/AMO conference goes online

AMO conference goes online

By Chad Ingram

The annual Association of Municipalities of Ontario conference took place last week, and like so many events in 2020, the conference, which normally brings together municipal leaders and provincial representatives for three days of workshops, seminars, meetings and speeches, happened in a virtual fashion. 

“As a member of the Eastern Ontario Wardens’ Caucus I was able to attend a number of key Zoom meetings,” Haliburton County Warden Liz Danielsen wrote in an email to the Times. “The EOWC presented briefing notes to a multi-ministerial forum detailing plans to work with the province on our top four priorities; those being a one-gigabtye broadband project that will not only improve circumstances in poorly served or uncovered areas, but prepare Haliburton County for a generation to come; plans for the economic recovery of Eastern Ontario from the losses that have impacted us all during the pandemic as well as the financial recovery of municipalities; and finally, to improve at every level delivery of service and improved infrastructure for long term care homes in the area. The caucus also met and outlined these same priorities to the NDP as the official Opposition. Both groups were extremely supportive of the work of the EOWC and our submissions, and acknowledged the EOWC’s proven track record of working with the province.” 

Danielsen indicated she found the online nature of this year’s conference to be a bit of a challenge. 
“I had initially planned to sit through the sessions of the AMO conference in real time, as if I was actually in attendance,” Danielsen wrote. “Unfortunately, because I’m actually not there, my calendar quickly got filled with other meetings via Zoom of no less importance, and in some cases, related to conference activities. I’m thankful that all of the material from both the plenary and break-out sessions are available to those who registered for the conference for the next month and look forward to looking at sessions of interest. I have heard reports that, all things considered, the conference organizers were able to delivery an excellent alternative to the standard conference setting.” 

Similarly, Dysart et al Mayor Andrea Roberts and Algonquin Highlands Mayor Carol Moffatt told the paper they preferred an in-person conference to the virtual one that took place this year amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

“I find conferences tremendously valuable and I work very hard at them,” Moffatt wrote in an email. “AMO did a wonderful job of moving it all online and while I appreciate many of the aspects of the virtual conference, it’s not the same as being there in person, especially for networking. The sessions are available online for 30 days so I will go back and watch the ones I missed.” 

While Moffatt said she’d blocked the time in her calendar to “attend” the conference virtually, meetings ended up being booked in the interim, “which disrupted the focus needed to stay in the conference ‘groove’, as it were. For me, it doesn’t work to pop in and out of the conference.” 

Roberts agreed, sharing similar sentiments. 
“I did not attend as much as I would have liked to, meetings ended up getting booked last week so it was really hard to attend live,” she wrote.”The sessions will be up for 30 days after so I am hoping to find the time to view more online later. I have to say it isn’t the same at all. Part of going to a conference is the mixing and mingling that happens in the halls, at breakfast or lunch, and at the sessions. I also enjoy seeing my county colleagues outside of work, it’s always nice to be social together. I think AMO did the best in the situation, nothing they could have done differently.” 

Minden Hills Mayor Brent Devolin opted not to “attend” this year’s conference because of the virtual format. While a regular attendee of both the annual AMO and Rural Ontario Municipal Association conferences, Devolin also said that physically being at conferences and being able to network with representatives from upper levels of government is a big part of those events for him. He also noted that normally the township requests delegations with minister regarding certain requests, and that in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the township really had no such specific request. He said he still planned to take in some of the online sessions. 

Moffatt and Danielsen both pointed out that a silver lining to the virtual conference was that local municipalities saved some money in terms of travel and accommodation expenses for councillors.