Ignace residents express opposition to changes to council procedures

·4 min read

Dawn St. Amand felt better connected to her community by watching Ignace council meetings on Zoom, but that has now been put to a stop.

Ignace council passed a bylaw last week, by a two-to-one vote, to change procedures including removing the streaming regular council meetings electronically. The change comes during a tumultuous time for council, where the mayor and a councillor resigned last month, leaving two vacancies which the remaining council members also decided to fill by appointments rather than holding byelections.

St. Amand, an octogenarian whose family has been in the area for six generations, said people are upset.

“The night of that council meeting where that was passed, people ended up [at my house] and we had quite a discussion about what, why, how it made us feel,” she said. “I have a small house but my living room was full of people.”

“It made us feel like something's being done that nobody wants us to see. Everybody in this room said they were upset about that motion.”

Chantelle Dufault-Tucker, who served on the previous term of council but wasn’t re-elected, said it was very concerning to see the Zoom access removed.

“This is something we worked very hard [to implement] when COVID hit,” she said adding it really opened up the ability for seniors and marginalized residents to keep up to date and allowed people who were working or busy with young families to hear what’s going on.

“We decided last council to continue with the Zoom [once COVID restrictions lifted] because we had more people watching, engaging, learning about policies, procedures for the community, more discussion was happening within the community. It was a positive thing.”

She said she still likes to keep up to date with council but it's unfortunate a huge demographic of the community no longer gets the opportunity to keep current with meetings.

Coun. Jodie Defeo said she voted against the change after speaking with community members.

“I made a decision to vote against the procedural bylaw because I felt it removed access to community members from council, especially if they were unable to attend in person or physically not able to attend in person,” she said, adding she wanted to record her vote on the issue.

Defeo said council is looking at bringing in a live streaming service which will allow citizens to view the meetings, although the system wouldn’t allow discussion like Zoom does.

“It won't be interactive but it will still provide much needed access and accountability to the council table and hopefully keep the community members feeling engaged and as active participants in what we do,” she said.

Defeo said she doesn’t know when exactly council will bring it to the table, but she will keep her eye on when and if something will come along.

St. Amand said they should have kept Zoom until a new system is ready.

“We could just transition from one media to the other so that we could still become be involved. Because let's face it, the more inclusive you [are in] your community, the better decision making,” she said. “I think a lot of people are feeling really disenfranchised because of this decision.”

St. Amand noted Defeo’s passionate defense about keeping Zoom, but didn’t understand the rationale of the other councillor’s votes.

“If they had another process in place, that would be one thing, but they don't,” she said.

Dufault-Tucker said another change was made, as a questions from the public portion of the meeting has been removed. Residents who want to pose questions to council must now submit them in writing two weeks before the meeting.

“[It’s] extremely unfortunate because as a past councillor, I found the questions from the public portion many times create a dialogue and conversation that really contributed to our decision making, some policy making,” she said.

“The conversations … with some of our community members really brought a new sense to the table of something and we [often were] like, ‘we never thought about it that way.’”

Defeo said the new procedure of getting questions in advance is the more common process for most municipalities.

She said when she’s asked a question and she doesn’t have the opportunity to gather the required information then the conversation is very different than if she is more prepared.

“If I have a few minutes to sit down and make some key points about that conversation, the conversation is more meaningful,” she said. “I know I try to have meaningful conversation with anyone who asks me questions.”

Eric Shih, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Thunder Bay Source