Niagara-on-the-Lake Coun. Norm Arsenault wants emergency powers to be rescinded and daily decision-making to be back in the hands of council by Aug. 24.
Arsenault presented a motion to suspend the town’s emergency control group’s powers at a council meeting July 22. The group, headed by the mayor and chief administrator, is comprised of senior officials who have been making daily decisions for the town during the pandemic.
Underlined in red in the motion was that no decisions should be made by the emergency group without consent of council. The motion was ultimately defeated but not before tensions rose a bit during the virtual council meeting.
Lord Mayor Betty Disero said she felt the motion was “belittling, or demanding, or a hand slapping, or a scolding of some kind,” noting she is “really proud of the work that has been done through delegated authority by myself and our CAO.”
She wanted to address the motion to explain some of the decisions made and why she doesn’t support removing delegated authority with an arbitrary date, noting NOTL saw its first new COVID-19 case in some time that day.
Coun. Clare Cameron, who was chairing the meeting, fired back with an interruption to ask if the debate was relevant to the motion, to which Disero said yes and requested her time to speak.
“You can speak for 10 minutes and that will be the only time that you speak to this motion,” Cameron said.
“Again, a double standard,” Disero replied.
Disero highlighted some of the decisions the emergency group has made “to protect the health and safety of the people in Niagara-on-the-Lake,” including the Queen Street parking prohibition, opening washrooms early against provincial orders, starting a COVID complaint email line, closing town facilities, keeping the grass cut, organizing an appreciation night for frontline workers, and making cuts to staff to keep financial losses down.
“What we also did is from the time the provinicial order came in March 17 and we were given delegated authority, we spoke to members of council every day for a week — actually for almost two weeks.”
She said she believes council has been informed on decisions made by the control group.
“We weren’t getting any real push back on our decisions,” she added.
She also noted that any “large” decisions that she and the CAO thought weren’t COVID-related were brought to council.
“Like the question as to whether or not council thought they wanted to charge the restaurants for parking spaces. This is something that — I know I didn’t support it — but we felt it was important that council make that decision.”
“We wanted to, and we kept council involved and gave a report every time we were all in the same room. So I’m not really sure why this sort of bright red, only, underlined, bold, is coming out the way it’s coming out. Because if you took the time Madam Chair, to read the bylaw that was passed by council March 17 giving delegated authorities, you’ll see that these exact wordings are in the existing bylaw.”
She said she questions the motivation and that no problems were communicated to her until the emergency group changed the time frame for the Queen Street closure.
“Rather than saying ‘give me my control back,’ Madam Chair, what you should be saying, what the decent thing to say, would be thank you. Thank you to the CAO, thank you to the staff — all the staff, particularly the emergency team.”
Arsenault apologized for making the motion bold and red.
Coun. Erwin Wiens came to Disero’s defence, noting council is already meeting a lot, and that he thinks some form of delegated authority needs to remain in place.