Councillor leaves city meeting over concerns of COVID-19

By | March 16, 2020

Transcona councillor Shawn Nason abruptly left the city’s innovation and economic development meeting Monday morning citing concerns about spreading the Covid 19 virus.

“I heard a lot coughing from the gallery directly behind  me… I heard coughing and nose-wiping on the public gallery side. I just don’t want to be in that situation,” Nason said a few minutes after walking out of the meeting.

Nason said despite some precautions beig taken in the building to counter the spread of the virus, it’s not enough for his comfort.

Notices have been placed on chairs in the council chamber telling delegations not to sit close too each other. There are also warnings posted telling visitors who feel sick not to enter building.

City of Winnipeg has instituted social distancing measures in its council chamber. (Sean Kavanagh/CBC )

Last Saturday, Mayor Brian Bowman announced the city would roll two weeks of meetings and deliberations into this week and hold a council meeting on the budget on Friday.

With uncertainty over the spread of Covid-19, Nason says the budget meetings should be postponed.

“I asked the mayor to suspend this. I asked the mayor to talk to the Premier to see if this show can be put off. He’s decided to double down this week,” Nason said.

Referring to budget battles at the Legislature last week, Nason said the situation at city hall is about health, not politics.

“I don’t want to be like Wab [Kinew, NDP leader] and what’s happened at the province level. This is strange times and I think this is an opportunity to work together,” Nason told reporters.

Nason’s concerns were echoed by councillor Kevin Klein, but more for democratic reasons than health concerns.

Councillor Kevin Klein says the mayor should postpone city council’s vote on the budget or says at the very least vote on just one year of spending. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

The representative for Charleswood-Tuxedo-Westwood told reporters “it would be prudent” of the mayor to ask Premier Brian Pallister for a four week delay.

Klein said he has data that would throw into doubt the city’s numbers on cancelling the UPass bus pass program for post-secondary students, but those submissions won’t get proper attention in an abbreviated time frame with coronavirus concerns looming over the world.

“It’s the right thing to do not having people gather for meetings and I think from a democratic perspective we have to delay this budget,” Klein said.

Gord Delbridge, the president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, local 500, was at Monday’s committee meeting and told reporters after he made his submission he wasn’t comfortable with continuing through with submissions this week.

His concerns were later echoed in a press release by two other unions who have workers with the city.

“Pushing through an austerity budget in the middle of a health pandemic without full public consultation is wrong,” said Delbridge.

“How can members of the public understand the impact of the budget when they cannot, and should not, be attending public meetings because of COVID-19?” said Richard Mahé, President of the Winnipeg Association of Public Service Officers in the same release.

Councillor John Orlikow, who chaired the meeting Nason left, said “everybody has a right to leave,” and offered Nason the chance to email questions about the presentations he would miss.

Orlikow acknowledged the significant health concerns surrounding the virus, but declined comment on whether it was wise cancelling the week’s meetings, deferring to mayor Bowman.

A spokesperson for Bowman told CBC News the mayor would not be available to comment on Monday.

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