SADB's Hawa: Governing in the time of COVID

With no end in sight for the coronavirus, people have had to adjust their lifestyles. As have city administrations. The Suburban is talking to West Island mayors about how the city they govern is adapting.This week The Suburban spoke to Sainte Anne-de-Bellevue Mayor Paola Hawa.

The biggest change Mayor Hawa has seen since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic is “that you can feel the anxiety people are living with these days.

“Some people are more anxious and less patient and that is being reflected in the emails we receive as smaller concerns seem a lot bigger these days,” said Hawa.

Another challenge for the little city by the water was “to identify our vulnerable residents and seniors at risk as no such list existed. It has been quite a learning curve in that aspect.”

The mayor wanted to use the provincial electoral list as a base to identify those residents who needed help, particularly those 65 and over living alone, but “we were told using that list was forbidden.”

While waiting for the government to relent on that policy, which eventually happened, “we started going door-to-door to make our own list. So a good thing came out of a bad thing as we were able to see some gaps in services for our seniors and then correct them.” The city began a food delivery service for vulnerable residents.

Another issue the mayor and her administration has been dealing with is the area students from the two neighbouring high schools. “The provincial mandate is to allow the students out of the school at lunch hour but for some of our seniors, seeing the many adolescents roaming the streets made some of them apprehensive. While the kids have the right to be on the street, our seniors have the right to feel safe,” Hawa said. “This is not a black or white issue but rather in the grey.”

Despite COVID 19, Sainte Anne-de-Bellevue has some projects in the works. One of them is the Senior Village that will be constructed on the Veterans Hospital property, a deal made by the province when it took over the hospital’s administration.

“We are hoping to put shovels in the ground by the later spring or early summer,” said Hawa. “There will also be a new medical centre open on the property by next Fall. It will be three or four storeys high, offer a full service centre including X Rays. This centre is very much needed in the West Island.”

Regarding tax increase expectations, “the city of Montreal is going to offer a tax freeze to its citizens but the demerged cities will see a three percent increase,” Hawa said. “The city will be downloading its deficit onto the demerged cities which will overburden us while giving more to the city of Montreal.”

Hawa noted that the province of Quebec has given $265 million to the city of Montreal to help defer its losses in revenue, with $85 million slated for COVID 19 expenses.

“We received $485,000 of that share, which looks great on paper,” said the mayor. “But that money will have to go back to the city of Montreal with their three percent increase. It feels a bit like a money laundering service.”

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