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Bylaw changes needed for council to deal with urgent emergencies

Procedures bylaw discussed
Catherine Constable, the city’s manager of legislative services, speaks at a roundtable discussion in Whitehorse on June 13, 2019. The City of Whitehorse’s procedures bylaw was the focus of a roundtable discussion Oct. 15 where Constable highlighted the driving force for the changes being in how emergencies may be dealt with. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Changes are being contemplated for the City of Whitehorse’s procedures bylaw.

The bylaw was the focus of a council and management roundtable discussion Oct. 15 where Catherine Constable, the city’s manager of legislative services, highlighted the driving force for the changes being in how emergencies may be dealt with.

As she told council during the discussion, it was in 2019 that council identified emergency preparedness as a strategic priority. That was followed by the Operation NANOOK-TATIGIIT emergency exercise involving the Canadian military and numerous levels of government in July 2019.

Then in March, COVID-19 hit, further emphasizing the importance of emergency responses.

As part of its work to look at emergency preparedness, Constable explained, it was identified the timelines for council meetings to be held may not be sufficient in cases where there is an immediate emergency where decisions by council are required.

Currently, the bylaw provides for a minimum of 48 hours notice to be given for a regular meeting of council and 24 hours in cases of special meetings of council.

While the city is required to inform local media of the regular meetings, there is no such requirement for special meetings, something Coun. Steve Roddick suggested should change, with a number of council members noting their agreement.

With no means of having a meeting of council in the case of an urgent emergency — to deal with impacts of a forest fire for example — Constable noted a number of changes are being considered to address that.

Under the changes in the case where there’s a civil emergency that poses immediate danger to the public and/or property requiring timely action by city council, the available members of council would meet (this could be done by phone) to vote on the matter even if quorum (at least four members of council) isn’t met.

Any decision made in that process would later be confirmed with the rest of council, though a number of council members pointed out that it would be more of an acknowledgement of a decision that was already made.

Coun. Laura Cabott was the first to make note of it, wondering why confirmation would be needed, given that the council members responsible for the decision had been given the authority in the case of an emergency.

“I can see why it’s a bit tricky,” Cabott said of the clause.

Constable explained she had referred to Robert’s Rules of Order, a widely-used guide to parliamentary order, in drafting the proposed new bylaw provisions that any such decisions be confirmed at a later date when quorum can be met, but also noted the wording could be altered.

Coun. Samson Hartland, meanwhile, said that while he sees the importance of having the provision in place for council to deal with immediate emergencies, he wants to ensure there’s no “unintended consequences” or misinterpretation of when the provision can be used.

While the main focus for changing the bylaw is on allowing council to deal with urgent emergencies, Constable also noted there are a number of other changes proposed to streamline the bylaw and provide clarity, including looking at how public delegations happen.

Currently, delegates must submit their comments in writing due to COVID-19 restrictions, but prior to COVID-19 delegates could register to speak directly to council.

Constable questioned council on preferences for registering and information delegates provide such as addresses in exploring potential changes to the bylaw.

A number of other changes would also be considered and are expected to be discussed among council and management at a later date.

Contact Stephanie Waddell at

Stephanie Waddell

About the Author: Stephanie Waddell

I joined Black Press in 2019 as a reporter for the Yukon News, becoming editor in February 2023.
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