New Brunswick

Moncton eyes resuming in-person council meetings next month

Moncton is planning to resume in-person city council meetings by early June, likely the province’s first city to do so after the pandemic forced public meetings to be held virtually in recent months.

Municipality may be first of the province's cities to head back to council chambers

Moncton councillors sit elbow to elbow in city council chambers. The city is spending about $15,000 to renovate the room to add Plexiglas barriers between each councillor and at tables where senior staff sit. (Shane Magee/CBC )

Moncton is planning to resume in-person city council meetings by early June, likely the province's first city to do so after the pandemic forced public meetings to be held virtually in recent months.

The city has ordered Plexiglas barriers it will install between individual councillors and at the tables where senior staff sit at a cost of about $15,000. The public and media won't be welcome for the first few meetings but will still be able to participate or observe through video conference. 

Moncton Mayor Dawn Arnold opened Tuesday's virtual council meeting by saying she hoped it would be the last held through that format. The next council meeting is June 1.

The schedule depends on when materials arrive and can be installed, Isabelle LeBlanc, Moncton's director of communications, said in an interview.

"It will be optional," LeBlanc said of councillors returning to City Hall. "Some may not feel comfortable at that time to do so, but for those who wish to, they will be able to come back in. We're probably going to start off with council members only and employees, simply to get people accustomed to the new setup."

After a few meetings, the public and media would be able to return. 

Moncton Mayor Dawn Arnold, left, and Coun. Paulette Thériault. Arnold said this week she hopes the next meeting set for June 1 will be held in-person, while Thériault voiced concerns about moving too quickly. (Shane Magee/CBC)

She said the room will be sanitized before and after meetings. Sanitizer will be available for people in the room.

However, not all councillors expressed an eagerness to resume sitting side-by-side with their counterparts.

"I just want to make sure that we're being extremely cautious, and I wouldn't want anyone to become ill with this disease," Coun. Paulette Thériault said Tuesday. 

Other cities have told CBC News they have more tentative plans. 

Saint John and Campbellton will continue virtual meetings for now, according to spokespeople. 

Edmundston plans to hold its first in-person council meeting June 16 with about 10 seats available for the public, according to city spokesperson Mychèle Poitras.

Miramchi will hold its May meeting virtually but is looking at whether to hold an in-person meeting June 25, according to executive assistant Peggy Doyle.

Bathurst is considering its options for resuming in-person meetings and hasn't set a timeline yet, according to city solicitor Marc Andre LaPlante. 

City council chambers in Dieppe, where the municipality is looking at steps to rework the room to resume in-person meetings. (Kate Letterick/CBC News)

Fredericton will continue with virtual meetings in May and June, according to spokesperson Wayne Knorr.

Dieppe is looking at steps to rework the council chamber before resuming in-person meetings, which could tentatively take place in September, according to city spokesperson Julie Albert. 

The province's colour-coded phase system only allows public gatherings of up to 10 people outside at this point. The next phase will allow gatherings of up to 50 people. 

Premier Blaine Higgs on Wednesday confirmed that next phase begins on Friday. The specific details of what will be allowed are expected to be announced then.  

About 20 to 30 people typically attend Moncton council meetings, which swells if there is a contentious issue on the agenda. 

During the pandemic, the city has used a video conferencing system called WebEx to hold its meetings. When holding public hearings, it has allowed the public and developers to be part of the video conference to express their views. 

Moncton's City Hall chambers are used for other public meetings, including the city's planning advisory committee, Codiac Regional Policing Authority and Southeast Regional Service Commission.

About the Author

Shane Magee

Reporter

Shane Magee is a Moncton-based reporter for CBC.

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