Virtual participation “a great thing in a bad situation”

Niki Dwyer, Lorraine Allen, Wendy Alford, Chris McGure, Shawn Pankow, Jay Brennan, Peter McKenna and Malcom Morris
Smiths Falls Mayor and council have been meeting virtually over Zoom since the pandemic began in mid-March. Photo credit: Emilie Must.
Posted on: September 8, 2021

Following an e-participation report from staff, Smiths Falls town council has decided to continue to hold virtual council and committee meetings until council chambers are renovated and Covid-19 is no longer a challenge. They also confirmed that livestreaming of council meetings will continue even when council is eventually able to meet in person.

During the Committee of the Whole meeting on Tuesday evening, Director of Community Services Kerry Costello requested council’s direction on whether or not they wished to continue meeting in a virtual format. This is a question that council has revisited every few months since Covid-19 prevented in-person meetings in March, 2020.

Councillor Chris McGuire acknowledged the value of the meeting virtually during the peak of the pandemic, but noted that for some committees that format posed a challenge. “I’d love to see committees have the option of deciding whether or not they’d like to meet at the Memorial Centre [where] there is plenty of space to social distance, and to accommodate any members of the public that show up.”

Councillor Wendy Alford said that she would prefer to “just continue with what we’re doing for the short term. I know all of us sincerely hope we’ll be back in the council chambers with the public and members of the press able to attend.”

Continuing to meet online just makes sense to Councillor Jay Brennan.  “We are the most vaccinated health unit in the province; but the health unit is also asking us to reduce close contact. We’re in a unique situation where the council chamber is being renovated anyway.”  He also pointed out that (virtual) public attendance has increased with council and committee meetings being live streamed online. “This council meeting is being watched by far more people than would be in our chambers. People are watching and that’s a great thing in a bad situation.”

“It’s not my favourite way of meeting but I understand the reason for it and I hope our renovations can be hurried and easier as a result of this,” added Councillor Lorraine Allen, referring to the town hall renovations which are ongoing. She, too, appreciates the added public interaction made possible by the online format. “I’ve heard a lot of people say they’re enjoying watching our meetings; I think they’re being enjoyed by the public.”

Councillor Alford asked Director Costello to confirm that livestreaming will continue to be accessible to the public once the council is meeting in person. “When we’re back in council chambers, this will be livestreamed as well, right?”

“Yes,” Costello replied, “When we’re back in renovated chambers the meetings will still be livestreamed then.” 

Smiths Falls town council meetings are livestreamed via the town’s social media accounts on Facebook, Youtube, and Twitch.

Article for Janelle Labelle