Cornwall council ‘setting bad example’ during pandemic: Towndale

Justin Towndale. (Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston, File)

CORNWALL – As Cornwall City Council gets ready to meet again face-to-face tonight (Monday) – this time at the Cornwall Civic Complex – one councillor says the whole situation is “disappointing” and setting a bad example.

Coun. Justin Towndale spoke with Cornwall Newswatch while on deployment with the Canadian Armed Forces. “Honestly, I think it’s a little disappointing.”

Towndale was reacting to the majority on council not wanting to meet via video, despite Coun. Eric Bergeron’s attempt two weeks ago to ask for that option. “I actually don’t want to be in this room right now,” Bergeron said during the May 11 meeting.

But many of his counterparts balked at the suggestion, either because they like to look into each others’ eyes from across a room during debate or they’re not comfortable with technology.

Towndale says the province cleared the way for councils to meet electronically and city staff were going to look at options for meeting electronically – two months ago. “Here we are in May and we don’t have any options. Nothing’s changed. It’s still meeting in person by teleconference whereas every other municipality around us is using Zoom. The House of Commons is using Zoom. I mean, the highest government in this country is meeting via Zoom,” he said.

The councillor adds that there is a more secure version of Zoom available for governments. “If it’s good enough for the House of Commons, it should be good enough for Cornwall.”

Towndale is also troubled by the Cornwall Civic Complex plan which could have more people in the room. At the last council meeting, CAO Maureen Adams explained the setup could add additional bodies – YourTV operators, local media representatives and could allow delegations, while practicing social distancing in a larger space.

“Here we have a pandemic where social distancing is key and we want to put more people into a room. That’s self defeating and that’s against everything we’re supposed to be doing currently. It’s 2020…Zoom’s not hard to use…and here we’re not using it for meetings and I think that’s frustrating and it sets a bad example,” Towndale said.

Towndale is frustrated that it’s so hard for council to adapt to change.

“It’s like change is so hard to accomplish and there’s so much resistance and hesitance. I am hearing a lot of excuses as to why we can’t do it but I don’t think any of them are really valid because all these other councils, committees, House of Commons are doing it. My peers who say technology escapes them, they have peers of their age in the House of Commons who are doing it, so what’s the difference?”

Towndale notes that every councillor was given a Microsoft Surface Pro during the beginning of their term. The city spends about $22,000 a year on cell phones and laptops for council.

“These are not cheap pieces of equipment. You’ll notice at council only a handful of us bring them. We’ve been issued this equipment that cost the city money, cost taxpayers money, let’s use it…there’s all kinds of ways to do this effectively.”

“It really is frustrating. I understand Coun. Bergeron’s frustration around this. We’re setting a bad example to our citizenry, we really are. This is the kind of thing I’ve seen last six years where there’s the resistance to positive change.”

Tonight’s council meeting at the Cornwall Civic Complex starts at 7 p.m.