Mayoral Column: Covid-19 conversations on businesses, sports and community groups

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This time of year Council normally seeks nominations for our annual Citizen Awards. As we respond to Covid-19, we’ve decided to ask for these a little later this year instead.

In the meantime Mayor Volzke is catching up with a few of our previous recipients to chat about Covid-19 and hear their thoughts on what this means for our community as a whole.

Read this week's column below:

Mayor Neil Volzke 

This week I spoke to former Mayor Brian Jeffares (2013 recipient) and Allister Thomas (2018 recipient), and asked about the impact on businesses, sports and community groups during the pandemic response.

Looking back, Brian recalled the 1987 share market crash and 2007 global financial crisis as major events, and compared the government’s response back then. It was almost entirely opposite. ”Farmers were told to put their cheque books away, interest rates were around 25% and times were grim,” mused Brian, “we were told to tighten our belts, suck it up and get on with surviving as best we could,” and that’s what happened. “There was no money sloshed around by the Government compared to now,” says Brian.

Brian rightly states that, “this in turn raises the burning question of how do we repay this massive debt the Government’s borrowing has created, and what is the impact going to be on our children and their children?”

With the wonderful benefit of hindsight it begs the question, did we put too much emphasis on fighting the virus and not enough on the economic impact? I agree with Brian in that we are yet to fully face the crisis, this will come once we understand the damage caused by the virus and the strategy employed to fight it.

Brian felt the strength of the District lies within the community and by bonding together we will enjoy the advantages Stratford has to offer. He proudly recalled surveys in the early 2000’s that showed per capita our volunteer base and hours were among the highest in the country. With unemployment predicted to grow significantly in coming months, Brian says, “There will be a need for these people to do something. That’s where the community needs to position itself to provide some answers, and some alternate activities”. Allister acknowledged the need for volunteers in sport and hoped they would continue to come forward.

Community support has manifested in other ways. Brian says “the most interesting phenomenon he had witnessed during this period was the human interaction. Naturally we have been inhibited by the rules to keep our distances but the phone calls, zoom hook ups etc. have been quite a revelation”. I agree, this has probably changed the way we engage with others forever. We even came up with a new word, labelling a zoom meeting a zhui. Quite like that!

Sport has changed, but it will bounce back. Brian says people will make sacrifices but will eventually be rewarded. Allister has concerns about the disruption to the winter season for hockey. “The uncertainty of how to move forward has been a problem,” he says. He believed one of the major issues for clubs will be retaining members. “Either it’s the wrong time of the year or they just can’t afford to play any sport this year. This will be a problem particularly for parents with several children that all want to play sport. We are hoping this year to find support from our local community. Maybe if someone has twenty dollars to spare, it will help a child play sport again this year.”

When asked about opportunities and the challenges ahead, Allister says, “Hopefully this will pull a lot of like-minded people together, to help make more opportunities for all ages to participate in sport in our community. In hockey we had just started an adult back to play and learn to play programme. I am hoping we can get this back on the ground ASAP. Just something different to look forward to and maybe meet a different group of people.”

Brian reminded us that now more than ever, we need to think local.

No matter whether its business, sport or a community group the recovery from Covid-19 is going to take a very long time. There will be a huge economic and social cost, and a new normal to get used to. Doom and gloom, or opportunity and positive change? I’ll go with the latter.

Keep a watch as I share more Covid-19 conversations with Citizen Award recipients going forward.

Citizen awards Allister Thomas smlCA 2013 Brian Jeffares

Allister Thomas (2018 recipient) and Brian Jeffares (2013 recipient).