Windsor News - Local Breaking | CTV News Windsor
'I don't think we've met the challenge': Governing in the time of COVID-19
WINDSOR, ONT. -- As federal parties debate the role of Parliamentarians in the House of Commons during a global pandemic, councils across Windsor-Essex are navigating the new normal with varying degrees of satisfaction.
In Windsor, council has not had a regular meeting since March 2 and for Ward 9 councillor Kieran McKenzie – that is not good enough.
“To this point I don’t think we’ve met the challenge,” says McKenzie of local transparent governance amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
In an interview with CTV News, McKenize says city hall has moved slowly to roll out a new plan to continue to meet safely considering physical distancing and other measures meant to prevent the further spread of the deadly and contagious novel coronavirus.
While recognizing the difficult position city staff are in, McKenzie describes the city’s approach as “ad-hoc” – noting several other municipalities in the region have turned to video conferencing platform Zoom to hold regular public meetings.
“That’s just not okay,” says Melinda Munro of Munro Strategic Perspective, concerning council’s gap in full regular meetings.
The lawyer and municipal consultant suggests Windsorites aren’t enjoying the same level of democracy as neighbouring municipalities during the crisis, or as is typically seen with councillors meeting nearly every week for both committee meetings and regular gatherings.
“The fact is, if we thought it was important enough to have them meet as often as they met before the beginning of March, then we need to have them meeting as often as that now,” says Munro. “The city continues to run.”
There have been four special meetings of council since the March 2 regular meeting while Development and Heritage Standing Committee met electronically on April 14.
Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens sees the list of meetings, in addition to in-camera meetings, as evidence the city has not allowed democracy to take a back seat despite a state of emergency declaration.
Dilkens points to his decision to use his emergency powers to suspend transit service in the city without a council vote as the impetus for critics to claim city hall has been operating with a lack of transparency.
“They’ve pivoted to this notion that we’re not transparent or somehow not democratic, but I think the schedule of meetings continues to prove that council has continued to meet,” says Dilkens.
Both Munro and McKenzie point to the mayor’s decision concerning transit as cause for concern, despite conceding the mayor was within his powers do to so.
“This is no direct criticism at this point of what anything the mayor has done, but just from a pure governance perspective and a democratic perspective, it’s by no means ideal,” says McKenzie.
The first-term councillor feels there have been missed opportunities for greater council deliberation and consultation, saying the pandemic can’t be an excuse to allow governance norms to fall by the wayside.
“Democracy, accountability, and transparency are fundamental to our social organization and those principles need to be respected and they need to be practiced,” says McKenzie.
A regular council meeting scheduled for April 20 has been rescheduled for April 27 and will include items from previously scheduled meetings that were cancelled.
Dilkens says Windsor is no different than many other municipalities wrestling with the technological challenges of connecting councillors, staff, and the public through online means.
That process is ongoing, according to the mayor.
“We’re just working through different technology issues that will allow us to be more inclusive of the public,” says Dilkens.
Dilkens says at this point, there are no plans in the foreseeable future to have council return to in-person meetings and electronic solutions will be the norm for the weeks and months to come.