to help provinces and territories.
“This is for ensuring a safe restart over the next six to eight months. And I think it’s important for Canadians to understand that’s the timeframe that we are focused on.”
Canada is fast approaching 95,000 COVID-19 cases and has recorded more than 7,700 deaths across the country. Most provinces and territories have begun reporting no or very few cases and deaths and are beginning to look at how to restart the economy, but Ontario and Quebec are still reporting close to or morethan 300 new cases a day and numerous deaths. The two provinces now account for more than 90 percent of the cases, but have also begun plans for reopening.
Tam said Thursday that until an effective vaccine or treatment becomes available, Canada needsto remain vigilant with its containment efforts to prevent an “explosive” second wave, with the latest federal modelling showing that another peak was possible in October without sufficient prevention measures.
The last time the federal government made a projection was in late April, when it estimated that the country was on track to report between 53,196 and 66,835 cases of COVID-19, and between 3,277 and 3,883 deaths. In reality, there were 62,046 confirmed cases and 4,043 people had died by May 5.
Freeland said the government understands that the needs of each province and territory vary a great deal, and that it wanted to work collaboratively with them.
“We really are approaching this by saying to the provinces and territories, we understand that a safe restart is essential. And that it is expensive.”
With files from Ottawa news Bureau Online Producer Rachel Aiello
Feds to send $600 to some Canadians with disabilities – CTV News
Canadians with disabilities will be sent a one-time tax-free payment of up to $600, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced on Friday, in an effort to help offset the financial pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This new financial aid will go to all who are eligible for the Disability Tax Credit, as of June 1.
Canadians who have a valid certificate for the Disability Tax Credit will receive $600. Canadians with a valid Disability Tax Credit certificate and who are eligible for the Old Age Security (OAS) pension will receive $300. Canadians who are eligible for both of these programs and are also eligible for the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) will be receiving $100.
The government says that because of the special one-time payments going to seniors, the amount seniors with disabilities will receive through this stream will be less, but in the end will total the same amount of $600.
“People who are eligible for this special payment will receive it automatically,” the federal government has announced, meaning that eligible recipients of these new one-time payments will not need to apply. However, as announced with the seniors funding on Thursday, it could be weeks before the money lands in the hands of those eligible.
For those who are eligible and under the age of 18, the special payment will be sent to their primary caregiver and in cases of shared custody, each parent will receive $300.
“This payment will go to existing disability tax credit certificate holders, which includes parents with children or dependents with disabilities, seniors, veterans and many other Canadians that we know have costs associated with severe and prolonged disabilities,” Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion Carla Qualtrough said on Friday.
Some Canadians with disabilities had been watching the various announcements for students, seniors, and other targeted demographics and have been left wondering why they appeared to have fallen through the cracks.
For many already living on a low income, they are facing more expenses due to the pandemic, such as increased costs for personal support workers, grocery delivery fees and prescription drug dispensing fees.
The government estimates that 1.2 million Canadians will be eligible for this one-time top-up, which will cost $548 million. Among working-age Canadians with disabilities, more than 1.5 million are unemployed or out of the labour market entirely.
NEW ACCESSIBILITY PROGRAMS
In addition to the one-time payments, the federal government is launching two new accessibility-focused programs.
One, focused on national workplace accessibility, will see $15 million go to community organizations to develop programs and expand current training opportunities to help Canadians with disabilities adapt to the realities of COVID-19, including helping set up effective work-from-home arrangements and training for in-demand jobs.
The second is a $1.8 million fund being shared between five projects to develop accessible technology such as accessible payment terminals for individuals with sight loss; arm supports that will allow Canadians with disabilities to use standard technology; systems to allow Canadians with neurological conditions to interact with technology for a longer period of time; and to develop software to expand expression and voice recognition.
“We know this pandemic has deeply affected the lives and health of all Canadians and disproportionately affected Canadians with disabilities in particular,” Qualtrough said. “We also recognize that persons with disabilities are at a higher risk of job loss during economic downturns.”
Asked more broadly whether the government has plans to extend or amend the $2,000 a-month Canada Emergency Response Benefit in light of the shifting economic situation and gradual reopening, the minister said that conversations are underway.
“Our thinking moving forward is how do we balance a need to continue to support workers while not disincentivizing work, and absolutely those conversations are happening right now.”
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