Ontario passes emergency bill to help workers during outbreak, allows virtual council meetings
Published Thursday, March 19, 2020 6:29AM EDT Last Updated Thursday, March 19, 2020 8:58PM EDT
TORONTO -- The provincial government passed emergency legislation today that would permit the City of Toronto and other municipalities to hold council and committee meetings electronically during the COVID-19 emergency.
A reduced numbers of MPP’s from all parties sat at Queen’s Park today to pass emergency legislation related to the COVID-19 outbreak, while also respecting social distancing guidelines by sitting further apart than normal.
The primary reason for the special meeting was to pass a bill aimed at protecting the jobs of workers who are forced to self-isolate, however MPP’s also ammended the Municipal Act and the City of Toronto act so that electronic meetings can be more easily held.
The amendment they are making stipulates that “should they choose to, members of councils, local boards and committees who participate electronically in open and closed meetings may be counted for purposes of quorum.”
That change would, in effect, allow for city council hold meetings entirely online in respect of social distancing guidelines.
TPS board working on alternative solution to in-person meetings
The amendment comes on the same day that the Toronto Police Services board cancelled its upcoming meeting and promised to work to find alternative solutions so that it can “continue to make critical and timely decisions” amid a COVID-19 outbreak that is expected to put a strain on emergency services.
The meeting had been scheduled for March 26 but in a statement issued on Thursday morning the board said that it would be cancelled and that efforts have already begun to identify an alternative way in which it can “continue to make critical and timely decisions that flow from the Toronto Police Service’s needs in relation to the pandemic.”
The board said that it anticipates announcing those plans in the “near future.”
“As we all continue to navigate through this rapidly evolving and dynamic situation, members of the public should have the utmost confidence that both the Toronto Police Service and the board are committed to maintaining public safety,” the statement reads. “The board, as always, is actively engaged in its civilian governance and oversight roles. As the employer of almost 8,000 Members of the Toronto Police Service, the board is also heavily focused on the health and wellbeing of our members.”
The city has already cancelled upcoming city council and committee meetings as it continues to deal with the fallout from the COVID-19 outbreak.
In the statement, the police services board said that while there are important decisions to be made to support the police service amid the outbreak, it must also “play its role in mitigating the effects of the pandemic, and preventing further transmission.”
“We will continue to monitor developments as they unfold, and make decisions that are guided by expert advice and the public interest,” the statement notes.
Police Chief Mark Saunders has some discretionary spending powers but would need the board’s approval to spend in excess of a certain level, should the outbreak begin to put a financial strain on his budget.