Ottawa council will continue to meet virtually this fall, City Clerk recommends

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Ottawa city council and committees will continue to meet virtually this fall due to concerns about the COVID-19 Delta variant.

In a memo to council, City Solicitor Rick O'Connor and Council and Committee Services manager Caitlin Salter MacDonald say Ottawa Public Health and the Office of the City Clerk are recommending that council and city committees continue with the status quo in the fall of 2021.

In addition, all public delegations for items on the fall legislative agenda, as well as the 2022 budget process will also remain virtual through the end of the year.

Council and city committees have been meeting virtually since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. Several city councillors told CTVNewsOttawa.ca this summer that they were ready to return to their seats in the Council Chamber and committee rooms.

"I am personally comfortable to return to the Council Chambers now. I think this will be more likely once the City has reached a double vaccination mark of 80%," said Coun. Riley Brockington in a statement to CTV News Ottawa.

"I'd like to return to council chambers as soon as possible in the fall," said Coun. Shawn Menard. "It’s odd that we have the mayor's staff in that council room but elected councillors have been told to stay away."

However, O'Connor and Salter MacDonald say the Office of the City Clerk recommends that members of council and staff continue to participate electronically in all meetings until further notice, and likely until the end of 2021, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the need for physical distancing.

"Given the anticipated number of significant delegations expected for the fall legislative agenda as well as the 2022 budget process, and in order to provide predictability of public access and participation for Council and committee meetings, all public delegations will remain entirely virtual through the end of 2021," said the memo.

O'Connor and Salter MacDonald note Ottawa Public Health noted two weeks ago that current vaccination levels are not sufficiently high enough to provide community immunity against the COVID-19 Delta variant.

"Continuing to work towards increasing vaccine levels further, performing preventive measures including masking and distancing, as well as keeping our number of contacts with others low, will be critically important this fall," said the memo. "As such, Ottawa Public Health continues to support a prudent course of the status quo with respect to Council and committee meetings."

The 2021 fall legislative agenda includes the new Official Plan, Parks and Recreation Master Plan, Community Safety and Well-Being Plan and the 2022 draft budget.

"As noted above, with the current COVID-19 situation moving into the fall, OPH has advised that, in addition to increasing vaccination rates, there is a continued requirement to perform preventive measures including masking and distancing, as well as keeping our number of contacts with others low," said the memo.

"As a result, and while such requirements remain in place, the functional capacity of the Council Chambers, Champlain Room and Ben Franklin Place chambers remain significantly reduced from their pre-COVID capacity. Further, the continued requirement for source-control masking and physical distancing limits the types of interactions that Members, staff and the public can have in person."

Some municipalities are considering a move to a hybrid model of in-person and virtual participation this fall and winter..

The city of Ottawa has developed a preliminary draft framework for the return of in-person participation in Council and Committee meetings.

  • Stage 1 - Status Quo. Fully virtual Council and committee meetings apart from the chair (optional) and Clerks/tech staff as needed to facilitate the meeting;
  • Stage 2 – Hybrid Meetings of Council or Council and committees with combined virtual and in-person participation by Members of Council; and
  • Stage 3 – Hybrid Meetings with In-person Public Attendance

Before the end of November, the Office of the City Clerk will advise whether it is recommended that council remain status quo until the end of 2021 and moving into 2022, or move to Stage 2, which would provide for increased in-person participation from members of council.

With files from CTV News Ottawa's Ted Raymond