City council: to trade directly with the citizens?

Conseil municipal: vers des échanges en direct avec les citoyens?

MONTREAL – The City of Montreal is currently considering the possibility of holding q & a sessions, to live remote the city Council, which would allow citizens to directly interact with the elected officials surveyed.

The period of questions in face-to-face has been removed at the beginning of the containment to avoid the risk of the spread of the coronavirus. Questions must now be sent in advance, and then the elected officials respond during the monthly meeting of the board. Reminders, such as when a citizen wants a precision, are no longer possible.

“We will test the technological solutions available which could be put in place to allow citizens to ask their questions live,” said Émilie Thuillier, head of the democracy the executive committee of the City.

In other québec cities, such as Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, québec or L’ancienne-Lorette, periods of questions to the elected live have been organized during the pandemic.

Notice of expert

It is less easy to have a dialogue in this way, observes Caroline Patsias, a professor in the department of political science of the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM). “In the current situation, we lose the feedback (…). If the citizen is not satisfied with the response or is that the mayor had misunderstood his question, he did not have the opportunity to ask his second question”, she added.

The use of a platform like Zoom would restore the interactivity, shows-t-it. Moreover, the borough councils, where issues must also be sent in advance, are usually an opportunity for residents with similar concerns to exchange between them. The formula for distance makes it more difficult, noted Ms. Patsias.

“It is true that it is a narrowing of democracy,” she said. That said, “I don’t see any manipulation of the COVID by the municipality. The measures taken, it was to avoid the spread of the virus. I believe that removing the face-to-face, it was the right thing to do”.

For Danielle Pilette, a professor in the department of strategy, social and environmental responsibility at UQAM, the inability to ask questions of the elected officials in face-to-face is not of concern since it is temporary.

The answers to the questions are still accessible, since the sessions are broadcast, added Ms. Pilette, who also believes that this formula can create a better distribution among the citizens of the time allocated for questions.

The executive committee wishes, furthermore, that the Montreal retain the possibility to ask questions to the elected officials at a distance, even after the health crisis.

Currently, the elected representatives themselves participate by videoconference to the council and are no longer physically present. At the end of march, a hybrid formula was held: a dozen elected officials were on site at the hotel de ville and the others had participated by phone. The experience – “really cacophonous,” recalls Mrs. Thuillier – has not been repeated since.

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