Surrey councillor Steven Pettigrew, left, and Surrey mayor Doug McCallum. (Now-Leader file photos)

Surrey councillor Steven Pettigrew, left, and Surrey mayor Doug McCallum. (Now-Leader file photos)

‘It’s so easy just to hit the button and mute somebody,’ Surrey councillor says of virtual meetings

Councillor Steven Pettigrew says ‘it’s been difficult for members of the public to express themselves’

A couple of Surrey city councillors expressed concern about the city once again holding its regular council and finance committee meetings virtually rather than in-person as budget discussions loom and the duration of this decision remains unknown.

Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum read a motion, which was unanimously passed, to move council and finance committee meetings back to virtual from in-person on account of the significant spike in COVID-19 cases, “while ensuring to meet the principles of openness, transparency, accessibility and accountability” by continuing to livestream these meetings and permitting members of the public to participate by phoning in or by written comments.

READ ALSO: Surrey to return to virtual council meetings as COVID-19 cases continue to rise

READ ALSO: Surrey mayor, councillor, a canyon apart on proposed tax hike

This was at a special regular council meeting late Wednesday afternoon.

Councillor Steven Pettigrew said “in times past, it’s been difficult for members of the public to express themselves and for council to express themselves because of the tendency to be cut off at a quite easy press of the button.

“So I’m concerned that people like councillors and members of the public will not have a chance to be able to speak, that that button might be a little bit too soon, so this is my main concern if we move back into this virtual arena, people will not be allowed to address,” he said. “That’s my main concern, just the silencing of dissension.

“I’m really, really uneasy about going back to virtual meetings and I’m not confident,” Pettigrew said. “It’s so easy just to hit the button and mute somebody, that’s my overriding concern about going back into this.

“I’d like to have some reassurances from the chair that if we do go with this, that these things will not revert back to the way things were before,” he added. “Especially it’s coming up with the budget. Last year’s budget meeting was almost a riot, and this budget coming up, if we go virtual, it’ll eliminate that process but there will be a lot of very emotional people and angry people and maybe some happy people, and we need to be able to allow those people to be able to speak, and to say what they have to say.”

McCallum thanked Pettigrew for his comments.

READ ALSO: ‘We’re not hiding anything,’ Horgan says of COVID-19 data

City manager Vincent Lalonde told council the City of Vancouver never went back to fully public from virtual and the majority of cities in the Lower Mainland have “oscillated ” between the two. Some have been “hybrid” and some have been fully open but limiting the number of people allowed in chambers. “All cities are reassessing this.”

“I’d like to point out that previously when we were under this format of virtual, the max amount of B.C. cases was 717,” Lalonde said. “We’re now sitting at over 6,000 cases and we all know the epicentre unfortunately is Surrey.”

Councillor Jack Hundial asked if the move back into exclusively virtual meetings would be re-assessed every month or continue on until the end of council’s term. “The wording around the motion itself, it seems to be there’s no end on it,” he noted.

McCallum said the “intent” is that it would continue “until such time council feels that we can return to in-person meetings.”

“Certainly it won’t be until the end of the pandemic?” Hundial asked.

McCallum, whose Safe Surrey Coalition slate controls council with five of nine seats, replied, “That’s up to council to make that decision.”

Councillor Allison Patton said the main reason she supported the motion was to protect staff. “I think it’s the right move, at the right time,” she said.

Meantime, Lalonde said the City of Surrey has “upped our game as far as our facilities and our staff but what remains is there’s a lot of cases out in the public and so we think we could be better leveraged by Fraser Health.”

He said he’s meeting on Friday with Fraser Health toward better coordinating their responses to the pandemic. “I think the city continues and has been very proactive but right now we need more data, and more liaison I would say, in order to pinpoint our interventions,” he said.



tom.zytaruk@surreynowleader.com

Like us on Facebook and follow Tom on Twitter

City of SurreyCoronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

White Rock and Surrey RCMP – along with police forces across the province – have launched their holiday CounterAttack campaigns. (Contributed graphic)
White Rock, Surrey RCMP CounterAttack campaigns underway

Enforcement ramps up to remove impaired drivers from cities’ roadways

Firefighters battle a house fire in Fleetwood on Dec. 2, 2020. (Photos: Shane MacKichan)
One man sent to hospital, two people arrested after Surrey fire

‘This was so frightening to see in person,’ witness posts after blaze at 160th Street and 89th Avenue

Statue of Lady Justice at B.C. Supreme Court in New Westminster. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
Judge finds Surrey RCMP breached two robbery suspects’ Charter rights

This was in connection with the robbery of the Ritecare Pharmacy in Surrey on Oct. 10, 2017

Surrey Hospitals Foundation president and CEO Jane Adams is officially one of “Canada’s Most Powerful CEOs” as one of the winners of the 2020 Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 Award. (Submitted photo: Surrey Hospitals Foundation)
Surrey Hospitals Foundation’s Jane Adams is one of ‘Canada’s Most Powerful CEOs’

Awards recognize 106 ‘outstanding’ who ‘advocate for workforce diversity’

This year’s White Rock RCMP children’s clothing drive was the best yet, organizers say. (Contributed photo)
White Rock RCMP children’s clothing drive ‘best ever’

Month-long annual event wrapped up Dec. 1

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s coronavirus situation at the legislature, Nov. 30, 2020. (B.C. government)
Hockey team brought COVID-19 back from Alberta, B.C. doctor says

Dr. Bonnie Henry pleads for out-of-province travel to stop

B.C. Premier John Horgan on a conference call with religious leaders from his B.C. legislature office, Nov. 18, 2020, informing them in-person church services are off until further notice. (B.C. government)
B.C. tourism relief coming soon, Premier John Horgan says

Industry leaders to report on their urgent needs next week

An RCMP cruiser looks on as a military search and rescue helicopter winds down near Bridesville, B.C. Tuesday, Dec. 1. Photo courtesy of RCMP Cpl. Jesse O’Donaghey
B.C. Mountie, suspect airlifted by Canadian Armed Forces from ravine after foot chase

Military aircraft were dispatched from Comox, B.C., say RCMP

Photo by Dale Klippenstein
Suspect tries to thwart police in Abbotsford with false 911 call about men with guns

Man twice sped away from officers and then tried to throw them off his trail

An 18-year old male southern resident killer whale, J34, is stranded near Sechelt in 2016. A postmortem examination suggests he died from trauma consistent with a vessel strike. (Photo supplied by Paul Cottrell, Fisheries and Oceans Canada)
“We can do better” — humans the leading cause of orca deaths: study

B.C. research reveals multitude of human and environmental threats affecting killer whales

A logo for Netflix on a remote control is seen in Portland, Ore.,Aug. 13, 2020. Experts in taxation and media say a plan announced Monday by the government will ultimately add to the cost of digital services and goods sold by foreign companies. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Jenny Kane
‘Netflix tax’ for digital media likely to raise prices for consumers, experts say

The government says Canadian companies already collect those taxes when they make digital sales

BIG SALMON ranch in Washington State. (Center for Whale Research handout)
Non-profit buys Chinook ranch in hopes of increasing feed for southern resident killer whales

The ranch, which borders both sides of Washington State’s Elwha River, is a hotspot for chinook salmon

Gaming content was big on YouTube in 2020. (Black Press Media files)
What did Canadians watch on Youtube during isolation? Workouts, bird feeders

Whether it was getting fit or ‘speaking moistly,’ Canadians had time to spare this year

Most Read