Thunder Bay

Thunder Bay city council works on COVID-19 strategy

City councillors in Thunder Bay, Ont., met electronically for the first time to help deal with COVID-19 in the city.
Thunder Bay city council held its first meeting electronically on Monday night, with two councillors participating over the phone. (Matt Prokopchuk/CBC)

City councillors in Thunder Bay, Ont., met for the first time electronically, to help deal with COVID-19 in the city.

Two councillors -- Rebecca Johnson and Brian McKinnon -- joined the meeting by phone, while others were spread throughout council chambers. Virtually all city managers, usually at council meetings, phoned in to the meeting on a conference call.

Council's first order of business was to allow itself to meet electronically. It was only permitted to do so after the province changed its rules last week, to allow virtual meetings to take place.

Council spent a large amount of time debating the creation of a Mayor's Task Force on COVID-19. Many questioned what the task force itself would actually accomplish, with the city already having its own emergency operations group. Some said the task force would create duplication in meetings and groups, yet accomplish nothing, said some around council chambers.

Mayor Bill Mauro told council he thought the creation of the group was a good idea, although it would not have any direct power. Mauro, as well as city manager Norm Gale, are both part of the city's emergency response team.

While the discussion took a while, council eventually agreed to create the group.

Council will also meet on March 30 to discuss time sensitive matters, related to COVID-19. Administration will look at the possibility of extending the deadline for municipal taxes, as well as water and sewer bills. It could potentially look at waiving interest and penalties while the provincial state of emergency is in effect.

A resolution from Johnson also asked the city to look at freezing any user fees that were slated to go up this year, at least while the state of emergency remains in effect. That motion was deferred until next week.

Shortly before the meeting started, the city announced it would shutter city hall for the next two weeks, due to COVID-19.