A new order from the province’s top doctor banning gatherings of 50 vehicles or more in one place has thrown a wrench into the plans for a series of events planned for the Western Financial Place parking lot.
While the world reels from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, school and city officials, along with other groups, have been trying to coordinate and navigate the health restrictions in order to stage four drive-in events at the end of the month.
The entire series — Cars under the Stars — includes celebrations for high school graduation, Canada Day, Ktunaxa Nation marking the 50th anniversary for the closing of residential schools and a Connect Church service.
However, the latest order from Dr. Bonnie Henry last week is throwing the future of those two drive-in events in doubt.
On Monday evening, city council wrestled with approving $4,300 for the Canada Day portion of the series given the latest directive from Dr. Henry and debated whether or not the order could still be in place, or possibly lifted, by July 1st.
Councillor Wes Graham acknowledged the work form the Ministry of Health in ‘flattening the curve’ but also argued that the city should continue planning for the events and have a conversation with the province about what the data may look like in 30 days.
Coun. Graham noted that as the province begins lifting restrictions businesses like restaurants are allowing seating in groups, while mall and grocery parking lots are full of vehicles on a daily basis.
“I feel that there is nothing to validate the arbitrary number of 50 cars,” said Graham, reading from a prepared statement. “At any given time, there are more in the Walmart parking lot. Yes, I know that most are not filled with six people but let’s really look at how many cars could actually be filled with six people as well at the drive-in? There is nothing stopping anyone from leaving the drive-in at any given time.
“…There are so many inconsistencies that pop up for a gathering like this to stop which is why I’m asking the question — proper signage, a few people patrolling the lots, we could definitely make something like this happen, making sure people aren’t getting in and out of the vehicles. We also have to have a bit of faith in humanity. This will build resiliency and give us a sense of hope.”
Hesitation from other councillors for moving forward focused on approving funds for an event that would contravene a provincial health order if the 50-vehicle restriction remains in place by July 1.
“Personally, I feel we might be better off to say we can’t have community events this summer. That has been said by Dr. Bonnie Henry for over a month now, that we have to look at not having community events,” said Coun. Norma Blissett.
“I’m not in favour of going ahead with this, we need to comply with that for a short period of time. Yes, it is painful, but if we do it now, then we could have a better fall.”
Councillor Wayne Price agreed, and noting that the gatherings would run contrary to orders issued by the Ministry of Health.
“They are the senior authority, it’s their recommendation. I think that local government…we would be remiss in operating contrary to senior levels of government, who is responsible,” Price said. “…We have to heed their advice.”
Coun. Ron Popoff also raised concerns about how the series of events would be impacted if one organization pulled out, as well as determining who bears the burden of ‘policing’ the event and making sure everyone is adhering to the physical distancing directives.
While Council voted down an initial motion to approve the funding, Coun. Popoff made a separate motion to allow staff to continue planning for the event while holding off on providing the funding until further clarity comes from the province as time gets closer to Canada Day.
Cars under the Stars would include a large projector screen, a stage and lighting, where people could attend in vehicles at the Western Financial Place parking lot a program featuring performances or keynote addresses via Zoom.
Additionally, Mount Baker Secondary School (MBSS) Grad Committee had been working towards holding a drive-in commencement ceremony, however, that plan is now on hold following Dr. Henry’s latest directive.
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