CENTRAL MANITOULIN – When the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in Ontario, most municipalities moved their meetings to an online format, facilitated by a temporary provincial change to the Municipal Act. With low numbers of positive cases in the province (and none currently on Manitoulin) and coupled with the desirability of face-to-face meetings, Central Manitoulin council debated how meetings should proceed.
The original recommendation from the August 25 Office and Administration Committee read “That we recommend to council amending Procedural Bylaw 2017-08 to allow council members to either attend meetings electronically or in person and that all be considered as determining a quorum” and was moved by Mayor Richard Stephens and Councillor Al Tribinevicius.
Councillor Derek Stephens proposed that in order to be considered as part of quorum or participate in closed meetings councillors should be required to attend by video. “If either of my sons were on the call just over the phone, nobody would be able to tell the difference,” he suggested, asserting that the integrity of the process needs a video confirmation of who is attending a closed meeting.
Councillor Tribinevicius said, “I will go along with that.”
Councillor Rose Diebolt pointed out that not everyone has the internet access to be able to attend by videoconferencing.
Councillor Stephens countered that councillors are paid an honorarium to cover expenses and that councillors without sufficient internet bandwidth could simply use another method. “Everybody has smartphones these days,” he said.
Councillor Stephens also voiced his support for in-person meetings, citing the value of face-to-face debate on the issues.
Mayor Stephens noted that the emergency regulations under the Municipal Act do not require video attendance. He noted that once the emergency has passed, the issue will likely revert to the previous requirements.
CAO/Clerk Ruth Frawley noted the current procedural bylaw providing for remote attendance at council and committee meetings would only be in effect until the end of September.
After calling for a re-reading of the proposed motion, Councillor Steve Shaffer said that he had to oppose the motion, citing its being outside of Municipal Act requirements.
Mayor Stephens asserted that the emergency regulations allow for the motion. “Respectfully, I disagree,” said Councillor Shaffer.
Councillor Tribinevicius suggested that the issue should be revisited at the committee level where the nuances of the relevant legislation could be clarified.
In the end, council approved a motion made by Councillor Tribinevicius and Councillor Diebolt to send the issue of amending the procedural bylaw that would allow council members to attend meetings either electronically or in person, and that all attending in either format be considered in determining quorum, back to the next Office and Administration Committee meeting where it could receive further consideration.
Council did decide to move the time of committee and council meetings from 1:30 to 7 pm.