In a raucous meeting where decorum was often mentioned but seldom in evidence, Hamilton Council has given a reprieve to the now less than 400 City staff members who have either not been vaccinated or who have refused to disclose their vaccination status. In the course of close to six hours of debate, it became clear that it never was the will of council to impose vaccine mandates on threat of termination for city staff. By a freak situation four councillors were absent when the matter came before council –one of them Arlene Vanderbeek was ill with COVID. As a result, a recommendation by staff that the city follow the provincial lead in dropping the vaccine mandate was defeated on a tie vote. Councillor Maria Pearson said “I don’t mean any disrespect to those four councillors who weren’t at the meeting but this is an absolute mess…what a farce…I’m just sorry that we didn’t have this passed when we met a few weeks ago.” Council eventually voted on Councillor Esther Paul’s motion to pause enforcement of the mask policy until September by which time it is hoped more staff will have become vaccinated, and at the same time staff will have more time to prepare a cost estimate of what the terminations would cost taxpayers
It was the first meeting in over two years when staff and councillors were present in the council chamber—although most councillors still participated remotely. There was a large contingent of city employees who were under threat of being fired in the galleries, and they repeatedly interrupted proceedings with jeers, prompting Chair Maureen Wilson to repeatedly call for order and to threaten to have the gallery cleared. The chair and Ward 14 Councillor Terry Whitehead clashed frequently over points of order and challenges to the chair.
The meeting was further delayed when Clr. John Paul Danko wanted to go in camera to get legal advice, When Council came out of that session two amendments by Danko to put non-vaccinated staff onto unpaid leave of absence and not allowing them paid leave if the City runs of our rapid tests, lost by 6-9 votes. Paul’s main motion to grant the reprieve passed by 10-3 with Clrs. Danko, Wilson and Nann voting against. Towards the end of the meeting once again it was councillor Whitehead sparring with Chair Wilson, perhaps framing what will be the dominant issue in the upcoming municipal election. “Tribalism,” he said, there’s tribalism…what has transpired here in the last four years…we have a group of councillors who are supported by ten percent of the population who are socially active. They go after the other councillors who have contrary positions on a regular basis. They want to take incumbents out because they are from a particular ideology.” At that point Whitehead was interrupted by Danko, one of the councillors being referred to, and another shouting match ensued.
No doubt reflecting the view of the majority who were following or participating in the debate, a female councillor was heard to say “Put the fucking vote up!”