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Waterloo Region's local politics have been changed by COVID-19, and the changes may be here to stay – TheRecord.com

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WATERLOO REGION — The days of rushing home from work, fixing dinner, and calling a babysitter so you can go to a municipal council meeting are probably over.

The COVID-19 pandemic prompted municipal councils to host public meetings virtually. Councils now meet over Zoom or Cisco Webex and invite the public to join them to speak.

This new format has drastically changed how the public engages with municipal decision-making, and many think the perks of virtual meetings are here to stay.

Retired political science professor Robert Williams thinks virtual meetings made municipal council more convenient for the general public, as long as you have internet access and a device.

“What we’re seeing now is, I suspect, going to be the norm. We will just need to learn to adapt to it,” Williams said.

Yes, phone calls are less frequent, face-to-face interactions are limited and public health protocols will not allow packed council chambers when there is a hot topic on the agenda, but Williams said the absence of these interactions didn’t stop the public from participating in local politics.

In fact, city clerks across Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge have seen public participation in council meetings at levels only slightly lower than what they saw before the pandemic began.

Many think a hybrid model — where municipal councils can meet in person but allow people to delegate virtually — could become a post-pandemic reality.

“A lot of people have told us they really like the virtual meetings,” said Christine Tarling, city clerk for the City of Kitchener.

Tarling also speculates a hybrid model of virtual and in-person meetings could stay after the pandemic ends, as long as provincial legislation allows it.

She thinks a hybrid model can capture the best of both worlds — in-person meetings and virtual delegations — and provide the greatest access for everyone involved.

“It’s definitely a lot more convenient for a lot of people,” she said.

Tarling’s main objective is to make meetings of council as accessible as possible for city staff, council members and the public.

‘What we have tried as much as possible is try to mimic what would have been if we were to meet in council chambers so there was a sense of familiarity for everyone,” Tarling said.

People who want to comment on an agenda item at a council or committee meeting in Kitchener have the option to join the Zoom meeting, call in to the meeting, or submit written comments.

When the pandemic began, Kitchener council held special council meetings and temporarily suspended standing committees. Those committees were reinstated in August.

“By that point we had a better handle of what was happening in the pandemic,” she said. “We needed to get back to council business as much as possible.”

Tarling said she hasn’t received any complaints from the public about the way virtual meetings are held, or about access to meetings or council information.

The great equalizer?

Cambridge council changed its council meeting times during the pandemic from evening meetings to afternoon and morning meetings. It didn’t sit well with everyone.

Cambridge resident Karen Gordon told council in July its decision to hold meetings during the daytime made it difficult for working people like herself to participate. The meeting began at 4 p.m. instead of the pre-pandemic 7 p.m. start time.

Gordon said council had many important planning decisions on its plate in the coming year.

“During this time, city council meetings have been restricted from public attendance and have been scheduled during the day which prohibits participation for many working people who will be impacted by these decisions,” she told them.

She also noted Ward 4 Coun. Jan Liggett couldn’t attend the early meetings either because of her full-time job.

Mayor Kathryn McGarry said she thinks Cambridge’s chosen times, based on the decision of the majority of council, are more accessible to those who work odd hours.

“It has been an equalizer for shift workers,” she said. “As a former shift worker, there were many council meetings I could not attend.”

Instead of waiting for hours sitting in council chambers to wait for your turn to speak, delegates are able to spend shorter amounts of time watching the meeting and can wait to receive a phone call from the city clerk when it’s their turn to speak to council, McGarry explained.

“You get a phone call and boom, you’re in the meeting.”

McGarry acknowledges the city’s new council meeting times have been controversial, and not everyone agrees they are accessible.

Liggett noted in an email that not everyone can take personal calls at work.

While Kitchener has reinstated its standing committees, Cambridge has not. Cambridge council meets every two weeks to discuss every issue at hand which is why some meetings now begin at 10 a.m.

“Some of our meetings have been 11 hours long,” McGarry said. “Are we really at our best making decisions at midnight?”

She said council’s start times are in line with some other area municipalities, like Waterloo, where 2 p.m. council meetings have been the norm since before the pandemic.

