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PART 4: Governing during a pandemic has proven challenging

'I believe the greatest lesson over the period of the pandemic is around the importance of consequential partnerships,' says Mayor Steve Clarke
council may 4
City council has been meeting virtually since the pandemic began in March of 2020. File Photo

Orillia's City Council, elected in November of 2018, is entering the final year of its four-year mandate. The next municipal election, slated for Oct. 24, 2022, is just one year away.

With that in mind, we canvassed Mayor Steve Clarke and all eight city councillors to answer six key questions heading into the home stretch of their tenure. They were given a limit of 150-words per response. Their responses are published verbatim

Their responses are published verbatim. Click here to read their answers to our first question. Click here to read their answers to our second question and here for answers to the third question.

What has been your greatest learning experience from governing during a pandemic?

Pat Hehn (Ward 4)

I miss the human connection. I miss being able to turn to the person next to me and say, “What do you think?” I actually find it quite tiring because you are on camera for the whole time. In-person meetings are much less tiring because it is easier to follow the conversation. One of the downsides is I find that I am “out of the loop” on more things out of necessity, which is frustrating.

Tim Lauer (Ward 4)

For certain I have been impressed by the resiliency folks show in challenging times. It seems we are a pretty rubbery bunch when it comes to making the best of a bad situation. I also have a new appreciation for the idea of ‘in your face.’ Despite Zoom, cell phones and emails, over the past 18 months I have realized just how important normal interactions with constituents, staff and my council colleagues are.

Having said that though, I can’t ignore the fact that thanks to technology we have discovered some pretty effective ways to meet and communicate that could prove not only logistically more efficient and cost efficient but also more environmentally friendly. Looking forward, hopefully we will arrive at a hybrid that will ultimately be deemed an improvement.

David Campbell (Ward 1)

This pandemic has taught me that government CAN make decisions quickly when needed. With the constant ‘rule changes’ throughout the pandemic, we were forced to make decisions in a very timely manner. I learned to be able to research quickly, trust the professionals and be ready to change course if needed. The city is often criticized for the time it takes for decisions to be made.

Of course, there are policies and procedures in place for good reason and they must be followed, but I think we have learned to be much more nimble. We also learned that, perhaps, some of those policies can be modified to improve response time.

It also made me acutely aware of how out of date some systems were at City Hall. We have spent a great deal of time and effort (and, yes, money) to modernize our systems and have more improvements coming.

Ted Emond (Ward 1)

Chairing the City’s Economic Recovery Task Force. However, I was distressed to learn of the social challenges experienced by so many of our residents.

Orillia Mayor Steve Clarke

Interestingly, we receive training in emergency management for crises such as tornados, floods, hurricanes and power outages. Suffice it to say, we did not anticipate a year and half to two-year pandemic.

I believe the greatest lesson over the period of the pandemic is around the importance of consequential partnerships (many of those, I referenced earlier). The open communication and action that took place between all cannot be understated.

From taking our lead from our Medical Officers of Health, to working with the Health Unit and the Hospital to establish the assessment centre and vaccination centres, to enforcement between the City and the OPP, to our ERTF partners, to our local media who did a wonderful job in helping to educate on a number of fronts, to our citizens who ‘took the ball and ran with it.’

Ralph Cipolla (Ward 2)

My biggest learning is to understand and learn about everyone’s choices in terms of vaccination status. I want to respect and understand everyone's points of view without having a bias. 

Rob Kloostra (Ward 2)

Nothing can replace in-person democracy!

Mason Ainsworth (Ward 3)

My greatest learning experience governing during a pandemic was at how resourceful our community is and how quick we could adapt to any situation sent our way. It was great seeing our community come together to support our local businesses, non-for-profits, and people during such a difficult time.

Jay Fallis (Ward 3)

The importance of working together. Throughout the pandemic, I would say our council, along with the Emergency Management Team, has done a good job working together. This has included cooperating on various issues, such as waterfront parking and most recently the city’s vaccination policy.

While there has, of course, been varying viewpoints on different pieces of the plan, our council as a whole has always found a good, unifying direction to head in and worked together to find solutions.

TOMORROW: Check back tomorrow when we ask the mayor and city councillors about what they think their legacy will be.