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.”
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.
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.”
‘Heartbroken’: Politicians express shock at killing of British MP – Al Jazeera English
British Member of Parliament David Amess has died after being stabbed several times during a meeting with his constituents at a church in eastern England. He was 69.
Reports said a man walked into Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea, south Essex, on Friday while Amess was holding a surgery with locals and attacked the politician.
Police arrested a man and recovered a knife.
Politicians from across the political spectrum expressed shock and sadness over the horrific incident.
Here are some of the reactions:
Boris Johnson, UK prime minister
In a tribute to Amess, Johnson said the late MP was killed after “almost 40 years of continuous service to the people of Essex and the whole of the United Kingdom”.
He added: “The reason people are so shocked and sad is above all he was one of the kindest, nicest, most gentle people in politics.
“He also had an outstanding record of passing laws to help the most vulnerable, whether the people who are suffering from endometriosis, passing laws to end cruelty to animals, or doing a huge amount to reduce the fuel poverty suffered by people up and down the country.”
Johnson continued: “David was a man who believed passionately in this country and in its future. And we’ve lost today a fine public servant and a much-loved friend and colleague.
“Our thoughts are very much today with his wife, his children and his family.”
Dominic Raab, UK deputy prime minister
“Heartbroken that we have lost Sir David Amess MP. A great common sense politician and a formidable campaigner with a big heart, and tremendous generosity of spirit – including towards those he disagreed with. RIP my friend.”
Heartbroken that we have lost Sir David Amess MP. A great common sense politician and a formidable campaigner with a big heart, and tremendous generosity of spirit – including towards those he disagreed with. RIP my friend.
— Dominic Raab (@DominicRaab) October 15, 2021
Priti Patel, UK interior minister
“I am devastated we have lost Sir David Amess … David served the people of Southend with endless passion, energy and integrity. That he was killed while going about his constituency duties is heartbreaking beyond words. It represents a senseless attack on democracy itself.
“Questions are rightly being asked about the safety of our country’s elected representatives and I will provide updates in due course.”
Rishi Sunak, UK finance minister
“The worst aspect of violence is its inhumanity. It steals joy from the world and can take from us that which we love the most. Today it took a father, a husband, and a respected colleague. All my thoughts and prayers are with Sir David’s loved ones.”
Liz Truss, UK foreign minister
“Devastated to hear the terrible news about Sir David Amess MP. He was a lovely, lovely man and a superb parliamentarian. My thoughts are with all his family and friends.”
Nicola Sturgeon, first minister of Scotland
“This is awful beyond words. My thoughts and deepest condolences are with David’s family, friends and colleagues. May he rest in peace.
“Elected representatives from across the political spectrum will be united in sadness and shock today.
“In a democracy, politicians must be accessible and open to scrutiny, but no-one deserves to have their life taken while working for and representing their constituents.”
Nadhim Zahawi, UK education minister
“Rest In Peace Sir David. You were a champion for animal welfare, the less fortunate, and the people of Southend West. You will be missed by many.”
Sajid Javid, UK health minister
“Devastated to learn of Sir David Amess’ murder. A great man, a great friend, and a great MP killed while fulfilling his democratic role. My heart goes out to Julia, his family, and all who loved him. Let us remember him and what he did with his life.”
Kwasi Kwarteng, UK business minister
“Sir David was a thoroughly decent, kind and thoughtful man. An exemplary Member of Parliament who fought for his constituents with devotion. My thoughts and prayers are with his family at this deeply tragic time.”
Simon Coveney, Irish foreign minister
“What a shocking and tragic incident. Our thoughts and sincere sympathies are with family, friends and political colleagues of Sir David Amess MP.”
Michael Gove, UK levelling up minister
“David Amess’s passing is heartbreakingly sad. Just terrible, terrible news. He was a good and gentle man, he showed charity and compassion to all, his every word and act were marked by kindness. My heart goes out to his family.”
Joao Vale de Almeida, EU ambassador to the UK
“Very shocked by the news of the death of MP Sir David Amess following a horrific attack. Our heartfelt condolences go out to his family and loved ones.”
Philip T. Reeker, US charge d’affair to the UK
“I’m deeply saddened to hear about the death of Sir David Amess MP. My thoughts go out to his family, friends and all those who worked with him during his distinguished parliamentary career.”
Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury
“Sir David Amess dedicated his life to championing causes he believed in, serving constituents and his country for almost forty years as a Member of Parliament. He was a devout Roman Catholic whose deep faith fuelled his sense of justice. We are richer for his life, and we are all the poorer for his untimely death.”
Carrie Johnson, wife of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson
“Absolutely devastating news about Sir David Amess. He was hugely kind and good. An enormous animal lover and a true gent. This is so completely unjust. Thoughts are with his wife and their children.”
Keir Starmer, opposition Labour Party
“This is a dark and shocking day. The whole country will feel it acutely, perhaps the more so because we have, heartbreakingly, been here before.
“Above all else, today I am thinking of David, of the dedicated public servant that he was and of the depth of positive impact he had for the people he represented.”
Lindsay Hoyle, speaker of the House of Commons
“This is an incident that will send shockwaves across the parliamentary community and the whole country. In the coming days we will need to discuss and examine MPs’ security and any measures to be taken, but for now, our thoughts and prayers are with David’s family, friends and colleagues.”
