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Offers of COVID-19 financial aid from province not enough for Vancouver: mayor

Vancouver's mayor says the financial help being offered by the B.C. government is a "poison chalice" because of the terms it would impose on the city.

Vancouver's mayor says the financial help being offered by the B.C. government is a "poison chalice" because of the terms it would impose on the city.

Kennedy Stewart says borrowing money from the province would saddle Vancouver with a massive deficit that would result in deep service cuts or large property tax increases in the future.

He also says he will meet with the city's leaders in the weeks ahead to plot a path to get people back to work.

Stewart says city officials are looking at various solutions, such as offering outdoor seating at restaurants during the summer and curbside shopping.

Last week, the province offered municipalities tax-payment delays as well as borrowing and debt initiatives to help deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

After the announcement, Stewart said the province deserves some thanks for announcing initial steps but they're inadequate to make up for lost operating revenue or potential property tax defaults.

"This is not a viable solution to the serious financial challenges that cities are facing," he told a news conference on Wednesday.

Stewart said he was pleased Premier John Horgan is thinking about finding a way of restarting the film and television industry.

"We are ready to work with the province and industry and think creatively and make this happen while keeping everyone safe, because if we can, Vancouver can be among the first places in the world that reopens for business in this multibillion-dollar sector," he said.

Vancouver has laid off workers and reduced the pay of management and other non-union staff by 10 per cent.

The provincial government is not offering an outright financial bailout that some cities had requested.

Municipal Affairs Minister Selina Robinson said last week that the provincial measures are aimed at helping struggling communities meet cashflow and revenue shortfalls because of the pandemic.

The measures mean local governments can borrow interest-free from their reserve funds and carry debt into next year to help ease the financial pressure they are under, she said.

The board of Metro Vancouver, which represents the area's 21 municipalities, called the government's measures a positive first step. But board chairman Sav Dhaliwal said it will continue pushing for additional financial support from the B.C. and federal governments.  

In Vancouver, a city survey has found that about 25 per cent of residents say they cannot pay their full tax bill, which municipal staff estimate would mean a revenue loss of $325 million.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 22, 2020.

Hina Alam, The Canadian Press

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