West Nipissing council may be back to holding regular meetings, but there’s little to show for their three-hour gatherings. The Feb. 1 meeting featured lengthy discussions on already well-tread topics as council failed to advance past the first page of their agenda.
Clarity sought on vaccine policy
Coun. Chris Fisher brought forward a motion to clarify the municipality’s new COVID vaccine policy that was passed at the previous meeting, after concerns that it could impact who is eligible to run for a council seat this fall.
CAO Jay Barbeau reiterated that there is absolutely no restriction on members of the public to submit their candidacy for municipal office. “The vaccine policy is not a legislative requirement or barrier to being a qualified candidate,” he said.
Ontario law allows any resident over age 18 to run, as long as they aren’t an employee of a municipality who has not taken an unpaid leave of absence and resigned; a judge of any court; an MP, an MPP or a senator; or an inmate serving a sentence in a penal or correctional institution.
The issue with the municipal vaccine policy is that while it applies to members of council, there is no way to punish them if they circumvent it.
“There isn’t any way for a staff member to terminate a councillor for not being vaccinated,” explained Barbeau. “That is a moot point, the only way a councillor can lose his or her seat is by being absent for over 90 days without the consent of council. The discipline part does not apply to council: present or future councillors applying. But we would obviously hope that councillors who pass policies would want to adhere to the policies and protect the health and safety of one another and to those that they have to interact with at the corporation, so that was the intent of including councillors in that policy.”
Despite already discussing the policy at two prior meetings, council continued to put questions to Barbeau for over 30 minutes regarding the implementation of the policy when it came to volunteers, contractors, and themselves. But Barbeau was careful about making any sweeping statements because these were ultimately HR issues that would be handled on a case-by-case basis.
“The spirit of this policy is: get vaccinated and get boosted,” he told council. After the lengthy discussion, the policy remained unamended.
Proposed development on Weyerhaeuser land dismissed
A $100,000 proposal to purchase the old Weyerhaeuser property along Bay St. to build a residential development was defeated by council’s typical four-four split.
Staff recommended against taking the offer on the grounds that it was the only M2 (Heavy Industrial) zoned property available in the municipality and is designated as employment lands in the Official Plan.
Mayor Joanne Savage and councillors Yvon Duhaime, Lise Sénécal and Denis Sénécal voted against the proposal. Councillors Fisher, Rolly Larabie, Leo Mallette and Dan Roveda were in favour of the sale.
To rezone the land as residential, the lot would have needed to undergo several environmental evaluations and the proponent would have had to address potential drainage issues on the west edge of the property.