Councillors may attend meetings remotely – even after pandemic

Councillors may attend meetings remotely – even after pandemic

Change to bylaw would allow councillors to attend municipal meetings electronically, under special circumstances

By Chad Ingram

Traditionally, under the Municipal Act, remote participation in council meetings was not permitted. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the province has passed legislation allowing municipal council meetings to be conducted electronically. Council meetings in the county have been taking place via online conferencing app Zoom and broadcast to the public on YouTube.

It seems the plan is for in-person meetings to resume at some point, but new amendments to the procedural bylaw mean that after that occurs, councillors would be able to participate electronically in special circumstances.

“Of course there’s a natural weather event, but it also includes health and safety reasons, including a pandemic, and guidelines as set out by the Province of Ontario,” said county chief administrative officer Mike Rutter, explaining the changes that were permissible under provincial legislation. “We have allowed, in this draft, three times per year where a member could participate [remotely]. We have asked for 24 hours’ notice, unless there are extraordinary circumstances. We would monitor weather to see if it is predicting that it would difficult, and we would probably set up a Zoom alternative if it is calling for bad weather.”

“With respect to closed session, if a member is participating [remotely], they would be required to declare that they are alone, and connected to a secure internet connection, not a public one,” Rutter said.

“We had talked about, what if that person has a sprained ankle, or a personal injury, does that fit into one of these requirements?” asked Dysart et al Mayor Andrea Roberts. “So, I can’t drive, I can’t get to county council because I broke my right ankle. I am able to attend electronically?”

“I would interpret that as a health and safety reason,” Rutter said.

“I did break my ankle, a couple of years ago,” said Algonquin Highlands Mayor Carol Moffatt, “ . . . and the county elevator was broken, and so, I was able to participate and could have, if we’d had electronic opportunities then, so I think, I’m glad you’ve asked that question and it does include that. This is not if somebody has a headache or a runny nose [outside of this pandemic] . . . it has to be something substantial and legitimate.”

The county’s lower-tier councils have been passing similar amendments.

County councillors amended the county’s procedural bylaw during a meeting in late August, those changes allowing for electronic participation by councillors in exceptional circumstances, once in-person meetings resume, whenever that might be.