Viewers from home
By Sue Tiffin
Although change can be difficult, humans have a remarkable ability to adapt. During the COVID-19 crisis, we’ve all seen numerous examples of local individuals, agencies, services and businesses adapting, whether by offering curbside pickup or delivery, online offerings or pivoting in some way to help the efforts of our front line health-care workers. Our municipal government, as well, is adapting to continue to offer what County Warden Liz Danielsen described as “business, almost, and I stress almost, as usual,” noting that “nothing during this crisis has been business as usual.”
One adaptation outside of the norm that has occurred as a direct result of physical distance measures recommended by public health agencies during the pandemic is the move to broadcast council meetings online. Last week, with councillors connecting remotely, council meetings in Highlands East and at the county level were live-streamed using Zoom online conferencing technology and YouTube, at very little financial cost, and with a greater number of people viewing than at in-person meetings. The meetings – able to happen with councillors apart due to emergency measures – allow for municipal governments around the province to broadcast discussions, votes and decisions online to constituents, regardless of where those residents might be.
Some jurisdictions throughout Ontario have broadcast regular council meetings – either on TV or by webcast – for years, including neighbouring councils in the City of Peterborough, District of Muskoka and City of Kawartha Lakes, where in Lindsay, volunteers are offered training and high school volunteer hours to operate audio and visual recording equipment.
An option for online council meetings is a change for Haliburton County residents that isn’t business as usual, but rather much, much better than usual in offering transparency and accessibility. Though the meetings are being offered online temporarily for now, connecting councillors while apart, the necessity to do so shows all of us tuning in that it can be done at any time.
It means residents can take in council meetings despite snowstorms, lack of transportation, accessibility barriers, social anxiety or conflicting schedules – council meetings in Haliburton County all happen during regular working hours for many, and can last for hours making it difficult for residents to pop in on their lunch breaks hoping to bear witness to a particular agenda item. Sharing council meetings online regularly would allow residents at our long-term care homes to remain further involved in the community outside the doors, and seasonal residents hours or even countries away the chance to listen in to meetings. Constituents can submit questions in advance, and watch meetings after they’ve been broadcast, offering flexibility for a wide variety of schedules and situations.
In the coming weeks and months, as the province looks to potentially open up and as better internet access is gained in our area, council should move toward formally opening up regular meetings to a greater audience. Our normal could be better.