The COVID-19 pandemic has sped up innovation and change throughout the world, and the municipal sector is no exception. With social distancing guidelines and the technology that has been adapted to accommodate virtual meetings, municipalities have been operating according to new health and safety regulations and pursuant to their authorizing legislation.
Municipalities were authorized to conduct meetings of council and local boards (and committees thereof) entirely electronically during the state of emergency which ended on July 24, 2020, as permitted by the Municipal Emergency Act, 2020.
Bill 197 amended the Municipal Act, 2001 and the City of Toronto Act, 2006 to allow for the continuation of electronic participation. Bill 197 also introduced new proxy voting power for members of a municipal council, which was previously not permitted.
These tools were created to improve a municipality’s functionality in unpredictable times such as the current global pandemic, however there are concerns that they may be abused to circumvent the principles of good governance central to a municipality’s operations. There are also concerns about the impact this Bill may have on the “open meeting rule”, based on the notion that members of the public have a right to witness the local democratic process.