Bowen Island council opts not to declare a state of local emergency

Mayor says province is moving toward a more centralized response rather than local states of emergencies

Bowen Island’s municipal council opted to not declare a state of local emergency in response to the COVID pandemic at its regular council meeting Monday evening.

After having had a conference call with Public Safety Minister and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth and Minister of Municipal Affairs Selena Robinson Monday morning, Mayor Gary Ander reported to council that the province is planning a more coordinated COVID response through the Ministry of Health.

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“They've made it quite clear that there's going to be quite a change of direction from the province,” he said. “They are going to deem that all requests, everything is handled by the provincial health officer.

“They've got a real problem with the local municipalities and jurisdictions going into this local control because they want everybody to be on the same page.”

A grid of faces in a Zoom meeting
Bowen Island Municipal Council met over Zoom Monday evening for its regular council meeting. - Screenshot

Councillor David Hocking pointed out that municipalities were declaring states of emergencies to have more ability to enforce social distancing. (District of West Vancouver, Vancouver, New Westminster, Richmond and Delta have declared local states of emergencies.) Based on this call, Ander said the province is moving to restrict commercial transit, have provincial coordination of essential services and to give more power to local forces, like bylaw, to enforce social distancing. Ander said that “everything will be redirected through Victoria from now on” and that he’s expecting a media campaign shortly.

Though council decided not to proceed with the declaration of an emergency for now, councillors did indicate through discussion and resolution that they want to see BIM’s emergency operations centre work on supporting local essential businesses with COVID control. Notably, Snug Cove General Store has requested help in managing social distance in the General Store.   

Council also discussed more signage in the cove, explaining that the island doesn’t want visitors at this point and what constitutes essential travel (which emergency program coordinator Jennifer McGowan said had happened earlier that day) and coordinating with BC Ferries about not wanting visitors. McGowan said that BC Ferries has reported that it’s working on posting this information on its website and in Horseshoe Bay.

Another issue was in the building sector where there were concerns about not all builders maintaining the required physical distance or 50-person in one place limit mandated by the province. Councillor Maureen Nicholson reported that the RCMP were ready to visit worksites to ensure compliance and council also discussed bylaw’s capacity to do the same. McGowan said that RCMP has already been responding to complaints about construction sites and that the public is encouraged to continue calling the non-emergency line. “They're trying to proactively be present in the community encouraging social distancing, but they're also responding to complaints regarding that,” said McGowan. 

RCMP have since clarified that they haven't received complaints. "We haven't received any complaints of people gathering, but I believe the municipality has. If we do receive a complaint of people gathering we would attend and do our best to educate people of the reasons to isolate or distance themselves from others," said Cpl. Adam Koehle. 

Though Monday’s meeting was a regular council meeting, the meeting was anything but regular. It was held entirely online, with mayor, councillors, staff and the public calling in from their homes into a Zoom meeting (Zoom is a remote video conferencing service).

Council also passed first, second and third readings of the five-year financial plan (the budget). Another story is to come on that topic.

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