Sunday December 13, 2020 | VICTORIA, BC
by Mary P Brooke, editor | Island Social Trends
Naturally the opening remarks of Capital Regional District (CRD) Chair Colin Plant at the December 9 CRD board meeting lead with how unprecedented and impactful the year 2020 has been on the region. Nothing in society has been untouched by the scathing heavy treads of COVID-19.
Addressing directors in the room and others tuning in remotely, Plant was pleased to note that water, wastewater and landfill services have continued uninterrupted during the pandemic in the region that serves 13 municipalities that collectively operate as the Greater Victoria area.
And with heartfelt articulation the CRD Chair noted how the many parks throughout the CRD were ready and there for residents to find “solace and pleasure” in such difficult times.
Then things got quickly down to business. Committees are set up for 2021. Every director who asked to be a chair or vice-chair has been given that opportunity. All directors got their first choice for committee work. There was a bit of push from Plant as to cooperation in the year ahead: chairs are to invite co-chairs to review agendas and be part of the front-end process.
External presentations included one from the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority and another from the Victoria Airport Authority, as these two entities oversee two major sources of economic activity for the CRD area.
Airport report shows stark COVID impact:
Victoria Airport Authority President Geoff Dickson pointed out a projected loss of $4.5 billion by the end of 2021 as a result of the staggering drop in air travel through Victoria International Airport resulting this year due to the COVID pandemic. Like a crashing aircraft, the through-put of passengers at YYJ was suddenly just two percent of the 2019 level, and up to only five percent of the 2019 level in May, four percent in June.
By summer 2020 things had rebounded slightly to 20 percent of the previous year. Had things risen from an ultimate bottom? Perhaps not. When this fall’s travel restrictions came in through public health orders “bookings evaporated”, said Dickson. The parking lot (which also produces revenue for YYJ) has been a “complete ghost town”. Under these conditions “you can’t respond in any meaningful way or cut costs”, he said.
With such limited revenues, capital projects are now cut from the pre-planned $20 million to about 10 percent of average. In 2021 about $2 million is likely to be spent only on COVID-related capital projects or basic repairs.
Harbour activity gutted by COVID:
As outlined in a report to the CRD board by Greater Victoria Harbour Authority CEO Ian Robertson, rent relief was extended to over 40 tenants (including deferral of some rent to 2021) “to allow them to get back on their feet”. The return of cruise ships is hoped for in 2021.
Plans are underway for two ships at a time to have access to ‘shore power’ (electricity through plug-in at the dock); that will attract more vessels (and the tourist dollars that come with that) and will result in an estimated 46 percent decrease in greenhouse gases (with ships not having to burn diesel while in port).
Sorting out some accounting matters:
Juan de Fuca Electoral Area Director Mike Hicks was given an opportunity to address the board to make a point about how things listed as CRD expenses will actually be covered by grants funds from Emergency Management BC.
Therefore, “the CRD has no expenses” for certain items. Hicks stated for the record that the CRD should “honour their commitment to the First Nations” and split the remainder to three electoral areas that “didn’t get funds”. Amounts are in the range of $46,000 apparently earmarked for First Nations and $175,000 for the Juan de Fuca Electoral Area from within a grant amount stated by Hicks as $1,421,000.
The CRD Board approved motions to form a transportation standing committee, and for staff to work with jurisdictional partners to develop a list of potential transportation priorities informed by the CRD’s declaration of a climate emergency that best serve community needs.
The BC Government had been working on a South Island Regional Transportation framework in 2019, which did not bear results for an overall strategy given the complexities and competing interests of highways, buses, cycling, pedestrian, E&N Rail possibilities and discussion about a west shore ferry.
Commuter traffic congestion has long been addressed by west shore mayors (particularly Langford and Colwood). Now CRD seems to be taking on the mantle of this task. Their motion looks at sustainable integrated multi-modal transportation continuing to be a significant regional priority. Staff have identified three areas of focus within the CRD’s existing service mandate to take action on transportation:
- Identify and agree on regional multi-modal priorities.
- Advocate for funding or action on approved priorities.
- Formalize coordination across jurisdictions on matters such as infrastructure investments, transportation and land use policy and behaviour change.
Staff are to work with partner jurisdictions and BC Transit to develop a list of regional transportation priorities including low carbon options. It was not exactly clear how CRD hopes to dovetail their efforts with the BC Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MOTI) which is responsible for transportation in the province.