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‘We don’t have the capacity’: East Kootenay Mayor takes aim at COVID health orders

With limited resources, local governments and private businesses are under too much strain from public health orders according to Sparwood Mayor David Wilks
Sparwood mayor David Wilks. (File photo)

Changing rules and an easily transmissible variant of COVID-19 are putting too much pressure on small municipalities, according to District of Sparwood Mayor David Wilks.

“My frustrations from a municipal standpoint are that the provincial government brings out public health orders, and then they just download them for enforcement on the municipalities, and we do not have the wherewithal to do enforcement,” the mayor told the Fernie Free Press in a phone interview Thursday (Jan. 6).

“We don’t have the capacity to enforce these.”

The District of Sparwood – a community of just 3,800 people in eastern British Columbia – has a single bylaw officer on staff.

“(Our bylaw officer) is pretty busy right now … and now they want us to do public health orders as well? No, absolutely not. (The province) brought the orders in, they should hire the people to do enforcement. It’s simple.”

Other enforcement agencies such as the RCMP are also stretched, with the Elk Valley detachment which covers Sparwood chronically understaffed and overworked.

Wilks, who is the former MP for the region, has long been critical of the way that orders are designed and what he described as the ‘haphazard’ way they are applied.

He took aim at the latest round of public health orders introduced in response to the Omicron variant, which has spread quickly across B.C., saying that orders to close gyms didn’t mesh with allowing fast food restaurants to remain open, among other things.

“Either you enforce it fully, or you don’t.”

Wilks is himself double-vaccinated, and has received his booster shot. He said that while he supported the need to do something to fight the pandemic, the goal posts need to stop moving.

He has previously taken aim at the vaccine passport system used in B.C. since September, describing it as a ‘disaster’ for local government and business.

“Is it going to be like this next year, too? When does it end? I feel sorry for the medical profession, but what do they want us to do?”

He said that the combination of enforcing orders being downloaded on local governments, combined with the orders themselves stripping away the workforce has been difficult at best.

“It’s not just the municipalities, its the restaurants - they’re short staffed, and customers get edgy with servers because they’re not getting speedy service. Everyone is suffering, and at some point in time, we’re just going to have to say we’ve done what we can do.”

Despite his concerns, he said he remains cognizant and aware of the intentions of the orders – but with an 89 per cent vaccination rate in the Fernie LHA according to data from the BC Centre for Disease Control from Jan. 4, the goals needed to be achieved by not overwhelming the health care system haven’t been detailed to the public.

Wilks said that if the province wanted to be serious about ending all transmission, they had to “bring the hammer down” through mandatory vaccination or stop introducing more ineffective public health orders.

“If they’re not willing to do that, I don’t know where we’re going.”

Currently, vaccination enforcement is a patchwork, with the Government of Canada requiring federal employees to be fully-vaccinated as per a decision made in late 2021, and requirements for healthcare workers to be vaccinated as well.

The most recent data from the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) reported 211 newly-detected cases within the Fernie Local Health Area, where Sparwood is located.

Neighbouring Fernie has also been affected by the riding numbers in the area, with the municipality there warning residents they could expect some disruption to services as supplies, staff and contractors were being directly affected by COVID-19. 

READ MORE: COVID-19 brings ‘significant challenges’ for City of Fernie in staffing
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