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Nova Scotia’s municipal meetings ordered to go digital in response to coronavirus

The clock tower of Halifax City Hall is pictured on Oct. 3, 2018.
The clock tower of Halifax City Hall is pictured on Oct. 3, 2018. Alexander Quon/Global News

Nova Scotia’s municipalities are figuring out how to host their town meetings digitally after a state of emergency was declared by the provincial government on Sunday.

Under the order, Chuck Porter, Nova Scotia’s minister of municipal affairs, has directed “all municipalities and villages in the province” to discontinue holding their in-person meetings.

Instead, municipalities have been told to hold virtual meetings by video or telephone.

A copy of the order is available on the government’s website.

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But that task has resulted in some growing pains. Many municipalities are still in the process of figuring out how they’ll make a virtual meeting possible.

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“It is my understanding that we do have a couple of online options before us that IT is weighing and a decision is forthcoming,” said Sheilah MacDonald, a spokesperson for the Cape Breton Regional Municipality (CBRM).

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Tuesday would’ve marked the CBRM’s regular monthly session of municipal council if the COVID-19 pandemic had not forced the municipality to cancel its meetings.

MacDonald said that as soon as its IT department makes a decision, the next monthly meeting of CBRM council will be scheduled with an agenda being published ahead of time.

In Halifax, the Halifax Regional Municipality is also exploring its options.

“Residents and media will be advised once a solution has been confirmed and the next meeting is scheduled,” said Maggie-Jane Spray, a spokesperson for the municipality.

Under Porter’s directive, municipalities will be required to record the virtual meeting and have minutes published within 24 hours.

Coronavirus outbreak: Nova Scotia declares state of emergency, fines possible for violations
Coronavirus outbreak: Nova Scotia declares state of emergency, fines possible for violations

MacDonald said the CBRM is unlikely to develop a way for residents to stream the virtual meeting live as it happens.

Instead, they’ll follow Porter’s directive which orders municipalities to record the virtual meeting and have minutes published within 24 hours.

If the order is violated, individuals could face a summary conviction with fines ranging between $500 and $10,000 and up to $100,000 for a corporation per incident.

Porter’s order will remain in place until the state of emergency is ended or the minister issues new directions.

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