As we awoke on Jan. 1 2020, COVID-19 was a world away. Our economy was one of the strongest in the country; our downtown was thriving.
Few could have anticipated the toll the pandemic would take on our seniors, health-care workers, small businesses, people without homes, governments, on each and every one of us. We’re all anxious to turn the calendar and leave 2020 behind, hoping for the best in 2021.
Hope is important. But it is not enough to dig us out of the challenging circumstances we’re in. Hope will not get our small businesses through January to March, which are likely going to be the most difficult months yet. Hope is not going to create new jobs for those who lost theirs, nor the skills needed to find work in what is quickly becoming a digital and knowledge-based economy. Hope is not going to keep our greenhouse gas emissions in check to mitigate a warming planet. And hope is certainly not going to get everyone sheltering in parks inside by the end of March.
Hope is not enough. Hard work is required. I know that we can work hard as a community because I’ve witnessed it all through 2020. In the early days of the pandemic, I did a Facebook live every day. At the end of each broadcast we reported on some amazing community initiatives. We did over 50 episodes and never ran out of examples.
Early in the pandemic, members of our community created the Rapid Relief Fund and raised $6 million to support those most hard hit. Tech sector businesses quickly offered support to retail and restaurant businesses to digitize as fast as possible. Arts organizations created online content so people had access to arts and culture for their mental health and well-being.
City staff made sure that there was no interruption to essential services like garbage pickup and running water. They also worked at a rapid pace to create Build Back Victoria so local businesses could have patios. And they installed electric charging stations, new zero waste bins, more space for pedestrians near village centres and a lot of other small projects to make life better.
Nurses and doctors, transit drivers, grocery store clerks, people working on the front lines in parks and shelters all worked hard, went above and beyond. And they still are.
2020 shows us that we’ve got what it takes to pull through as a community. And that’s a good thing because there’s still a lot of work to do in 2021. We need to implement the regional reboot strategy as well as Victoria 3.0 so those hardest hit economically have an opportunity for a better future and so that our economy is more diverse and resilient to withstand future shocks.
The pandemic has also revealed weaknesses in our social fabric. It will take hard work and purposeful effort in 2021 to ensure that as we recover as a community, we leave no one behind.
Lisa Helps is the mayor of Victoria.