Liggett had requested Cambridge council to return to 7 p.m. start times, but her motions were dismissed or voted down last year.

“It weighs heavily on me that I am unable to attend meetings that start at 10 a.m. and go on all day and that I have been placed in a position that I miss the first hour of those that start at 5 p.m.,” she said in an email.

“My voice is not heard in the earlier debates and my vote representing my constituents is not registered.”

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For Kitchener councillor Kelly Galloway-Sealock, being able to participate in council meetings from home has had its perks as well as its stressors.

“It’s been helpful as a parent that I’ve been able to parent while being on council.” Galloway-Sealock said.

On the other hand, trying to connect to a Zoom meeting with three kids learning virtually, and a husband who is also working from home, has been a bit of a nightmare.

“The nerves and stress I have is more about that rather than the content of the actual meetings,” she said.

She recalls one council meeting when she was booted out of the Zoom meeting due to her poor internet connection and couldn’t get back in to register her vote. It hasn’t happened often, but even one technical mishap can be detrimental when you have important decisions to make as a local politician.

Galloway-Sealock said she is grateful to have the ability to participate in council meetings from the safety of her home, but she can’t wait for the return of in-person meetings.

“I think meetings run smoother in person. I also think that relationships and social interactions with others are not happening,” the Kitchener city councillor said.

Over in Waterloo, virtual council meetings run with fewer technical mishaps because city council does not use Zoom video conferencing to host electronic meetings and uses audio only through Cisco Webex.

City councillor Diane Freeman said she prefers it over video conferencing. There are fewer distractions, more clarity and fewer technical problems, she said.

“Video doesn’t add value in my opinion,” Freeman said. City council is able to make decisions and get business done with fewer connection issues for everyone involved.

While Freeman, like other local politicians, said virtual council meetings have worked well this past year, she is eager to get back into council chambers.

The conversations and debate is just not the same, Freeman explained.

“Body language associated with conversation brings value to that conversation,” she said.

Freeman said public access to council is crucial, and virtual meetings have shown that those who wish to speak to council have been able to voice their concerns despite not being able to meet in person.

“I think most people have seen this as a necessary step,” she said.

New voices

Elizabeth Clarke, Region of Waterloo councillor, said the ability to attend a short meeting from home has cut down on commute times and allows her to dedicate time to her other job as well.

She thinks it will also free up time for the public who often show up for a 9 a.m. committee meeting and have to wait until 2 p.m. to speak to regional council.

“It does put people off for people to sit in council chambers for hours,” Clarke said.

Regional council has held many meetings on hot topics this past year: From the Waterloo Regional Police budget to anti-racism town halls and meetings about the region’s child care centres. These virtual meetings drew dozens of people who signed up to speak.

“I think we have seen a bit more from people we hadn’t before,” Clarke said of delegates who have spoken to regional council this past year. “While we’re gaining some new tech-savvy people, we have heard from some who don’t feel as comfortable attending virtually.”

Those people tend to be ones who are intimidated by the virtual format, don’t feel as comfortable using technology or perhaps prefer in-person meetings instead.

He said municipal councils have done remarkably well given the ever-changing public health protocols, technical challenges of virtual meetings, and trying to keep in touch with the public.

“Council has been able to get business done,” Williams said. “People have been able to be heard.”

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Prince Philip took a keen interest in Canada, but stayed above politics, former GGs and PM say

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When former Canadian prime minister Jean Chrétien met the late Prince Philip for the first time, he told him that for an Englishman, his French was very good.

“He said ‘I’m not English and I’ve spoken French since before you were born,’” Chrétien told the Star Friday, commenting on his many encounters over 50 years with the Duke of Edinburgh.

“He was not dull, let me put it that way,” Chrétien said. “He had some strong views. Sometimes he had to show discipline to not speak up more than he would have wished.”

Philip, born in Greece in 1921 and husband to Queen Elizabeth II for over 73 years, died at the age of 99 on Friday.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who said he first met Philip when he was a little boy, described him as “a man of great purpose and conviction, who was motivated by a sense of duty to others.”

