Transcript: Virtual City Council During COVID-19 | Aug 21, 2020

Jeyan sits in the studio. He's is in his thirties, with short black hair and a trimmed beard. He's wearing a gray suit, white shirt, and burgundy tie.
A wall screen behind him reads "Ontario Hubs."

A caption on screen reads "Virtual city council during COVID-19. Jeyan Jeganathan. @JeyanTVO. @theagenda."

Jeyan says WHATEVER THE PANDEMIC REQUIRES, CITIES AND TOWNS ACROSS THE PROVINCE STILL NEED TO DO THE PUBLIC'S BUSINESS, IN PUBLIC. ALL WEEK, TVO PARTNERED WITH THE ASSOCIATION OF MUNICIPALITIES OF ONTARIO AS THEY CONDUCTED THEIR ANNUAL CONFERENCE VIRTUALLY. THAT'S ALSO HOW MUNICIPAL COUNCILS HAVE BEEN DOING SOME OF THEIR WORK. JUSTIN CHANDLER COVERS THE HAMILTON-NIAGARA REGION FOR OUR ONTARIO HUBS. HE JOINS US NOW FROM TORONTO TO EXPLAIN.

Justin is in his twenties, clean-shaven, with short, side-parted brown hair. He's wearing a gray suit and a pink shirt.

Jeyan continues WELCOME TO THE SHOW, JUSTIN.

Justin says THANK YOU SO MUCH.

Jeyan says YOU'VE BEEN CHATTING WITH SOME COUNCILLORS AND MAYORS WHILE THEY'VE BEEN DOING SOME OF THE VIRTUAL WORK. WHAT DO THEY SAY IS DIFFERENT FROM THE VIRTUAL STUFF THAT IN-PERSON MEETINGS?

The caption changes to "Justin Chandler. Hamilton-Niagara Hub Journalist."

A screenshot from the TVO website pops up showing an article. It reads "tvo.org/OntarioHubs. Hamilton-Niagara. Are online council meetings good for democracy? By Justin Chandler."

Justin says THEY SAY THAT REALLY YOU'RE NOT GETTING THE SAME NUANCE AND THE SAME ENERGY THAT YOU DO IN PERSON. I THINK AS EVERYONE KNOWS FROM DOING SO MANY VIDEO CALLS LATELY, YOU CAN SEE SOMEONE, YOU CAN HEAR THE TONE OF THEIR VOICE, BUT THERE'S MAYBE JUST NOT THE SAME ENERGY OR THE SAME PRESENCE YOU GET. IN FACT, THE MAYOR OF NIAGARA FALLS SAYS IT'S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN EATING A STEAK AND WATCHING A VIDEO OF A STEAK.

Jeyan says THAT'S A VERY BIG DIFFERENCE. NOW, I'M SURE THERE ARE SOME COUNCILLORS, OF COURSE, WHO ARE ENCOURAGED BY THIS AND ACTUALLY QUITE LIKE THE ONLINE. LET'S TALK ABOUT SOME OF THE BENEFITS OF ONLINE COUNCIL MEETINGS.

The caption changes to "Justin Chandler, @mr_lois_lane."

Justin says YES. WELL, IN NIAGARA FALLS, THEY'VE BEEN MEETING IN PERSON, EXCEPT FOR ONE COUNCILLOR, CAROLINE IOANNONI. NOW THAT THE RULES ALLOW HER TO ACTUALLY PARTICIPATE WHILE NOT BEING PRESENT, SHE IS ABLE TO DO THIS FROM HOME, WHICH HAS BEEN GOOD FOR HER BECAUSE SHE IS ACTUALLY UNDERGOING CANCER TREATMENT. AND THE MAYOR OF NIAGARA FALLS HIMSELF DID THE SAME A COUPLE OF YEARS AGO AND HE SAID THAT HE WISHED THAT THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN AN OPPORTUNITY FOR HIM. SO IT'S ALLOWED COUNCILLORS WHO MAY BE FOR LEGITIMATE REASONS BEFOREHAND WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN ABLE TO PARTICIPATE TO ACTUALLY BE ABLE TO GO IN AND STILL DO THEIR WORK.

Jeyan says YOU ALSO MENTION THERE ARE SOME DRAWBACKS OF COURSE WITH THAT STEAK METAPHOR THERE. BUT WHAT OTHER KIND OF DRAWBACKS ARE COUNCILLORS AND MAYORS SAYING?

Justin says WELL, IT'S A LITTLE BIT OF A MIXED BAG. SOME SAY THAT THE DECORUM HAS GOTTEN BETTER BUT NOW THAT IT'S ON VIDEO IT'S A LITTLE BIT HARDER FOR THE CHAIR TO POINT OUT IF SOMEONE HAS GONE A LITTLE BIT TOO FAR IN THEIR COMMENTS OR IS MAYBE NOT RESPECTING THE DECORUM THEY MIGHT USUALLY.

Jeyan says IN YOUR STORY FOR TVO.org, YOU SPOKE TO A NUMBER OF COUNCILS. LET'S GET AN IDEA. IT SEEMS LIKE THERE'S A DIFFERENT APPROACH TO DIFFERENT COUNCILS. WHERE IN NIAGARA, IT'S ONLINE AND IN PERSON, BUT OTHER COUNCILS IN OTHER CITIES AND MUNICIPALITIES ARE DOING DIFFERENTLY. SO WHAT HAVE YOU SEEN?

