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Electronic meetings a welcome success for York Region council

Regional council agrees to "blended hybrid" meetings until 2022
May 3, 2022
Kim Zarzour

There is one outcome of the pandemic that York Region councillors are happy with: virtual council meetings.

So much so, they’ve decided to keep meeting that way in a “hybrid” model that blends in-person and electronic attendance for at least another year.

Regional council meetings, which pre-pandemic had been held in council chambers in Newmarket, switched to electronic ones with the COVID-19 lockdowns and provincial state of emergency.

Two years later, a report by staff deemed the virtual format just as successful as in-person meetings, even more so.

A review of the first 15 months of electronic meetings found more people watched, more people participated, and council considered more items than was typically the case pre-pandemic.

“Implementing hybrid meetings for Committee of the Whole and Council provides a great deal of flexibility to members and other attendees,” said the staff report submitted to council April 28.

Not all members of council are keen on the format.

Markham Regional Councillor Jack Heath said he misses the camaraderie and conversations of in-person meetings while Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti said meeting virtually has not changed his friendships around the council table.

“The pandemic has taught us many things and allowed us to do things that in the past we would have taken months to study, and we have had to change on a dime,” he said.

Newmarket Mayor John Taylor agreed.

“What we've been through has taught us that flexibility has a ton of advantages and frankly, it's going to be an expectation many workplaces ... but it may be different after the election when new people come to council and their only engagement is virtual.”

Councillors voted in favour of a “blended” hybrid option, beginning May 26, where participants can attend council and committee of the whole meetings in-person or electronically. Electronic meetings will be allowed for all other meetings of committees of council.

At the same time, council will transition to fully paperless meetings as of the 2022-2026 council term.

Deputations may address the chair from the lectern in council chambers or through electronic means.

Electronic participants are required to keep their camera on at all times; if a participant is not visible on screen then they will not count toward quorum and will be marked absent during a recorded vote.

Electronic participants will be required to be visible onscreen to safeguard the confidentiality of private sessions.

Staff can choose whether they want to come into council chambers for the meetings, but will be available on screen to speak to council.

The region’s inaugural council meeting will continue to be held in-person.

The new council, post-election, will review the decision in the next term to determine if they want to continue with the hybrid model.