Toronto city council is hosting its first ever virtual meeting Thursday amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The special meeting, called by Mayor John Tory in accordance with provincial regulations limiting group gatherings, will include only motions deemed urgent by the mayor.
“I believe it will be a while yet before we can gather again in person,” Tory said during his opening remarks.
“But I’m committed to making sure that we have regular meetings to deal with urgent business.”
Several of the day’s items relate directly to COVID-19 and Toronto’s ongoing efforts to protect residents and slow the spread of the virus. As of Thursday morning, 347 Toronto residents have died of COVID-19, while 5,360 residents have tested positive for the virus.
Tory is expected to ask councillors to extend the special powers he currently holds by way of the state of emergency declared on March 23, which allow him to enact bylaws without the approval of council.
Councillors called into the meeting from their home offices and kitchens. The digital gathering featured a few minor hiccups as some councillors fumbled with their mute buttons when attendance was called to start the meeting.
Speaker Frances Nunziata is the only councillor physically present at city hall, where she and a small team of city clerks coordinated the meeting.
Tory has used the powers to enact bylaws enforcing physical distancing in some public spaces and the closure of entire city properties, including High Park.
The motion to be presented Thursday recommends that those powers be extended until Toronto terminates the municipal emergency declaration.
“While we know this health emergency continues and it will continue for some time, we are making progress and just last week we had reason to have cautious optimism that we are slowing the spread of COVID-19 and thanks largely to the physical distancing efforts of Toronto residents, we are saving thousands of lives,” said Tory in a letter to council.
Council will discuss another motion to build up to 250 modular houses for homeless residents using the city’s shelter system, which has been under immense pressure during the pandemic.
The $47.5 million project is expected to build 110 modular homes by September 2020, and a further 140 by early 2021. The homes will be built on two separate city-owned sites which have not yet been identified.
City council will also discuss motions related to tax changes, funding for housing and homelessness programs, and the installation of new bike lanes.