Continuing COVID-19 state of emergency a divisive issue for Peterborough council

Peterborough City Hall.
Peterborough City Hall. Global Newsfile

An emergency order put in place to help the City of Peterborough contend with the novel coronavirus pandemic has created a bit of a stir.

While many communities near Peterborough have dropped their state of emergency declarations, including the City of Kawartha Lakes and Cavan Monaghan Township, Peterborough’s declaration will be in place until at least the end of September.

Mayor Diane Therrien tweeted on Sept. 8 that the city, Peterborough County as well as Curve Lake and Hiawatha First Nations agreed to keep the declaration for now amid back-to-school for children and education workers.

Since then, some city councillors have publicly expressed that the declaration should’ve been dropped by now.

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The mayor took to Twitter again on Wednesday stating, “Too many ppl are trying to fabricate conflict + division amongst council.  Councillors, staff, + the public are always encouraged to contact me to discuss concerns -regarding the state of emergency or any other issues.”

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This tweet came after an editorial article in a Peterborough newspaper that suggested the mayor has directed councillors to speak to her first over the media, if they disagreed with the continuation of the emergency.

“I don’t think instruction is the right word and what I read was not well worded, that’s for sure.  But there was an implication there to check with her before speaking publicly,” said Coun. Henry Clarke.

“It’s a personal matter between the mayor and I. I have had a conversation with her about it and I’ll leave it at that,” said Coun. Keith Riel.  “She knows my position on the emergency.”

“I’m an independent thinker.  It would be hard-pressed for someone to tell me what to say, when to say it and who to say it to,” said Coun. Stephen Wright.  “The mayor has not expressed to me her desire for me to speak to her first before I talk to media or anybody on any issue.”

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“You have 10 councillors and you’re going to get 10 different points of view.”

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On the state of emergency, Clarke says a number of health-related orders are already in-place at from the province, such as social gathering limits. He says that, in addition to the fact that the city doesn’t need the emergency order in place to receive financial help, it’s time to let the local declaration go.

“The state of emergency, as far as I can see, could be dropped at any time, and the sooner the better.  I support that we’re going to do it at the end of the month.  It’s time to let it go,” he said.

The declaration was made on March 23 due to the worsening coronavirus pandemic.

The mayor, CAO, senior staff and emergency control group were given authority to make unilateral decisions including budgetary decisions, changes to transit and the downtown sidewalks and patio extension, which closed lanes for vehicular traffic of George Street.

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“It made sense at the time. It was the right thing to do. But those conditions have changed and it’s time to revert back,” Clarke said.

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Riel noted he’s received ‘hundreds of emails’ from concerned residents about the changes made to transit routes during the pandemic and that the way the downtown sidewalks were handled could’ve been done differently.

“Our COVID numbers are great and that’s not what it is, but I was elected to do a job to make decisions on behalf of the taxpayers,” Riel added.  “You know the deficit we’re running.  We need to get back to us making those decisions.  This can’t go on forever and a day.  It needs to get back to council making the decisions on financial matters and making decisions on behalf of the citizens of Peterborough.”

“I don’t see the value of us remaining in a state of emergency,” Wright said.  “With the recent case counts with new cases of COVID and the premier’s most recent comments, I can accept what her worship said about wanting to review it at the end of the month.”

The city recently received $8 million in relief funding but is now projecting a deficit of more than $20 million by the end of December.

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Global News Peterborough requested an interview with the mayor to discuss her tweet and the continuing state of emergency but was informed by her assistant that she wouldn’t be commenting further.

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