More than they bargained for
By Chad Ingram
Haliburton County Warden Liz Danielsen began last week's county council meeting by thanking her colleagues for their efforts in dealing with the many unanticipated, unexpected aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“And I just want to, whether it's my place or not, commend you all for the hard work you've done,” Danielsen said. “I know we've all gone through things that we never anticipated at all.”
I'd like to echo those sentiments here, and say thank you to all municipal councillors, as well as staff, in the county.
Rewind to the last municipal election in the fall of 2018, and who could have possibly foreseen the circumstances we currently find ourselves in? When candidates were putting their names on ballots in that election, presumably they were thinking about ways in which they'd like to help shape their communities. Maybe they wanted to see better road maintenance or enhanced cultural resources, stronger economic development or a new arena. What they presumably didn’t count on was having to try to guide their communities through a global pandemic that would push those communities to their financial and emotional brink.
The past two-and-a-half months have been a tornado of information, some of it unclear and confusing. There are constantly changing directives from the provincial government, and a never-ending stream of data and releases from various agencies and organizations. It all changes constantly. It is chaotic and stressful.
For municipalities, there have been regular meetings of their emergency management groups since the crisis began. For councillors, while any decisions they make in general will of course never please everyone, the heightened emotional climate of the COVID-19 crisis means those decisions are subject to stronger emotional response from residents. Think about the stress they must feel. They’ve had to make disappointing decisions, such as county council’s decision last week to cancel this year’s Hike Haliburton Festival.
While council meetings have resumed in the past month or so, they have resumed online and are certainly different than the in-person variety. The transition to this forum – meetings are conducted with councillors participating remotely via online conferencing platform Zoom and broadcast on YouTube – seems to be going fairly well, all factors considered. It’s put the county’s IT department to work in a new way and has been a learning curve for everyone, with staffers being patched in and out, the odd disappearing councillor, muted microphones, the occasional appearance of pets, etc.
This space is occasionally filled with criticism of local government, which is part of the newspaper’s role. And while I may not always agree with the decisions made by the councils of the county, in many cases, I have watched councillors work for many years, and can certainly tell you their hearts are in the right place.
When we get through all of this, there will be post-pandemic analysis of the ways in which our local governments responded. It will be determined there are things that could have been done differently, and there will likely be more conversations about the possibility of single-tier governance, which seems more relevant now than ever.
But those are conversations for another time. Those are columns for another time.
For now, this is a thank you to our municipal councillors and staffers for doing their best to get us through this unprecedented, difficult and troubling time.