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Vaughan Rising Blog: COVID-19 Leadership Lessons from the City of Vaughan’s Mayor

Three Simple, Innovative Ways to Help Your Business Rise

Business leaders and entrepreneurs are getting creative through the ever-evolving COVID-19 business restrictions, making pivots to ensure their businesses make it through. The new Vaughan Rising blog series will feature case studies of businesses at the forefront and practical guidance on operating under the ‘new normal.’ Each business has different challenges and a different way to tackle them. Hopefully, these insights will provide inspiration for your own business pivot.

To kick off the series, we are sharing lessons from the City of Vaughan’s own adaptation story. This municipal government, under the leadership of Mayor Maurizio Bevilacqua, moved quickly and nimbly, like a business would. By pivoting and innovating, the City is doing what it takes to continue the important task of city-building while delivering high quality public services. Collectively, Vaughan staff developed 125 innovations and process improvements in the first three months of the pandemic.

These strategies will work for businesses of any size, across a variety of industries. Try integrating them into your business plans to help your business rise too.

The Mayor’s formula to ensure Vaughan continues to rise 

1. Create strong foundations and action plans

COVID-19 did not catch Vaughan’s municipal team off guard. Since January, when COVID-19 took hold in China and the first case landed in Canada, Vaughan was aware and kept informed of the situation surrounding the virus, and quickly created a plan.

“We were ready,” says Mayor Bevilacqua. “We invest a lot of time in the City of Vaughan for emergency preparedness and I think that work really paid off.”

On March 17, taking strong, decisive action, Mayor Bevilacqua made a bold move and Vaughan became the first city in Ontario to declare a state of emergency. The Mayor’s declaration was based on intensive research and analysis combined with the desire to impress upon his citizens the seriousness of the situation. In hindsight, given how the pandemic has unfolded, the Mayor stands by his decision, affirming that, “it was the right call, at the right time, for the right reasons. As the world watched during those initial weeks of uncertainty, the City of Vaughan acted with a great deal of certainty.”

The City created a well-thought-out action plan, executed in rapid succession over the next few weeks, including:

  • suspending by-laws to allow for 24-hour delivery to stores in Vaughan with no restrictions on loading or unloading commercial vehicles, transport trucks and other vehicles.
  • waiving late penalty charges on property tax bills.
  • expanding waste collection services.
  • closing City Hall, playgrounds and other city facilities to the public.

2. Find a way to continue delivering services and communications without interruption

While many of the City’s facilities shut down, the work of running the city certainly did not slow down. Vaughan needed to find a new way to do almost everything. Mayor Bevilacqua was not daunted by the task. He explains, “we always lead with innovation. This is at the heart of our city-building efforts and COVID-19 provided an opportunity for our team to get creative in thinking of different ways to deliver services, programs and communications during a global pandemic.”

Mayor Bevilacqua chairs the Ready, Resilient and Resourceful Committee of Council, which he created to deal with COVID-19 and the city’s economic recovery. At the committee’s inaugural meeting on June 23, staff reported on all the measures taken so far and the impact. “What you find is a lot of creativity and innovation did take place,” notes Mayor Bevilacqua.

Vaughan has adapted many of the City’s functions, such as:

  • the launch of an online building permits portal.
  • the switch to virtual electronic-participation committee and council meetings.
  • the complete automation of procurement services.
  • working with industry leaders to identify and prioritize capital projects that comply with provincial directives and essential workplaces.

City-building also continues. During the first quarter of 2020, Vaughan issued 656 permits valued at over $125 million. More than 12,300 inspections took place from January to March, well exceeding the same period for the last three years. The $1.8 billion Cortellucci Vaughan Hospital – Canada’s first smart technology hospital – continues to be built and is slated to open in the first quarter of 2021.

Keeping mental health, entertainment and self-care in mind, Vaughan Public Libraries was the first library service in Ontario to offer curbside pickup for residents – with more than 47,000 items taken out already. The number of people registering for a library card online is up by a remarkable 130 per cent, notes the Mayor. The first-ever virtual Canada Day celebration was a success.

