Less than an hour after the start of Toronto’s first virtual city council meeting, councillors were discussing how to make it their last.
Councillor Michael Thompson wondered why they couldn’t meet in chambers, owing to last year’s forced downsizing of council.
“It seems that we have a lot of room in the council chamber because we’re only 25,” he said.
“I wonder whether or not there’s any plans to review or look at that.”
Bills tabled shortly after the Ontario Progressive Conservative election victory — and on the heels of Toronto’s municipal election that autumn — realigned municipal ward boundaries to match provincial and federal ridings, cutting the number of council seats nearly in half to 25.
Toronto’s medical officer of health, Dr. Eileen de Villa, said the order banning large gatherings is a provincial one, meant to reduced the spread of coronavirus through physical distancing.
“My understanding and sense is that our provincial counterparts are of course constantly reviewing their current orders, and will be making decisions I would well imagine on a go-forward basis on how it might change, and when that might change,” she said.
Speaker Frances Nunziata questioned why, under the current orders, the Ontario government was able to hold proceedings in legislature, to which de Villa said it would be more of a legal question than one of public health.
City Solicitor Wendy Walberg said the provincial order pertains to public and social gatherings, and suggested the reason the legislature could meet was that they weren’t open to the public.
Confirming Councillor Cynthia Lai’s question on if city governance is an essential business, Walberg said it would take determining public health measures on a meeting-by-meeting basis.
City Clerk Ulli Watkiss said a big impediment is the availability of staff to write reports for council, as many of them have been redeployed to fill gaps in other city departments.
“Once that staff becomes available, I think we can start processing once again the routine business,” she said.
An amended motion by Councillor Mike Colle looking into holding future council and standing committee meetings in person or virtually passed unanimously.