Former prime ministers and governors general spoke of a man who understood his role and knew not to get involved in politics, but who was very knowledgeable about Canada and took a keen interest in the country’s success.

“I was always impressed by their knowledge,” Chrétien said of Philip and the Queen, Canada’s head of state.

He said he can recall Philip asking about the prospect of Quebec separating from the rest of the country. “Not in a very political fashion, just in terms of interest. Of course he was interested to not see Canada break up. He would certainly say that to me.”

 

Statements from former prime ministers Paul Martin and Stephen Harper highlighted Philip’s devotion to the Canadian armed forces and charitable organizations, as well as the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, an international self-development program for young people.

Former governors general David Johnston and Michaëlle Jean, through their role as the Queen’s representative in Canada, were also able to get to know Philip more intimately, particularly at the Queen’s Balmoral Castle estate in Scotland.

Jean recalls being “overwhelmed” by all the protocol recommendations ahead of a Balmoral visit with her husband and six-year-old daughter prior to taking office in 2005, only to find Philip and the Queen greeting them at the door, with Philip paying special attention to her daughter.

“The memory I keep of Prince Philip is that of an affable, caring, elegant and warm man,” Jean told the Star, adding he was a man who was very attentive to detail.

She recalled attending a barbecue on the Balmoral estate, just the four of them, and Philip telling her, “Don’t forget to congratulate Her Majesty for her salad dressing, because she made it herself.”

What Jean also saw was a man sometimes hampered by the limitations of his role, like when he talked about one of his favourite topics, the environment.

“He said ‘I do a lot about it, I raise awareness, I take actions…I feel that whatever I do, no one cares,’” Jean recounted. “What I got from that is how lonely he felt…There was a sense of not feeling appreciated in proportion to his contributions, a feeling of being misunderstood.”

Johnston, who succeeded Jean, said Canada’s constitutional monarchy — where the head of state is politically neutral and separate from elected office — is an “important and precious” form of government, and Philip was key to making it work.

Philip showed leadership as a servant, Johnston said, “not taking centre stage, but by ensuring that the Queen and the monarchy were front row and centre.

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“He played such an important structural role, and did that with great diligence and commitment. He was selfless in that respect,” Johnston said in an interview.

For Matthew Rowe, who works on the Royal Family’s charitable endeavours in Canada, the Duke of Edinburgh’s political value to Canada was precisely that he was not political — that he, along with the rest of the monarchy, provided a stabilizing force outside of the partisan fray.

He was dynamic, irascible, exasperating, intriguing. And he was always three steps behind his wife, Queen Elizabeth, who utterly adored him throughout their 73-year marriage, flaws, faux pas and all.

“His presence, and the role of Her Majesty and other members of the Royal Family, has been to be able to represent the nation, to represent Canadian interests, and commemorate Canadian achievements without being tied to a particular political ideology or regional faction,” Rowe, who met Philip at a ceremony at Rideau Hall in 2010, said in an interview.

 

Philip’s role meant he could speak more frankly than the Queen in public, and spoke “quite thoughtfully” about the constitutional monarchy in Canada, said University of Toronto history instructor Carolyn Harris.

At a press conference in Ottawa in 1969, Philip famously said that the monarchy doesn’t exist “in the interests of the monarch…It exists solely in the interest of the people. We don’t come here for our health. We can think of other ways of enjoying ourselves.”

Philip had a good, joking relationship with Johnston’s wife, Sharon. He recounted how the two joined the Queen and Prince Philip at Balmoral in August 2010, prior to Johnston’s swearing-in later that year.

One evening, they were returning to the castle from a barbecue at a renovated shepherd’s hut on the estate — just the four of them, the Queen driving with Johnston in one land rover, and Philip driving with Sharon in the other ahead of them on narrow, highland roads.

“We were coming home at about 10 p.m., as black as could be, he and Sharon were ahead, kind of weaving, and we could hear these gales of laughter coming out. They were cracking jokes at one another,” Johnston said.

“I had a vision of him going over the edge and down half a mile into the valley, and my first thought is: Do the Queen and I rustle down to rescue them?”

Chrétien said “it must be terrible” for the Queen to now find herself alone after a marriage that lasted for more than 70 years. He noted it’s been almost seven months to the day since he lost his wife, Aline.