Vaughan’s Economic and Cultural Development department also pivoted, shifting its resources to support the hardest-hit segments of the business community by:

  • advising on the Vaughan Business Action Plan.
  • launching a website to support Vaughan businesses (vaughanbusiness.ca) with a dedicated COVID-19 resources page.
  • expanding email communications.
  • putting all hands on deck to respond to a flood of inquiries from businesses.

Mayor Bevilacqua notes, “because we are really the front-line government, people knock on our door before anybody else’s door and so we found that we were helping people not only with our own municipal programs, but also with provincial and federal programs.”

In his 30-plus years of public service, Mayor Bevilacqua has rarely seen a time where such a high number of government programs were rolled out in such short order. He explains, “this creates some benefits, but also some challenges as well, as people try to figure out if they qualify. A thousand businesses approached the Vaughan Economic and Cultural Development department, and they were all helped. This means that we relieved a little bit of the stress that they were going through both financially and emotionally during this time.”

3. Take a long-term approach

What insights does the Mayor have for other business leaders? He listed several strategies he believes made the difference for Vaughan.

  • Make sure the health of your customers (in Vaughan’s case: citizens) is first and foremost.
  • Mitigate some of the risks.
  • Be very clear about what you want to achieve.
  • Take a long-term approach.

Mayor Bevilacqua recommends exercising a decision-making process that is informed by creating a variety of scenarios with different situations, circumstances and outcomes that may emerge. He adds, “I think one of the reasons we have been successful is because ours is a long-term approach. When psychologically you ready the team in that way, positive results occur. I am very proud of the way our team here at the City of Vaughan has responded and I see a light at the end of the tunnel. We were first in many areas of COVID-19 because we actually were prepared, and preparation is key in dealing with an emergency like COVID-19.”

Rising toward the future

The faith of Vaughan’s residents in the well-being of the community and economy, and the City’s comprehensive and holistic approach, have contributed greatly toward Vaughan’s success.

Mayor Bevilacqua is proud of the city: “It is amazing to see all the great things that we’ve been able to achieve, and how strong our economy has remained throughout this crisis. There’s no question about the fact that some businesses and individuals have been adversely affected by the crisis, but it could have been a lot worse. I think the fact that we have a very strong foundation here in the city gave us the strength to overcome.”

Learn more about how the City of Vaughan supports business resilience during COVID-19.

For help with your business, book a consultation with the Economic and Cultural Development (ECD) team.

The Vaughan Rising Blog

In a post-COVID world, businesses need to be nimble and creative to keep operating. For most, this means making changes to day-to-day operations. For some, this means rethinking the whole business model.

The Vaughan Rising Blog is a resource that aims to help Vaughan Businesses adapt to a post-COVID economy. The series will highlight bold and innovative ways that the Vaughan business community is demonstrating resilience and practical resources contributed by subject matter experts.

New blogs will be posted most Tuesdays through to January 2021.

Community Improvement Plan (CIP) for the VMC and Weston Road and Highway 7 Area

PROGRAM DEADLINE EXTENDED TO 2022

Vaughan office space is in high demand, so the City of Vaughan is expanding the supply by offering incentives for large office developments. The CIP applies to developments of 7,000 square metres (75,347 square feet) or larger in the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre and Weston and Highway 7 Primary Centre.

