On Monday, March 23, Meaford councillors should have been in the council chamber for their scheduled meeting, however the arrival of COVID-19 on our doorstep has resulted in a number of directions from other levels of government focused on minimizing the impact of the virus. As a result, councillors, like most other citizens, are staying home, self isolating and practising social distancing.
A position on council is a part-time job and outside the council chamber, members of council have been dealing with the reality of new restrictions and advisories in their personal and business lives.
Life on a dairy farm rarely changes from day to day and the cows don’t realize that we are in a pandemic situation,” Councillor Paul Vickers told The Independent. “The biggest change has been that my son has been sent home from college for the rest of the year and my daughter has also started working from home. With this it means the house is a little more lively and if I need help I can ask Cass to help out and Jack and I can get a few extra jobs done before the busy spring season.”
During a visit to Vickers's farm on the weekend, access to his barn was restricted, part of the current reality during this COVID-19 crisis.
Vickers said that he is concerned about the duration of the current restrictions.
“One of my concerns is when and for how long our manufacturing and processing industries will be shut down for. Our apple industry may not be able to get the much-needed foreign workers here this spring. We are in uncharted territory right now and it is hard to predict what will happen in the future. Uncertainty is always hard to deal with and if we could only live life backwards it would certainly be easier,” Vickers offered. “I’m not looking forward to the next couple of months because there will be a great deal of pain that we will all go through. Whether it is self distancing, not being able to see loved ones, family and friends. If we don’t do the right things now the pain will be much worse, we only have to look to Italy to see what can happen.”
Deputy Mayor Shirley Keaveney operates the local Dairy Queen, and like other businesses in the service industry, hers has been impacted.
“In my own place of business, Dairy Queen, we have closed our dining area and are serving takeout only,” Keaveney noted. “We are practising social distancing and sanitizing all surfaces every half hour to protect customers and ourselves. We are promoting our ice cream cakes, encouraging phone-in orders, requesting debit/credit payments, and doing everything possible to keep our doors open. I'm very thankful our federal and provincial governments are stepping forward with supports; these will help my staff and all Canadians. I am fortunate to be part of a franchise which is very proactive in keeping DQ stores informed and protecting our supply chains.”
The Deputy Mayor noted that the March 23 council meeting had been highly anticipated by many as the staff report to council regarding the proposed pumped storage facility at the Meaford Tank Range was to have been presented. That report will help form Meaford's official comments regarding the proposal.
“The right decision was made to suspend our Council meetings. We were all looking forward to the TC Energy Report that was to be presented by our CAO Rob Armstrong on March 23rd, after which council would be discussing our position on this proposal. We will reassess this postponement mid-April and see where we go from there,” Keaveney told The Independent.
Keaveney said that she is proud of how the municipality and the community have responded to the crisis.
“I believe our local businesses are all making good decisions, I feel badly for the ones that have closed their doors. It's difficult enough to make a living from a small business in this municipality without losing weeks or potentially months of income. I urge our residents at this time and always to support Meaford businesses rather than shopping out of town or turning to online resources as much as they possibly can. Tourists won't be coming in their usual numbers so it's up to us to make sure our businesses survive this crisis,” Keaveney said. “I am very proud of our council and municipal staff for reacting as quickly and appropriately as we have. Every day we are provided updates and I believe we are doing all the right things to keep our residents safe and informed. I've witnessed and heard of many, many kindnesses happening in our community. Neighbours are helping one another, volunteers are supporting those in need, people are offering to run errands, deliver groceries, medications, and anything needed. This amazing, generous spirit will see us through.”
Recently retired from a long career in the grocery business, Councillor Steve Bartley has followed the advisories and is self-isolating with his wife Kim.
“Not would I ever think this would happen, especially in Grey County. Being retired and living on 150 acres lets Kim and I self-isolate. We just had an hour conversation on how far we take this as we have family members that probably can not handle COVID-19. Staying isolated means nothing if the ones we are trying to protect do not do the same,” Bartley offered. “Though I usually go out to constituents' homes, I do all correspondence electronically for now. This is all new and scary but I hope we all get through this coming out the other side wiser.”
Like Councillor Bell, Councillor Ross Kentner is also retired, and like many he has found the new restrictions and advisories to be frustrating.
“Whatever the problem, I just want to attack it. To say I am frustrated at this time is an understatement. Having the business of the Municipality suspended, resulting in a growing backlog of community concerns, does not sit well with me. Of course, staff continues to move important files forward, and provide essential services. On your behalf I thank them for soldiering on while still protecting their families,” Kentner told The Independent. “This week Clerk Matt Smith has been focused on the province’s proposal to get municipalities in 'virtual' if not bodily business. One of the first things I learned as a journalist is that municipalities were designed for horse and buggy days. Even a 21st century provincial government that has declared an emergency cannot readily enable us to do our work electronically. Part of the issue, as I understand it, results from recent and valued changes that require us to do the public’s business in public. Owen Sound City Council is acting on the provincial initiative; I hope we in Meaford are making motions and passing bylaws sooner than later.”