Justin says WELL, GUELPH, FOR EXAMPLE, HAS BEEN DOING PRIMARILY ONLINE. THEY WERE ALSO VERY QUICK TO GET PUBLIC CONSULTATIONS HAPPENING ONLINE. HAMILTON HAS BEEN ONLINE. HOWEVER, THEY ONLY JUST STARTED DOING PUBLIC CONSULTATION. AND THERE'S BEEN QUITE A MIX AS FAR AS THE DIFFERENT TECHNOLOGIES THAT GROUPS USE AND HOW RAPIDLY THEY ROLLED THEM OUT. I WAS EVEN TOLD ONE STORY ABOUT A COUNCIL WHERE THEY JUST PUT OUT CHAIRS AND SPACED OUT SO THEY COULD TALK TO ONE ANOTHER AT THE START OF ALL THIS.

Jeyan says AS A JOURNALIST, WE'VE COVERED COUNCIL MEETINGS BEFORE. SOME OF THE BEST MEETINGS ARE WHEN THE PUBLIC GETS INVOLVED AS WELL. CAN MEMBERS OF THE PUBLIC STILL ATTEND THESE VIRTUAL COUNCIL MEETINGS AND, YOU KNOW, HAVE YOU SEEN ANY OF THE PASSION COME THROUGH AT ALL?

Justin says YES, I THINK THERE CAN STILL BE GOOD MOMENTS. PEOPLE CAN GIVE A PASSIONATE SPEECH BY VIDEO, AND A LOT OF PEOPLE NOW WHO MAYBE WERE NOT WILLING OR COULD NOT GO DOWN TO COUNCIL AND WAIT ALL DAY TO SPEAK BEFORE A MEETING ARE NOW ABLE TO. HOWEVER, THERE'S STILL A LIMITATION. FOR EXAMPLE, HAMILTON IN SEPTEMBER IS GOING TO BE HEARING DELEGATIONS ABOUT DEFUNDING POLICE, AND YOU MIGHT THINK IN A NORMAL YEAR THAT WOULD BE SOMETHING WHERE PEOPLE MIGHT PACK CITY COUNCIL AND THEY MIGHT HAVE SIGNS, THERE MIGHT BE CHEERING WHILE PEOPLE ARE TALKING, THERE MIGHT BE BOOING. HOWEVER, NOW THAT WILL BE HAPPENING VIRTUALLY SO IT'S MUCH MORE ONE-ON-ONE ON A VIDEO SCREEN. SO YOU DON'T GET PERHAPS THE SAME LEVEL OF IN-PERSON ENGAGEMENT THAT YOU COULD BEFOREHAND.

Jeyan says JUSTIN, IN YOUR ARTICLE FOR TVO.org, YOU HAD WRITTEN ABOUT TOWN COUNCIL IN OTTAWA. THEY WERE ABLE TO ACTUALLY ADD SOME FEATURES BY USING SOME OF THIS TECHNOLOGY AS WELL?

Justin says YES, THEY WERE ACTUALLY VERY EXCITED THAT FOR MEDIA AVAILABILITY AND FOR TOWN HALLS, THEY WERE ABLE NOW TO HAVE SIGN LANGUAGE INTERPRETERS IN ENGLISH AND IN FRENCH, WHICH WAS GREAT, SOMETHING THEY COULDN'T DO BEFOREHAND. BUT NOW THEY'RE ABLE TO PROVIDE THAT MORE ACCESSIBLE OPTION BECAUSE THEY CAN HAVE MULTIPLE PEOPLE ON THE SCREEN AT ONCE GIVEN THEY'RE ABLE TO TAKE MORE ADVANTAGE OF THIS TECHNOLOGY.

Jeyan says ONE THING I THINK A NUMBER OF COUNCILLORS AND WE JOURNALISTS HAVE REMARKED IS THIS TECHNOLOGY HAS BEEN AVAILABLE. WE KNOW THAT SOME COUNCILS RECORD THEIR MEETINGS AS WELL AND POST IT ONLINE. DO YOU THINK MUNICIPALITIES WILL CONTINUE TO UTILIZE THIS TYPE OF TECHNOLOGY POST-COVID-19?

Justin says I THINK SO. EVEN PEOPLE WHO SAID THAT THEY PREFER IN-PERSON MEETINGS, WHICH WAS PRETTY MUCH EVERYBODY, SAID THAT THERE IS SOMETHING TO PHYSICALLY GOING TO A PLACE AND SEEING DEMOCRACY HAPPEN AND SEEING LOCAL GOVERNMENT ACTUALLY WORK. SO I THINK THAT THESE VIRTUAL MEETINGS WILL BE A TOOL THAT THEY CONTINUE TO USE, BUT I THINK THAT AS SOON AS POSSIBLE PEOPLE WILL WANT TO GET BACK AND ACTUALLY HOLD THESE MEETINGS IN PERSON.

The caption changes to "Producer: Carla Lucchetta, @carrletta."

Jeyan says JUSTIN, I WANT TO THANK YOU SO MUCH. THAT'S JUSTIN CHANDLER, OUR ONTARIO HUB JOURNALIST, COVERING THE HAMILTON-NIAGARA REGION. THANK YOU SO MUCH.

Justin says THANK YOU.

Watch: Virtual City Council During COVID-19