Back to the Council Table
Wednesday March 23rd marked the first in person City Council meeting since February 12, 2020. It felt so nice to be back at the table with my colleagues after spending the last two years connecting through Zoom. We had the opportunity to catch up on what’s been happening in our personal lives as well as work before and after the meeting.
Meeting in person allows us the opportunity to see nonverbal cues that aren’t always possible through virtual meetings, giving us the chance to connect with people on a deeper level. There is great value that comes from this as it can provide more comfort and clarity to the conversations being had. However, with all of this being said there is also great value in having the ability to hold virtual meetings.
Although City Council is moving forward to in-person meetings all of the City’s committee meetings, where public delegation is welcome, will remain virtual until further notice. Having these meetings virtual over the last two years not only kept people safe during the height of the pandemic it also increased public participation. This was made clear in particular during the development of the City’s New Official Plan where meetings lasted three days.
Before going virtual people, who wished to speak at committee meetings faced various obstacles such as finding their way to City Hall, paying for parking, and potentially missing commitments and other obligations. Virtual participation has provided better access to residents who otherwise may not have been able to participate such as individuals with disabilities, care givers, and people who can’t afford to travel.
From a gender equity lens perspective online meetings presented many more opportunities for women to get involved while still being able to manage their commitments to family and home life. Caregiving is an under-resourced, unpaid activity that falls disproportionately on women and girls worldwide. Those who care for a family member or loved one face an array of challenges as they juggle paid work, unpaid caregiving responsibilities, and their own personal needs and health – both of which are too often sacrificed. One in four Canadians provide informal care, with the majority of caregivers being female, over the age of 45 and caring for a parent or parent-in-law. Sixty per cent of these invisible informal caregivers are also juggling employment, with these carer-employees making up 35 per cent of the Canadian workforce. Being able to access and connect virtually gives them an opportunity to be engaged while still providing support.
Bay Ward has one of the highest senior’s populations in the city let alone the country and over the last two years I am so pleased to see that there has been an increase in their participation in both our own community meetings and events as well as with the City.
As we head forward into this new chapter of living with COVID, I will continue to advocate for virtual engagement at the City so that we may continue to build on the momentum that has been created to remove barriers and make community engagement accessible for everyone. In terms of community meetings for Bay Ward my office will review all options available in order to maximize public engagement.