 

“It’s a big change in life but she’s an extremely courageous person and she will face the situation with the strength that she has been able to show to the world for the almost 70 years she’s been queen,” Chrétien said.

With files from Alex Boutilier and Kieran Leavitt

 

 

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After warning, McConnell softens posture on corporations’ taking political stances

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., softened his stance on corporations’ getting involved in politics Wednesday, a day after he warned companies not to weigh in on hot button issues.

“I didn’t say that very artfully yesterday. They’re certainly entitled to be involved in politics. They are,” McConnell told reporters. “My principal complaint is they didn’t read the darn bill.

“They got intimidated into adopting an interpretation … given by the Georgia Democrats in order to help get their way,” he said.

McConnell was referring to a controversial voting law recently passed in Georgia, which came about in the aftermath of former President Donald Trump’s campaign of falsehoods about the election result in the state last fall.

The law led the CEOs of Delta and Coca-Cola — which are based in Atlanta — to condemn the measure. And last week, Major League Baseball pulled this year’s All-Star Game out of Atlanta in protest. The game will, instead, be played in Colorado.

In recent weeks, McConnell has excoriated corporate America for boycotting states over various GOP-led bills. He said Tuesday that it is “stupid” for corporations to take positions on divisive political issues but noted that his criticism did not extend to their donations.

“So my warning, if you will, to corporate America is to stay out of politics,” McConnell said in Louisville, Kentucky. “It’s not what you’re designed for. And don’t be intimidated by the left into taking up causes that put you right in the middle of one of America’s greatest political debates.”

Major League Baseball’s decision drew the most outrage from Republicans, as Trump called for a boycott of baseball and other companies that spoke out against the Georgia law. McConnell said Tuesday that the latest moves are “irritating one hell of a lot of Republican fans.”

McConnell, long a champion of big money in politics, however, noted Tuesday that corporations “have a right to participate in a political process” but said they should do so without alienating “an awful lot of people.”

“I’m not talking about political contributions,” he said. “I’m talking about taking a position on a highly incendiary issue like this and punishing a community or a state because you don’t like a particular law that passed. I just think it’s stupid.”

Source:- NBC News

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Facebook Removes 1,000 Fake Accounts Seeking to Sway Global Politics

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(Bloomberg) — Facebook Inc. said it removed 14 networks representing more than 1,000 accounts seeking to sway politics around the world, including in Iran and El Salvador, while misleading the public about their identity.

Most of the removed networks were in the early stages of building their audiences, the Menlo Park, California-based company said Tuesday. Facebook’s announcement on Tuesday, part of its monthly reporting on efforts to rid its platforms of fake accounts, represents one of the larger crack downs by the company in recent months.

“We have been growing this program for several years,” said David Agranovich, Facebook’s global threat disruption lead. “I would expect to see this drum beat of take downs to continue.”

In one example, the company removed a network of more than 300 accounts, pages and groups on Facebook and the photo-sharing app Instagram that appear to be run by a years-old troll farm located in Albania and operated by the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq opposition group. The group appeared to target Iran, but also other audiences with content about Iran, according to a report released by Facebook.

The group was most active in 2017, but increased its activity again in the latter half of 2020. It was one of a handful of the influence campaigns that likely used machine learning technologies capable of creating realistic profile photos to the naked eye, Facebook said in the report.

The company also removed 118 accounts, eight pages and 10 Instagram accounts based in Spain and El Salvador for violating the company’s foreign interference policy. The group amplified criticism of Henry Flores, a mayoral candidate in Santa Tecla, El Savador and supportive commentary of his rivals, the company said.

The social media giant also took down a network of 29 Facebook accounts, two pages, one group and 10 Instagram accounts based in Iran that was targeting Israel. The people behind the network posed as locals and posted criticism about Isreali prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to Facebook. The company also took down networks based in Argentina, Mexico, Egypt and other nations.

Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of security policy, said the company has improved its ability to identify inauthentic accounts, but said bad actors continue to change their strategies to avoid Facebook’s detection.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

Source:- BNN

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