Day 3 UBCM 2020: Lessons Learned During the Pandemic

The final day of the 2020 UBCM Convention was filled with many words of wisdom and hope as we look to the future. Jonathan Wilkinson, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change delivered the federal address. To begin Wilkinson underlined that the pandemic thus far has taught us how effective we can be when we work together and how important green spaces and parks are for our health and well-being. As we look ahead, the federal government is focused on investing in infrastructure – infrastructure that supports clean energy, affordable housing, universal broadband, and public transit. Wilkinson reminded us that we can’t lose sight of climate change, to stay competitive in the global economy we must take ambitious action on climate change; that is why the federal government will soon be bringing forward a new plan to exceed the Paris agreement and enact legally binding targets to achieve net zero by 2050.

Canadian author, Margaret Atwood, presented the keynote address with an interview hosted by Simi Sara, from CKNW. People are concerned that climate change is being put on the back burner, but Atwood reminded us that most stoves have more than one front burner. We are currently facing three big crises at once, climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic, and economic inequality. Solutions for these crises are often interchangeable and it is important to develop solutions that are so. Local leaders can play a significant role in discovering common needs and gathering widespread support to develop community-focused solutions. In reference to her popular dystopian novels – The Handmaid’s Tale and The MaddAddam Trilogy – Atwood acknowledged that anything could happen anywhere under given circumstances. One common cause of dystopia is “social chaos,” a circumstance that Canada should be able to avoid since we are inclined toward compromise.

Sonia Furstenau, the Leader of the Green Party of British Columbia took a moment to address the UBCM delegation. Once again, the upcoming election was described as a regretful decision by the Premier. Furstenau emphasized that it is not a good time to leave the province without leadership. And while this is not an election that the Green Party wanted; she is willing to fight for it. The CleanBC plan is only 75 percent complete, yet the Green Party were the only ones who voted against the public funding subsidies for LNG Canada. The Green Party supports the recommendations made by the UBCM Special Climate Action Committee and is ready to partner with local governments to lead the province to a better place.

Both concurrent sessions for today touched upon the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, lessons learned, and plans to move forward. The panel on “Senior Homes” addressed the concerns for British Columbia seniors and what lessons experts have learned from the pandemic that can be used to continue to protect the 32,000 British Columbians that live in long-term care homes. The panel on “The New Now” agreed that life after COVID-19 must be different. We are potentially facing an economic downtown in BC three times the size as the 2008 financial crisis. To succeed during and after the pandemic we must adapt and avoid seeking a return to a pre-pandemic environment. Adaptation is most evident through virtual communication and remote working environments. The success of the virtual UBCM Convention is exemplary.

To conclude the 2020 Convention, the Premier and Leader of the British Columbia New Democratic Party, John Horgan, delivered his address. Horgan recounted the events of the pandemic during which his government took action early on. He emphasized the need to address the severe inequalities in our communities at all levels of government and pledged to work with UBCM and local leaders. The pandemic will most likely continue for a long period of time and the economic recovery will be a four-year undertaking; for this reason, it is important to get the politics behind us and provide all of the parties with the opportunity to engage with the people in a time of need. The government is dedicated to running a safe election with advanced voting, mail-in ballots, and a Saturday election. The NDP campaign is about how we can go forward stronger together.

The UBCM President-Elect, Councillor Brian Frenkel from the District of Vanderhoof was welcomed today. He thanked the former President, Mayor Maja Tait for her sincere dedication to local governments especially throughout the pandemic. Over 1,000 delegates joined UBCM for a historical virtual Convention. Every speaker from the last three days was brutally honest about the current and expected circumstances, yet there remained a powerful sense of inspiration and hope.