Pandemic-related procedures topped the agenda of the United Counties of Prescott and Russell’s (UCPR) August 12 council meeting.
On March 26, the UCPR, the United Counties of Stormont, Dundas, and Glengarry, and the City of Cornwall jointly declared a state of emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, with the low number of cases in the region, that state of emergency is likely going to end soon.
“We will have a joint announcement in the near future putting an end to our states of emergency,” said UCPR Warden Pierre Leroux.
The end of the state of emergency at the counties level will not affect any states of emergency that have been declared by individual municipalities.
La Nation Mayor François St-Amour asked what will happen if there is a second wave of COVID-19 in the region.
“If that does happen, we can always re-declare,” said Leroux.
Champlain Township Mayor Normand Riopel asked if in-person UCPR council meetings will be resuming. Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Stéphane Parisien explained that it is difficult to maintain adequate physical distancing in the council chambers at the administration building in L’Orignal. Changes would have to be made to the seating arrangement. Parisien said that during the recent months when the chambers have not been in use, items have been temporarily stored in them while heating, ventilation, and air conditioning renovations are being made in other parts of the building. However, those renovations will be finished in the weeks ahead and Parisien said that council could resume using the council chambers in October.
Parisien said that even though council would resume meeting in-person, the public would still not be allowed to attend the meetings, which would continue to be streamed online.
Hawkesbury Mayor Paula Assaly asked if individuals making specific presentations would be able to attend the meetings and Parisien assured her that it would be possible.
East Hawkesbury Mayor Robert Kirby asked if UCPR meetings could be held in a larger space such as a community centre where there is more space for adequate physical distancing. Leroux said that community centres do not have the technology that is required for council meetings. Parisien agreed and said that he would rather that meetings remained at the administration building.
The mayors agreed to decide in September on if in-person council meetings should resume in October.
Proxy voting unlikely
Parisien told council that a by-law is needed to regulate electronic participation and proxy voting at council meetings when the state of emergency is lifted. He advised against proxy voting, where an appointed municipal councillor attends a counties council meeting and votes on his or her behalf in the event that the mayoral representative cannot attend.
Leroux said that he does not support proxy voting if there was a provision that allowed mayors to participate online in special circumstances. He said that mayors are elected to serve on UCPR council and should be the only representatives. Assaly agreed.
Staff will be preparing a report with suggestions on how electronic participation should be regulated for future UCPR meetings.