Vancouver mayor 'gobsmacked' as city receives $44 million less in COVID-19 bailout funding than requested

·3 min read

Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart expressed his disappointment Wednesday that the city received only $16 million from the provincial government in a COVID-19 relief fund, significantly less money than it spent months lobbying for and believed it would receive.

"I'm pretty gobsmacked about getting shafted over this," said Stewart to city council Tuesday morning, as part of a presentation on the city's budget for 2021.

"[I'm] voicing my extreme displeasure at this decision."

Stewart said the city believed it would receive $60 million, based on the size of Vancouver relative to other cities. The province is providing $540 million in funding to municipalities across B.C.

Said the mayor, "That money was supposed to be distributed on a per capita basis, it's right in the agreement."

"The province decided to renege on the federal agreement."

That agreement, as outlined in a publicly available letter by Premier John Horgan to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, does show the province committing to provide the funding to municipalities on a per capita basis.

Surrey gets $1 million less, is thankful

Stewart argued that it was critical large cities receive a larger share of emergency funds, since "we're the municipalities having to shoulder the burden … as we look at increasing homelessness, and increasing overdoses and struggling businesses."

However, the City of Surrey, which received $15 million, took a different tone to the news.

"The $15 million in funding today helps to stabilize the sound foundation we have built for the city's fiscal house," said Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum.

"I want to extend my sincere thanks and appreciation to the federal and provincial governments for their support to Surrey and all municipalities."

In a letter to the City of Vancouver announcing its decision, the province explained it was giving to municipalities on a tiered basis, with every city getting the same base amount, and then additional sums based on population — with less money per person the more populated it is.

"The adjusted population formula is designed to ensure that larger municipalities receive more money than smaller ones, but that smaller municipalities receive higher per capita funding than larger ones," wrote Deputy Municipal Affairs Minister Kaye Krishna.

"This is because small municipalities often lack a diverse tax base and the economies‐of‐scale to easily restart operations."

In a statement, Municipal Affairs Minister Selina Robinson said the allocations were fair because large B.C. municipalities don't directly fund transit operations (unlike other provinces), and smaller municipalities "especially tourism dependent ones, have less diverse revenue bases."

"Our support for the City of Vancouver also includes ... funding hundreds of temporary spaces and hotel purchases to support people experiencing homelessness in Vancouver. We look forward to continuing to partner with [it]," she wrote.

Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau argued it was a worrying sign of what decisions the re-elected NDP government could make with a majority.

"There will be a significant decrease in accountability for this government, because they have the majority and they don't need collaborations with other parties," she said.

"It's very important that the province really works to establish a more trusting relationship with all of the local governments ... and I'm worried that this might further undermine trust."