Brendan Cox, husband of Labour lawmaker Jo Cox who was murdered in 2016
“My thoughts and love are with David’s family. They are all that matter now. This brings everything back. The pain, the loss, but also how much love the public gave us following the loss of Jo. I hope we can do the same for David now.”
Attacking our elected representatives is an attack on democracy itself. There is no excuse, no justification. It is as cowardly as it gets.
— Brendan Cox (@MrBrendanCox) October 15, 2021
Theresa May, former Conservative UK prime minister
“Heartbreaking to hear of the death of Sir David Amess. A decent man and respected parliamentarian, killed in his own community while carrying out his public duties. A tragic day for our democracy.”
Gordon Brown, former Labour UK prime minister
“Saddened and shocked to hear about the death of Sir David Amess. My condolences to his family and friends.”
David Cameron, former Conservative UK prime minister
“This is the most devastating, horrific & tragic news. David Amess was a kind & thoroughly decent man – & he was the most committed MP you could ever hope to meet. Words cannot adequately express the horror of what has happened today. Right now, my heart goes out to David’s family.”
Tony Blair, former Labour UK prime minister
“David and I came into Parliament together in 1983. Though on opposite political sides I always found him a courteous, decent and thoroughly likeable colleague who was respected across the House. This is a terrible and sad day for our democracy.”
Jonathan Soloman walking away from politics – TimminsToday
Mushkegowuk Council Grand Chief Jonathan Solomon is retiring from politics with mixed emotions and feeling good about his tenure.
Solomon is resigning effective today, Oct. 15.
With over a year still left in his term, Solomon, 59, said he is leaving the office to focus on his health and spend more time with his family in his home community of Kashechewan.
After reflecting on his career and speaking with his family, Solomon said he decided to walk away from politics.
“My diabetes really spiked up. So, I thought about my well-being first and foremost. My family wants me to be well and I want to be well,” he said. “I’ve been in politics for many, many years and it’s taking a toll on me.”
He will now be working as a health director in Kashechewan. Solomon said the job is non-political, more private and allows him to stay in his home community.
Solomon said the Council of Chiefs will likely hold a by-election to elect a new leader for the remaining term until the next Mushkegowuk Council election in 2023.
To a new grand chief, Solomon advised to have a good vision, work with communities and staff, have good communication and continue supporting the ongoing work at the Mushkegowuk.
“You got to love what you do. Don’t do it for the sake of getting that title,” he said. “Lead from the heart.”
Solomon has been leading the organization, which represents seven First Nation communities in the James Bay and Hudson Bay, for the past six years. Before that, he was chief of Kashechewan for six years.
He got into politics at the age of 19 when he was elected to council. He first became Kashechewan chief when he was 27.
He also worked as director of education and served as Mushkegowuk deputy chief.
“Although I was a politician, I’m more of a human. I had a heart, I had compassion. I loved what I did,” he said.
During his tenure, Mushkegowuk Council signed a revenue sharing agreement with the Ontario government.
Most recently, the organization signed a memorandum of understanding with Parks Canada regarding a proposed National Marine Conservation Area in western James Bay and southwestern Hudson Bay.
As a chief, Solomon said he championed and lobbied to launch the inquiry into the suicide crisis in the First Nation communities.
Mushkegowuk Council established a People’s Inquiry in 2013. The communities raised their own funding to conduct the inquiry, hold public hearings and choose commissioners. The final report with recommendations was released in 2016.
Re-establishing the Mushkegowuk youth department was also one of his priorities as the grand chief.
“I lobbied so hard to get the funding,” Solomon recalled.
When the funding was approved, it was an emotional moment.
“I still remember that day like it was yesterday,” he said.
He said he also lobbied to establish the Mushkegowuk health department.
When he was first elected as the grand chief, his first priority was to get the organization “back on feet.” Solomon said he was surrounded by dedicated hardworking people who had the same vision for Mushkegowuk as he did.
“They’re the ones doing most of the work, the technical work. You got to have the right people surround you and to support you, and vice versa,” he said.
Solomon questioned why a sitting grand chief can’t have a satellite office and work from their home community.
He is from Kashechewan, while Mushkegowuk Council’s head office is in Moose Factory.
Spending six years between two communities, away from his family was quite challenging for him, Solomon said adding if he had an office in Kashechewan, he’d finish his term.
“I missed the part where my children were growing up. I was too busy. I missed a lot of parts. The next thing I knew they were starting their own families,” he said. “I want to be there for my grandchildren, I want to see their birthdays, special days. I want to be part of their lives, and that’s what I’m looking forward to.”
PM Trudeau to unveil new cabinet, vows gender balance despite losses
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Friday he would reshuffle his cabinet on Oct. 26 and ensure there was a gender balance , even though he lost female ministers in an election last month.
Trudeau was re-elected to a third term in office on Sept. 20 but only won a minority of seats, which means he needs to cooperate with opposition legislators to govern.
“The new cabinet will remain gender balanced,” said a statement from Trudeau’s office. Since taking power in late 2015, Trudeau – an avowed feminist – has named cabinets with an even split of male and female ministers.
But in the run-up to the election, one high-profile woman cabinet minister quit and another three lost their seats.
His office also said the new Parliament would be recalled on Nov 22.
(Reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by John Stonestreet)
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