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Wednesday, August 17, 2022
‘We’re moving away from democracy,’ says Burroughs Disero disagrees

Coun. Gary Burroughs isn't happy with a proposed bylaw amendment that would allow as many as seven councillors to meet electronically for council meetings, even after the state of emergency is over in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

The bylaw means in theory that one councillor could be alone in a public meeting, if other members decide they have to join virtually.

“My basic problem with this whole thing is that we're moving away from democracy as I know it, and I'm old-fashioned,” Burroughs said during the public meeting to discuss the bylaw.

The proposal also says that if part of the meeting is conducted virtually, residents can only make presentations to council via an electronic submission.

“An electronic meeting shall not permit public delegations, except by way of electronic submission received in advance of the meeting, which shall be submitted to the town clerk prior to the start of the electronic meeting, and shall be provided to members at the meeting,” the bylaw says.

Lord Mayor Betty Disero disagreed with Burroughs, saying she thinks the idea helps keep democracy going during unprecedented times.

“This just really allows us to continue our work,” she said. “It doesn't mean that this is going to force us to have electronic meetings,” but it gives council the ability to have them if necessary.

She pointed out that with livestreamed video meetings, the public can see all councillors at once, even when they're not talking, which doesn't happen with regular council videos.

“So I disagree with my colleague that this is taking away democracy. I think it actually allows it continue should there be a situation where we find ourselves not being able to meet.”

She noted she “never believed in phone-in calling for meetings at all.”

“But I see now, having gone through this for the last few months, that it can work.”

Coun. Clare Cameron suggested to reword the part about public delegations in a “more positive” way.

“To just say that an electronic meeting shall permit public delegations by way of electronic submission. Just so that it doesn't sound negative.”

She noted because council is only meeting electronically, the public has already lost an easy way to voice opinions on matters because they can't just drop in to the council chambers.

Town staff agreed to look at rewording the bylaw.

Council approved the report on the bylaw and it will be discussed at the next council meeting.