It’s the time to do year-in-review stuff, but I honestly have been struggling to get this written.
2020 was a year when many of us realized we are lucky, and/or privileged in ways we never considered. I got through 2020 with a secure job (well, two, and one more secure than the other), and a partner whose job was similarly transferrable to the dining room table. We also have a secure dining room in which to put that table. Our family and friends are for the most part well, though we do miss time with them. This year, the most basic seems too much to ask for.
Here in our community, there are many families impacted directly by the COVID crisis and the poisoned drug supply crisis. The pernicious effects of inequality and homelessness were made worse this year as the ability for already-strained supports to do their work met breaking points. It was a year punctuated by loss: some personal, some community-wide and far-reaching like the Timber Wharf at Pier Park. Businesses and not-for-profits are struggling, and many will not be here after this has passed. For good reason, I am sensitive to griping about my own not being able to do a year-end trip or celebrate my Dad’s Birthday-ending-in-zero with my family. In the big scheme, I am really lucky.
This was a difficult year to be on City Council, for reasons both obvious and obscure. The thing I love most about the Council job is the big vision work: the long-term planning and policy stuff that is so important to how the City is shaped over years and decades. This was the first work put aside this year when everything changed. So much of this year we were flying blind – doing things that we had to make up as we were going along. New West being a well-organized City, we had a Pandemic Response Plan that had been put together presumably after the SARS situation almost 20 years ago. It had accumulated some dust, but it at least gave staff a framework to hang new response plans on, and we were fortunate to have it. But from that part forward, it was all new.
Some of our larger visions / strategic plans / campaign promises had to take a back seat in the all-important second year of the term. Not forever, but just while staff had a chance to understand the impacts of the emerging Pandemic and its impact on City operations. Perhaps the most obvious example of this was Council’s decision to pause for a few months the procurement process on the replacement for the Canada Games Pool and Centennial Community Centre. Caution shown earlier in the year and the foresight of the Federal and Provincial governments to provide critical financial support directly to local governments facing revenue holes (to the tune of $6 Million for New Westminster) meant that we got out of 2020 in decent financial condition. We are not out of the woods yet, and our revenue is likely to continue to be down through to the end of 2021, but we are OK for now.
That said, I think Council was pretty unified in recognizing our priorities before the Pandemic were still priorities through the Pandemic: addressing as best we can the homelessness, childcare, and engagement gaps in the City, and integrating Climate Action into everything we do as a City so we can hit 2030 and 2050 greenhouse gas reduction targets. There was no time to take our foot off the gas on these pressing issues, and we managed to keep them moving. Still I fear limited desire in senior governments to help us on these ongoing issues in the year ahead. Crisis breeds austerity in the upside-down economics of neoliberalism, and that will, I think, be the real test for us as a society in 2021.
On the positive side, I am incredibly proud of the work that staff did this year. Thrown into unfamiliar territory and re-writing work plans while managing their own anxieties about health, their family, their finances, or the state of the freaking world, they found ways to get the work of the City done. The water flowed, the sewer worked, the trash went away, trees were planted, fires were put out and people in need were supported by first responders. Staff also found creative new ways to support those made vulnerable in our community, and to help businesses navigate their biggest challenges. Staff shone especially in managing the most uncertain of all budgets, in finding better ways to conduct public engagement, and in reporting out on that engagement. These efforts made it easier for Council to ground our decisions in a time of so much uncertainty. Staff have a lot of good work to look back on and be proud of in this difficult year, so if you have a chance this holiday, thank a muni worker in your life, they rarely get acknowledgement, and this year more than ever, deserve it.
So the City came through the first half of the Pandemic well, but the route was never easy. For Council, the change in how we made decisions, the uncertainty of an unfamiliar path, and even the shift to remote meetings made it a more difficult year to find consensus. In one sense, I missed spending unstructured time with my Council colleagues this year, the meeting at events or at committee meetings or just over City Hall lunches. It was in those times we found our common goals or were able to sense how others were feeling, push ideas or address push back. Instead, I found I was irritated by Council more this year than I remember previously (I suspect a few of them feel the same way about me, but that’s their story to tell), and at times frustrated by the process. I was too fast in finding the fault and too slow to see the progress. All to say, it was not fun year. But that’s not the goal, I guess.
Now I have a real week off, no travel planned, and time to kill. I have a few projects, and @MsNWimby has a few more she would love to see me get done. I have a few books to read that I hope will give me some inspiration. Looking back, even without the Pandemic it was an eventful and challenging year. Loss seemed to be the theme. It doesn’t help that I’m 50+ now and can no longer fake the side of the hill I am on. So I am trying to think more about 2021 and the work we have ahead. I’m going to take some strength from the resilience this amazing City showed in the shitty year behind us, and look to the brighter days ahead. I hope your 2021 shines bright.