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Zoom zoom: West Nipissing Council trying something new

West Nipissing Council is scheduled to meet Tuesday night for the first time since July — but not in person
Computer Zoom Voting Council AdobeStock_343299442
West Nipissing Council will use the Zoom platform to hold its September 1 meeting. Stock image.

For some members of a municipal council who can hardly stand to be in the same room together, perhaps online meetings are the way to go?

Council is scheduled to meet Tuesday night for the first time since July and, according to Mayor Joanne Savage, the meeting will be held via the Zoom platform, a first for West Nipissing. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, meetings have been held by teleconference and the format has been cited by participants as a factor in severe breakdowns in communication.  

A planned meeting for August 11 was abandoned after half the council's members cited health concerns surrounding meeting in person during the pandemic. Upon cancelling that meeting, Savage expressed she had received several complaints regarding sound quality. "We no longer should have to deal with sound problems, physical absences or not seeing each other since March 2020," she said. 

See original story: In West Nipissing, divided council can't even agree on how to meet

Councillors Chris Fisher, Dan Roveda, Leo Malette and Roland Larabie, as a group, said they believed the "democratic process had been circumvented by the Mayor, and consequently by three other councillors, so that quorum could not be reached."

See: 'Democratic process circumvented' say rebelling West Nipissing councillors

Meetings have been difficult to follow as councillors spread across the municipality deal with challenges with internet speeds and telephone connections — which vary in effectiveness from ward to ward.

Fisher, Larabie, Malette and Roveda said they prefer using the Zoom platform for meetings instead of meeting in person, "as they give one the ability to turn the volume down when decorum gets out of hand, [with] people shouting, talking over one another or in long monologues. It helps with sanity and composure."

On resuming meetings using Zoom, Fisher tells BayToday, "Democracy can be a bit messy sometimes and we will proceed with the Municipal business as best we can, if some important decisions get stalemated out, then potentially they can be picked up at a later date." 

The council now has nearly six weeks of that municipal business to address Tuesday, including a decision on how to proceed with filling the seat in Ward 7 left vacant by Jeremy Seguin's resignation in July. Council failed to reach a consensus on July 21 on whether to appoint the runner-up from the 2018 election, accept applications for the seat, or hold a by-election. A poll of committee members on the empty seat resulted in a deadlock on how to proceed.

See also: Council split on replacing vacant seat in West Nipissing

Now with even numbers, West Nipissing Council is split into two distinct voting blocs, with Fisher, Larabie, Malette and Roveda siding with appointing 2018 Ward 7 runner-up Roberge to the Verner seat. The same four also resisted holding the August 11 meeting in person.

"I have no idea how the Ward 7 vacancy will play out," offers Fisher. "I know what I think is best and am sticking to it. Verner deserves representation and a speedy resolution. A by-election during a pandemic seems a bad idea to me."

Meanwhile, Councillors Lise Senecal, Denis Senecal and Yvon Duhaime all supported a by-election. Mayor Savage said she supported the by-election option to allow for more information to be gathered on the process. That report will be received by West Nipissing Council Tuesday evening. Savage also asked for language to be included about breaking ties in a council with even numbers, necessitated by the empty seat. 

Stu Campaigne

About the Author: Stu Campaigne

Stu Campaigne is a full-time news reporter for, focusing on local politics and sharing our community's compelling human interest stories.
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