A framework developed by municipal staff on when and how emergency powers would be provided to administered by the head of County Council will be surfacing in the form of a potential bylaw later this summer.
On May 12th, Councillor Andreas Bolik put forth a resolution for council’s support to create a bylaw that would act as a guiding principle for the head of council providing direction for use of emergency powers as they’re granted by the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act (EMCPA).
The resolution was passed by council nine to four, with a bylaw expected to come back to the horseshoe July 21.
The resolution acknowledges that the unprecedented circumstances caused by the pandemic, which is a continuing issue, while asserting the emergency powers granted to the Head of Council during such times are “intended to be exercised to allow for immediate action to be taken to prevent imminent loss of life, damage to property or both.”
The intended bylaw would instruct the Head of Council one three particular matters:
- When and how the emergency powers granted by the EMCPA should be exercised by the Head of Council
- Ensuring that efficient and effective communications with, and advice from, council and other bodies are established and maintained, and
- The recall of Council at the earliest possible date to ensure continuity of represntative government within PEC.
The initial proposed date for the bylaw do come back to council was June 23.
Bolik explained the resolution as being an antidote of sorts to the vague prescriptions set out by the ECMPA, providing structure for future emergencies.
“The ECMPA is pretty vague, perhaps intentionally, when looking at our emergency plan. It’s also somewhat vague in specifics. I think it behooves us, being two months in and seeing issues and struggles that our mayor has gone through…I think it’s an ideal time to bring forward a bylaw to put some framework in there and give some structure so everybody knows what’s expected and what can and should be done,” he said.
Part of the resolution also states that emergency powers, “should be used sparingly” as they’re within the competency of council.
Mayor Steve Ferguson addressed this statement directly.
“Part of the implication in this resolution is that some decision making has been taken unsparingly which is not the case,” said Ferguson. “We are dealing with a situation that is unfolding at break neck pace and council has been and continues to be informed of steps that have been taken as we deal with this. We’re dealing with it for the purpose of protecting our residents’ health and safety.”
Ferguson acknowledged that while the COVID-19 crisis unfolds, and subsequent consequences, the primary concern of council and staff should be continuing to protect the health and safety of residents.
“The resources of council, our municipal staff and members of the public, have been engaged first and foremost to ensure the health and safety of our community. That, in my mind and that of everyone on this screen must remain our paramount and undistracted concern,” expressed Ferguson. “I’m extremely encouraged by the low case count we have in our municipality and I think at least part of that is the result of this collective effort. The extent of COVID-19 and its effect on our economy and our residents is still being played out.”
Ferguson argued that the diversion of staff resources to such a bylaw, at this time, would be a disservice to the community.
“To divert valuable resources of our staff away form the immediate tasks at hand to a matter that’s best considered at a much later date is, in my mind, a disservice to our community. The efforts of staff should not be employed doing research into a bylaw that can wait until we go through this review at a later date,” he noted.
Councillor Jamie Forrester concurred with Ferguson, adding that he was impressed with the level of communication executed during this state of emergency.
“I am quite impressed how we’ve handled ourselves through this so far. I think lines of communication had been quite good and at no point did I feel left out of the loop,” commented Forrester.
Councillor Bill Roberts spoke in absentia in opposition to the resolution.
“Unfortunately, I’m unable to Zoom with my colleagues, but if I was in attendance, I’d be cautioning against passing the resolution,” said Roberts. “In brief, I agree with Bolik that a proper postmortem should be conducted once this emergency has ended and that may well lead to further guidance regarding the role and parameters of the Head of Council in future emergencies. This is not the time however in my view. “
Councillor Janice Maynard supported the resolution, citing the pandemic situation as being “our new normal” and the burden on staff to create such a bylaw being far from burdensome.
“I think this is just looking for guidance and instructions and it doesn’t have to be a huge task for staff,” she said. “ I think there’s nothing emergent in this situation anymore. This is our new normal.”
Logistically, Councillor Kate MacNaughton posited that now may be the best time to conduct such a postmortem.
“I actually think it’s good to do postmortems when everything is fresh. I also think constituents I’ve heard from are very grateful for the efforts made and feel confidence that things have done well,” said MacNaughton. “I do think the best time to review and have a postmortem is while things are as fresh as possible. I find June 23rd to be soon, but I’d rather sooner than later.
Councillor Phil St-Jean, believing that now is not the time to burden staff with such a bylaw, made a motion to defer the resolution until an administrative and governance review could take place in the fall.
“I have to concur with a lot of statements being made. I understand the sentiment in the resolution, I do have to remind everybody that item C has been achieved-we are beginning to meet on a regular basis. I definitely would like to figure out how we lift this state of emergency,” said St-Jean. “Things are getting better slowly but there are still many challenges ahead of us. We have to have that discussion, along with a further discussion on what the next steps are and how do we assist the current mayor with some guidance as recommended in the resolution. However, I don’t think now is the time to be demanding or requesting our staff to go through all the effort to draft a special bylaw.”
The motion to defer was seconded by Forrester, but ultimately lost in a recorded vote eight-five.
Bolik followed up on comments made by Ferguson, insisting the resolution was not an indictment of any specific person.
“This was not intended to be an indictment of any thing or specific person, it’s there to provide guide posts and a map to assist people in times where everything is up in the air. That’s the intent here,” he said.
To this, Ferguson replied that the nature of the pandemic means that, for many, much of life is up in the air.
“The unfortunate position that we and every other municipality is in is being very much up in the air. Last week, for me, was a real eye opener when certain portions of our economy were given two days notice that they were going to be allowed open, following another announcement Saturday that Provincial Parks would reopen. The predictability of the province in terms of where they will go is one of the challenges we have,” replied Ferguson.