MAPLETON – Upper tier officials are advising Mapleton council not to lift a local state of emergency at this time.
On March 23, Wellington County and all seven member municipalities each declared a state of emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The emergency declarations give Warden Kelly Linton the ability to make certain decisions that normally require full county council approval and also give each local mayor the same power over their own municipalities.
During the May 12 council meeting, Mapleton councillor Michael Martin questioned the need for a continued local state of emergency.
He pointed out the flexibility to hold council meetings electronically, as now permitted under provincial legislation, allows council to make decisions as a group when required.
At the May 26 meeting, Mayor Gregg Davidson told council he has discussed the issue with Perth-Wellington MPP Randy Pettapiece, who recommended leaving the emergency declaration in place.
Davidson said the MPP indicated none of the municipalities in the riding had ended their state of emergency.
Wellington County community emergency management coordinator Linda Dickson told councillors the county mayors’ original intent was to emphasize the seriousness of the situation to the public, as well as to facilitate decision making.
“I think the overriding message that I took out of their discussion and rationale for making the declaration was to demonstrate to everyone the seriousness that the heads of council had with respect to this situation,” said Dickson.
“And my bottom line is that I think that there’s a concern that lifting it too soon sends the wrong message.”
She added, “I know it’s really probably not serving much (purpose) from a decision making perspective because of the orders that have been put in place and that council can have electronic meetings and you’re able to get together and discuss things, but I think the seriousness of it and just assuring to our residents that we need to continue this, in my view it’s not hurting anything either.”
Dickson said her advice is “to just leave it in place and play it by ear and see where the province takes us … the next several months, before we go back to any kind of normalcy, hoping that we don’t see a second wave.”
“That second wave is something that we’re all concerned about, especially since we have seen what has been transpiring with the numbers going up,” said Davidson, who pointed to media reports from the previous weekend of some large outdoor gatherings in Toronto.
“The amounts of people going into parks sitting side by side, we certainly expect to see a spike in numbers down that way,” suggested Davidson.
“I will commend my residents here for their work at keeping physically distancing.”
Martin told council, “Perhaps from last meeting my question was not completely clear.
“Number one, it was not a dig at Mayor Davidson in any regard as far as leadership goes during this pandemic. And number two, I certainly don’t want to sound like I’m some hillbilly from Arkansas who doesn’t appreciate the ongoing pandemic that is currently affecting us locally and globally.
“It was more of a political question. I do understand the optics and how important that is.”
Martin continued, “I do appreciate that lifting the state of emergency, even locally, could send a message potentially to people that we think we’re open for business.
“I certainly was not supporting lifting any restrictions. And, in fact, we couldn’t. Most of them are provincial orders anyway.”
Dickson stressed having the emergency order in place could facilitate decision making in the event, “heaven forbid,” that a second wave of COVID-19 were to impact township staffing levels or council’s ability to achieve a quorum.
“I would say to keep it on until we’re pretty comfortable that we’re past … any kind of concern from a second wave and that it’s not going to impact us from a human resource or a political perspective,” she suggested.
“If, for some reason, three members of our council ended up getting ill and were unable to participate, then having the emergency lifted would really handcuff this municipality on making decisions,” agreed Davidson.
No action was taken as a result of the discussion.