The last two months have been – difficult, boring, uncertain…undoubtedly numerous other adjectives. For me, the absence of in-person social connections has seemed the biggest loss. I am not a huge extrovert so can only imagine how this is affecting those who are. Turns out, not having chance meetings with other dog walkers in Reservoir park, in-person Rotary breakfasts, sitting around an actual council table, having a coffee with a resident over an issue, affected me much more than say – standing in line at the grocery store, or doing without hair “product”. Notwithstanding the things I miss, this period has presented an opportunity to imagine the world differently.
Some things are big, I mean society big. The enormous failings of the current long-term care model. The revelation that we have so little production of essential products in our own country. Both reflect intentional decisions to reduce public expenditures and enhance the financial resources for those with resources to invest. Neither are bad on the surface, but we bought into them without fully anticipating consequences. If there is one thing this little virus has exposed its a penchant for making decisions relevant to the now. These are but two things all levels of government should move to the top of our near-future agendas, whether as provincial or federal government(s) that can change policies or as local government funneling local concerns up the ladder.
While it is easy to feel less than significant in the face of the enormity of long-term care and production methods, this experience has also exposed opportunities of a more local level.
- Roads for bikes and walking: Wolfville Council, on an idea brought forward by fellow Councillor Brian, requested staff pull together thoughts on making our downtown area more pedestrian and cycling friendly. The absence of traffic and parking, people eager to get outside, and the imperative of social distancing, create a situation that just might help create a new normal. Somehow we have managed to make less use of our cars. Could this be the time and the opportunity to widen one side of Main to walking and cycling by removing parking on one side? Could we get used to this as a permanent situation? Could we ignore our first responses and think about long term benefits? Could this virus help us kick our car habit? Will we look back on this moment and know it was the time and the opportunity that moved us to a more sustainable transportation model?
- Governance of Regional Services: I sit on the Kings Transit Board, representing Wolfville, but not really, because we have a governance model for our regional services that came about decades ago. Kings Transit, Annapolis Valley Waste Management, the Harvest Trail, the RCMP, the Valley Regional Economic Network – two boards composed of councillors, one committee and three advisory committees with a mix of council and residents, and one board composed of non-elected representatives. Each of these provides services to our region, all receive local taxpayer funding*, all have different forms of representation none of which are directly responsible to voters, none are directly managed by local governments. In my almost 8 years on Council I have seen councillors appointed to these boards cycle through on one and two-year terms, sometimes concurrent terms, but that is not guaranteed. While I (along with all of Wolfville Council) have long supported a review of the governance models associated with these services CoVid-19 has heightened my awareness of the complexity or awkwardness of the existing models.
- Technology: There can’t be many of us who haven’t “Zoomed” (is that a word?) at least once since February. I am not sure I had even heard the word Zoom in the context of technology before this. Now I have Zoomed many a Rotary breakfast, Board meetings, even Zoomed the Toonie Toss draw on Monday; Zoomed council, Zoomed church services. Shortly, I will watch a fashion show from Casa Bella one of our premier retailers in town. While I still enjoy and prefer the in-person experience, we have certainly learned that we can stay in touch in ways that would have seemed futuristic only a few short years ago. I wonder what this means for big decisions this and future Councils will make for our municipal building, our council chambers, our library, the way councillors stay in touch with constituents, our privacy, our social connection? It is not that technology has crept up on us, it is that its potential and, yes cautions, have been there but not realized.
Two big things, three smaller things, all things we can influence as residents, tax-payers, decision-makers. To influence things in the right direction we have to take the time to understand the science, the implications, the potential pitfalls. We have to consider whether the end result is worth the effort required. In a month or two, maybe less, maybe more, the current #staytheblazeshome experience will surely come to an end. What do we want our true new normal to be?
*The Town of Wolfville opted out of the Valley REN two years ago and consequently has not been a member of the Regional Economic Network since that time.