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Vancouver city councillor pushes for return to in-person council meetings

A Vancouver city councillor says its time for her colleagues to get back to city hall for in-person meetings.

Coun. Sarah Kirby-Yung is pushing for a speedy return to the council chambers and plans on attending all future meetings in person — even if they’re still officially being conducted virtually.

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“Our schools are back, our universities are back, our restaurant servers are working, our community centre and library centre workers are there and our small businesses are back working, so I don’t see why council should be any different,” she told Global News on Sunday.

Vancouver city council has been meeting electronically since June, 2020, under an exemption to in-person meetings granted by the provincial COVID-19 Related Measures Act.

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That authorization is set to expire on Sept. 29 — though a proposed city bylaw change could allow for future meetings to continue with councillors, staff or the public attending virtually, or under a hybrid system.

Kirby-Yung pointed to other Metro Vancouver councils, such as Surrey and Richmond, which have found safe ways to return to in-person meetings.

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With other sectors finding safe ways to return to work under COVID-19 safety guidelines from the provincial health officer, there is no reason Vancouver’s council can’t do the same, she argued.

“[Virtual is] not the same as when we meet in person, you lose a lot of that interaction,” she said. “I think people want to see their elected representatives there, doing their jobs.”

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Global News requested comment from Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart’s office on Kirby-Yung’s push to bring councillors back to city hall.

Former councillor George Affleck said the virtual model has been plagued with hiccups and it discourages public participation.

“(It’s) so bad for democracy, so bad for information, just bad on every level,” he said.

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“They can’t keep this terrible digital platform going, it’s not working, they need to get back in person, they need to start doing their job, making decisions in person so people can hear it and see it.”

He said he felt city staff were being “overly cautious” in recommending the proposed bylaw change.

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Under the current model, members of the public can participate in council meetings by phone or in person at city hall.

Council is slated to review the proposed changes to the bylaw as its first order of business on Tuesday.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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