The second day of the MNL conference, held on November 6th, covered several issue areas while mainly focusing on the theme of emergency preparedness and management. In one of the sessions the province’s experts in emergency preparedness discussed the response to various emergency level events such as the large snowstorm that took place earlier this year and the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of the key lessons were being prepared and having the ability to work remotely to ensure operations don’t cease and having an emergency coordination centre where you can share key information with all relevant stakeholders. The panel went into considerable detail on their experiences and how they have been able to combat emergencies when they happen.
In addition to this panel, the conference hosted representatives from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick in order to get an overarching understanding of how municipalities across the Atlantic provinces dealt with COVID-19 and some key lessons learned. All the provinces explained that the municipal response to COVID-19 was quick and impressive considering limited resources. One of the keys to municipalities being able to react quickly was a communicative response from their province. With the flow of communication being open and municipalities being empowered to meet virtually, staff were able to come up with a plan and redeploy staff to critical areas. Overwhelmingly the provinces explained that one of the foremost challenges for municipalities was trying to stabilize budgets and not run a deficit while still having essential services run. Due to the inability to have a deficit, municipalities were faced with layoffs and diminishing service levels. New Brunswick explained that this was a large issue in addition to having to repurpose staff in order to ensure proper health and safety protocols were being followed. Nova Scotia explained that one of their biggest pressures came from transit as in their two major cities (Halifax and Cape Breton) it was deemed an essential service. In turn, the service levels decreased, and it put a financial and staffing strain on those cities. Even with all of these underlying pressures municipalities in the Atlantic provinces were able to respond to the pandemic quickly and effectively while maintaining essential services to their citizens.
The Department of Environment, Climate Change and Municipalities (ECCM) also spoke, outlining current funding opportunities for municipalities. They outlined six opportunities for municipalities:
- Municipal Operating Grants
- Shared Provincial Gas Tax Revenues
- Special Assistance Grants
- Community Enhancement Employment Program (CEEP)
- Canada/NL Gas Tax
- Climate Change Challenge Fund
Some of these grant opportunities are familiar to municipalities and are allocated on a bi-annual basis, such as the Municipal Operating Grants and Shared Provincial Gas Tax Revenues. However, some are opportunities for municipalities to continue to enhance services and prepare for climate change impacts. In addition to these, the province announced funding for COVID-19 relief through the Safe Restart Agreement and funding for arenas/pools.
Day two of the conference brought conversation on significant issues facing municipalities in Newfoundland. While there was a focus on emergency management there was also discussion on things like asset management progress and how municipalities are continuing to improve their maturity in the area. This has also been an ongoing conversation throughout the conference as the impacts from COVID-19 further brought to light the importance of asset management planning.