Kentner's frustrations extend beyond municipal business.
“I am also terribly frustrated that it has been necessary to close our church doors. I can assure you that all of our churches are striving behind the scenes to minister to people as always, even more so in what is shaping up to be a social as well as a health crisis. You are going to see lots of information and inspiration online from all of the congregations in the municipality. At Meaford United Church we had just lined up three wonderful concerts through the spring and summer that would have aided our Raise the Roof campaign. I hope they are merely postponed and not cancelled,” said Kentner.
During this period of self-isolation and social distancing, Kentner has been thinking about the proposed pumped storage facility on the Meaford Tank Range.
“Meanwhile, I am putting finishing touches on my personal submissions to the Department of National Defence and SON (Saugeen Ojibway Nation) concerning Trans Canada Energy’s proposed pumped storage facility. The lack of meaningful discussion of this matter around the horseshoe has been as frustrating for me as the fact that the host municipality has been dealt out of a place at the table on the most important local issue in my long term memory.”
When he can pull himself away from his council duties, Kentner has been spending time reading.
“Finally, I am really enjoying time to read something beyond bylaws and backgrounders! Ken Follett’s The Century Trilogy is three historical novels spanning the 20th century. We have learned that most of the modern world’s problems devolved from the First World War. I have some faint recollections of the Second World War and was reading news on CFOS through most of the Cold War. What resonates with me now is how easily conflict escalates. How easily despots assume power. How we can sleepwalk through history. It’s a wake up call!” he suggested.
For Councillor Harley Greenfield, while the current shut-down is frustrating, having recently had knee surgery it has been a good time to get some rest.
“The COVID-19 virus has delivered an unprecedented blow to our municipality's political scene. Never before have we been forced to 'shut down' our operations indefinitely. We have closed our facility doors on occasion if a nasty snow storm blew through, usually for only a few hours. Back in St. Vincent Township days, our office staff (1 Ft, 1 PT), did close the administration office for two weeks in the summer for a much deserved holiday. But, we NEVER before have been assaulted by a pandemic!” Greenfield said. “Having recently come through knee surgery, and now awaiting a left knee replacement, I could say that the shutdown has come at a reasonably good time for me personally. Fewer meetings interpret into less travel. But I fear a growing backlog of issues when we have only a few staff working, and they are working at home. Yes, we do have our usual complement of very capable Public Works crew on the job, looking after our roads, water and wastewater needs, but will the many questions from our residents concerning a variety of issues get a timely response?”
Like other members of council and the public at large, Greenfield had been looking forward to Monday's council meeting and the presentation of the staff report regarding the proposed pumped storage facility.
“I am frustrated that the long-awaited report from our CAO on the TCE proposal will not be available for Council on March 23 (because of the postponed meeting). Many people have anxiously awaited the arrival of this report, and the first chance for Council to discuss the situation in a public forum. I hope that at least the CAO's report could be publicized,” Greenfield suggested. “Other than that, wash your hands continuously and live your daily life carefully.”
Councillor Tony Bell runs his machine shop when he is not busy with council work, and he has seen first hand the precautions that many are taking during this crisis.
“I am finding the companies we work with now ask any products we supply to them to call ahead and the dock employee will take things in outside to limit people inside. Some companies now send a pick-up driver to our location again to limit exposure. At our shop we wipe surfaces down at the shipping area even though the counter is stainless steel. We also have hand sanitizer but before we did not,” Bell told The Independent. “When I go out to look at projects no handshakes, and it just feels a little bit strange as a common greeting is now reserved. On the council front we are right in shutting things down were we have but still keep services that are required. To all keep healthy and we will get through this together.”
In a public statement released last week, Meaford Mayor Barb Clumpus assured residents that the situation is being closely monitored, and she urged the community to pull together during this time.
“We’ll be monitoring the situation closely and providing regular updates to our community, and we urge everyone to stay informed and follow the best practices recommended by health agencies. We will continue to communicate openly and provide regular updates over the coming weeks. Please check our website, Meaford.ca, and social media pages for up-to-date information, and subscribe to our news feed to receive updates directly to your inbox,” said the Mayor. “Our community is strong, inclusive, and resilient. We know that in this time of crisis, we will all work together to overcome this challenge, and will emerge as a more connected and caring community.”
Meaford Councillor Paul Vickers has seen some changes to normal operations on his dairy farm as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.