Could New Westminster become a better and more equitable community once the threat of COVID-19 has passed?
In response to the pandemic, the City of New Westminster has created a number of task forces, which are addressing a variety of issues including at-risk and vulnerable populations; seniors and persons with disabilities; and business and the working economy. Updates on the efforts and accomplishments of the task forces are regularly presented to city council.
Coun. Nadine Nakagawa said she hears a lot of people talking about what the world will be like when things go “back to normal” or “back to the status quo” but she thinks the crisis is an opportunity to make societal improvements.
“I think there are serious, serious lessons to be learned here,” she told council April 27. “I do know that as a lot of these higher levels of government programs are being rolled out, a lot of things are being entrenched. Just keeping in mind that I know it is very, very hard when we are doing multiple things, but the time to advocate for some of these programs and services and ways that we want to be afterwards is actually now.”
As the task forces go about their work to address community needs during the COVID-19 pandemic, Nakagawa hopes members of those working groups will think about changes that could be made once the crisis has passed.
“A lot of the inequities that we have seen before have been made more clear by this,” she said of the pandemic. “Just an ask: that as the working groups are doing work with the community, if we can continue to listen for ideas or pieces that we need to advocate for afterwards. I know we are very, very focused right now on response. I just don’t want to forget that recovery piece – I want us to recover to a stronger, better community; a more equitable community.”
Nakagawa said council would be keen to hear about ideas for longer term solutions arising from the city’s response to the pandemic.
“I would really appreciate hearings some of those ideas and some of those things,” she said. “The problems we had beforehand are very, very clear to everyone right now. I think everyone has realized that people who are struggling shouldn’t continue to struggle in this way, and we have an opportunity in all of this horribleness to push for better systems.”
Mayor Jonathan Cote said that discussion will be important, particularly as the city gets out of the most immediate crisis.
“I know our work has been so focused on kind of the emergency at hand, but at some point we are going to have to give some thought as to, how do we evolve out of this,” he said. “We very well might have some opportunities to address some long systemic issues that we do face in our community and in society.”