Small business associations, community groups and non-profits will soon have access to federal money to fund minor projects aimed at supporting the safe reopening of public spaces amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Andy Fillmore, the member of Parliament for Halifax, announced $31 million in federal funding for communities across the country on Thursday.
"Canada has made significant progress in flattening the epidemic curve of the first wave of the virus and now it's time for us to begin the necessary work of safely reopening our communities," said Fillmore, who is also the parliamentary secretary to Minister of Infrastructure and Communities Catherine McKenna.
McKenna also announced the Canada Healthy Communities Initiative in Ottawa on Thursday. It will help local governments adapt to economic, health and social challenges as the pandemic continues by supporting community-led solutions over the next two years.
Fillmore said the initiative has three main themes toward a goal of helping communities adapt to the new reality of COVID-19.
"The first is creating safe and vibrant public spaces. The second is supporting active transportation options and the third is advancing digital solutions that help us adapt to our new normal," he said.
He said projects could include expanding community gardens, installing free Wi-Fi hotspots in public spaces, creating new bike lanes and widening sidewalks to allow for safer social distancing.
"And we can retrofit public spaces to allow our Main Street businesses to expand their footprints in smart and creative ways that will allow them to recover creatively," he said.
Fillmore said the funding will be distributed to non-governmental not-for-profit organizations which will then work directly with municipalities, local governments, Indigenous communities and non-for-profit community partners.
He said there will be a call for applications in the coming weeks.
Patty Cuttell, the executive director of the North End Business Association, said she's pleased with the announcement. She represents 350 independently owned businesses in the area.
"COVID has had a huge impact on many small businesses so having funding to help us come up with creative, unique projects to help us adapt to these changing times is really great news," Cuttell said.
Cuttell said the association will apply for funding with hopes of making North End streets more pedestrian-friendly by expanding patios and creating spaces so people can still support local businesses while social distancing.
"As not-for-profits, we have fixed budgets that we have to work within so having additional funding to do these types of things means that we can hire the people, buy the supplies and do things that we haven't necessarily budgeted back at the beginning of the year," Cuttell said.
Tim Rissesco, the executive director of the Downtown Dartmouth Business Commission, said COVID-19 has significantly impacted business in the area.
"It's good to see the federal government doing stuff for small businesses in our down towns, so this is a good initiative," said Rissesco. "It'll help bring people back to the downtown areas."
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