Financial Incentive Programs

Development Charge (DC) Grant/Reduction:
  • Development charge will be “frozen” at the rates in effect before the enactment of the 2013 City-wide DC by-law
    • City DC rates would be payable at the rate of $20.35 per square metre
  • Only applicable to the office portion of mixed-use development
    • Residential, retail, commercial and institutional uses do not qualify
Development Charge Deferral:
  • For development sites located within the VMC area, applicants are eligible to defer payment of the City’s DCs for a period not exceeding 18 months, from time of building permit issuance in alignment with the York Region deferral program
  • Only applicable to the City portion of development charges
Tax Increment Equivalent Grants (TIEG):
  • For property owners to offset the incremental increase in assessment resulting from the construction of new office development
  • Will begin at 70 per cent of the property taxes and will decline at a proportionate rate over a ten-year period
  • Only applicable to the City portion of property taxes
  • Only uses defined as an Office Use under MPAC assessment are eligible for TIEG
    • TIEG would only apply to the office portion of mixed-use buildings
    • Other tax classes located in the same land or building that the office uses occupy would not be eligible for TIEG financing
Cash-In-Lieu (CIL) of Parkland Exemption/Reduction:
  • An exemption of CIL Parkland fees for office development projects, equivalent to 2 per cent of the land value for office space
  • In mixed-use buildings, a discount on CIL Parkland fees of $4,400 per residential unit, for every 70 square metres (750 square feet) of office development built on the same development site
  • May be applied to future high-density residential developments, provided that the residential development is constructed in the same subdivision or same site plan

Non-CIP Incentives

Podium Parking Incentives (applicable to VMC only):
  • Within the VMC office buildings, with a minimum of 2 storeys of below-grade parking, up to 2 storeys of integrated above-grade parking, located within the podium of the building, may be excluded from the calculation of the total height and density of a building, thereby not requiring Section 37 contributions for up to two storeys of additional building height
  • Section 37 contributions may be required in other instances if the height exceeds two additional storeys and underground parking is not provided
Expedited Development Approvals:
  • City of Vaughan will undertake an expedited development approval process for office and mixed-use development process where office uses are deemed to be the prevalent uses
  • City will provide a dedicated staff team to meet with the applicant, its tenant(s) and/or its consultants to ensure that the project is delivered as expeditiously as possible
  • No warranties can or will be made on behalf of external review agencies

Application Process

Step 1: Application Submission
  • Applicants are required to have a pre-application consultation meeting with municipal staff in order to determine program eligibility
  • Applicants are required to submit their completed application, including supporting documentation, to the Development Planning department
Step 2: Application Review and Evaluation
  • Staff review and evaluate application and supporting documentation against eligibility requirements
Step 3: Grant Approval
  • Staff will determine grant(s) approval at building permit issuance
  • Signed CIP Agreement is received from the property owner
    • The CIP Agreement is executed and registered on file

In addition to the financial incentives offered under Vaughan’s CIP program, office development projects may be eligible for development charge deferrals from the Region of York. For details on Regional incentives, please visit york.ca/financialincentives.

Office Development Incentives

Vaughan office space is in high demand, so the City of Vaughan is expanding the supply by offering incentives for large office developments.

Development Charge Deferrals for Office Buildings in the Regional Centres and Corridors

Office developments located in the Regional Centres and Corridors with a minimum of 4 storeys and 50,000 square feet are eligible for an interest-free deferral of the City’s development charges for up to 20 years. This pilot program is available for three years, or up to 1.5 million square feet, whichever occurs first.

Duration of DeferralSize of Office Building (4-storey minimum)
20 yearsMore than 400,000 sq. ft.​
15 years250,000–400,000 sq. ft.​
10 years150,000–250,000 sq. ft.
5 years50,000–150,000 sq. ft.​
City-Wide Development Charges Deferral for Office Buildings

Office developments with a minimum of four storeys are eligible for an interest-free deferral from the City’s development charges for 18 months. A Letter of Credit must be provided for the development charges being deferred.

For more information, program qualification criteria and terms and conditions, visit the City’s Development Charges page.

These programs align with York Region’s Financial Incentives for Complete Communities.

Community Improvement Plan (CIP) for the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre (VMC) and other Intensification Areas

Large office developments in the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre and Weston Road and Highway 7 Primary Centre are eligible for a suite of incentives, including:

  • Development Charge Grant/Reduction
  • Development Charge Deferral
  • Tax Increment Equivalent Grant (TIEG)
  • Cash-In-Lieu of Parkland Exemption/Reduction
  • Podium Parking Incentives (VMC Only)
  • Expedited Development Approvals

For more details, visit the Community Improvement Plan page.

Vaughan Metropolitan Centre Website