It’s true that a sure-fire test of leaders is how well they function during a crisis. After all, as first century Latin writer Publilius Syrus said, anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm.
Oh, if only Publilius could see us now.
On all scales – local, regional, national and global – the pandemic has exposed those who fancy themselves as leaders but lack the talent, skill and character that true leadership requires.
But we’ve also seen people instill confidence and inspiration by rising to the occasion with a bold sense of control and decisiveness, putting the needs and wants of their communities ahead of their own.
Thankfully, we here in Surrey don’t have to look too far to see examples of such leaders – in fact, they’re just west of Scott Road.
From all accounts, Delta’s city council, under the direction of Mayor George Harvie, has acted with integrity, accountability, empathy, humility, resilience, vision, influence and positivity throughout the pandemic.
After working closely with Delta North MLA Ravi Kahlon to ensure a quick and decisive state of emergency declared in his city, Harvie also immediately requested that the province give local governments the authority to extend payment deadlines for the collection of fees and taxes without any penalty to residents and businesses.
A few days later, Delta’s mayor and council pushed the deadline for residents to pay their utility fees amid the COVID-19 outbreak. As reported by the North Delta Reporter, Delta council held special meetings on March 20 and 23, where it unanimously passed a bylaw to defer the late payment penalty deadline for 2020 flat rate utility bills.
Then, in a true proactive fashion, Delta council unanimously approved a bylaw on April 14 allowing the city to borrow up to $35 million to cover any delays in property tax revenue caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is a very prudent financial thing to do as far as it’s a safety net for us in the City of Delta,” city manager Sean McGill said in a special meeting.
Around that time, in mid-April, Harvie also wrote a letter to premier John Horgan, asking the province to support local media hit hard by the financial impact of COVID-19.
“Local businesses, which are the prime source of revenue for local newspapers, are struggling like never before,” Harvie wrote. “Without advertising revenue from these businesses, the essential service provided by local media may not survive this crisis. Without local media, our democratic institutions will be severely weakened — the fourth estate is vital for a vibrant democracy.
“We ask that you include consideration for local media in provincial stimulus and recovery funding.”
And Harvie backed up those words with action. In a time when some cities reduced their support for local media, the City of Delta actually increased its advertising in the North Delta Reporter, filling it with full-page advertisements that communicated vital COVID-19 information to residents.
Then, in late April, Delta council approved a revised budget designed to save the city, and residents, some cash during the economic turmoil caused by COVID-19. The revised 2020 financial plan included a decrease in the city’s planned property tax increase, from 3.5 per cent to 1.75 per cent.
While the revised budget did defer some capital projects, it reflected a new priority – providing financial relief to residents and businesses while still providing sufficient funding for base city service levels.
In May, Delta’s mayor, council and city staff stepped up to help local charities through a staff fundraising campaign called Delta4Delta. The campaign’s goal for its opening weekend was $5,000, which was nearly tripled out of the gate and has so far raised nearly $20,000.
Finally, and most recently, Harvie announced he had reached into his own pocket to help his city’s most vulnerable.
“Some of the cities have taken that 10 per cent, and they call it a symbolic reduction in their salaries. I don’t support that because all it does is go to general revenue — it doesn’t get out there in the community at all,” Harvie said during a virtual townhall meeting on May 14.
”So my wife Gillian and I decided last month to donate 10 per cent of my annual remuneration, and we donated $16,000 to, divided between the Delta Hospital [and Community Health] Foundation, recognizing that all of their major events have been cancelled because the COVID, and to Deltassist, specifically towards their Starfish Backpack Program.
“I’d like to impress upon … all our community members — if you can, reach out and provide some financial assistance to our community service groups. They need it more than ever right now.”
I’ll tell you what we need, Mayor Harvie – more leaders like you.
More leaders like you.
Beau Simpson is editor of the Surrey Now-Leader.
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