The Municipalities of Saskatchewan’s 116th annual convention was held online from Feb. 7–10.
With the uncertainty of COVID-19, the convention’s planning committee made the decision to transition to a virtual event for 2021 to ensure that representatives from Saskatchewan’s hometowns can still come together to network.
They expected maybe 500 people to register for the virtual convention but had over 900 registered including many from the local area.
Windthorst Mayor David Lowenberg and administrator Harley McCarthy both registered.
Lowenberg attended his first convention in person two years ago in Saskatoon, but this is the first virtual convention for all. It was definitely different sitting in a room all by yourself for the four-day convention listening to the speakers and taking it all in through your computer.
Lowenberg took helpful information away from the convention that he could bring back to the Village.
“Grants and getting ideas that other communities are doing with infrastructure,” says Lowenberg “As long as you bring back one thing from the convention, it’s worthwhile.”
“There was a lot of time spent talking about Covid and what are our plans of action,” he said.
“Having a virtual convention is absolutely nothing like being there in person. People couldn’t make the connections like they normally would have,” Lowenberg explains. “The networking wasn’t there and the trade show just wasn’t the same as the live show.”
For a non-typer, Lowenberg states with a chuckle he’s just not going to communicate with others by pecking at the keys. The tone of the written word is just not the same. You miss out on seeing facial expressions and such through the virtual convention.
“You wouldn’t go out of your way to introduce yourself to someone online but in person if you’re walking by or standing in a lineup together you strike up a conversation,” explains Lowenberg.
“It’s great to have the younger members on council. Sometimes they have new ideas,” Lowenberg said, and adds, “Just because it’s not done the way it’s always been done, doesn’t mean it’s wrong.”
Lowenberg says through the convention he found helpful hints that could be brought back to Windthorst. He has a couple of good ideas from the City of Lloydminster. It’s more for the underground sewer.
They were having trouble with grease building up in their sewer and they actually got an award for their ‘Grease Monster’. More preventative measures such as public education have to be taken in order to solve the problem. Just sending out the message for residents not to pour grease down your drain. In the past couple of years, Windthorst has also had to deal with grease plugging up the sewer lines. They have used an enzyme to pour down the drains to break up the grease.
“It was disappointing to have to do the convention virtually…it’s hard to stay engaged when you’re sitting in a room staring at a computer screen,” states Lowenberg. “But on the positive side of things…this kept the costs down for every municipality with no travel costs and room fees.”
Others taking part included Kipling Mayor Pat Jackson, chief administrative officer Gail Dakue, and Councillors Don Johnson, Colby Sproat and Makyla Stender.
“It was quite different taking part in the virtual convention this year rather than in person,” states Jackson. “The biggest thing for me was that normally between sessions you’re visiting with people from all over the province. That just wasn’t quite as available.”
Anyone who was registered for the ‘Videos on Demand’ could tap into theses over the next month to view them.
A variety of topics were discussed including tourism – how to attract visitors to your community.
Wednesday is traditionally the day that the provincial government is available for questions. From 9-10:30 a.m., there are sessions of dialogues with cabinet ministers. This year they had the minister of highways and Infrastructure, and the minister of SaskBuilds and procurement session which was facilitated by Jackson. Others included the minister of health and the minister of northern and rural health, and the minister of government affairs. Following the dialogues, the ministers were all available to answer questions in the bear pit session.
Topics also included talking about revenue sharing, grants, infrastructure and even how rules and regulations put out by either the federal or provincial governments are going to be handled by municipalities because often times the municipalities get instructions that ‘this is the way it is’.
“We’ve got to put things into place,” says Jackson.
“Even though it was virtual we still had a trade show where you could go into a discussion room. You could click on two-minute videos,” explains Jackson. “Something that the Town of Kipling looked at a year ago, we held off this past year because nobody knew what the impact of COVID was going to be.
I spoke with one of them and said ‘Hey we looked at this last year…what’s the change in price?’ just so we know what we’re dealing with.”
“I’m really hopeful that we can go to next year’s convention in person,” says Jackson. “I’m encouraging all council members to attend. You’ll get a whole different perspective on the convention in person.”
Jackson’s suggestion to the younger council members “Go and plan on taking in as much as you can.”
Jackson goes to explain: “Those social things are far more than just eating, drinking and dancing. Sometimes you end up exchanging business cards and discuss ideas with many other communities as how to better your own. A lot of education this year was aimed at the new councilors, to help them learn what their role is. There are a lot of connections that we try to make through the convention with all of the people across the province and Canada.”
Jackson has also attended two Manitoba conventions in the past so she says ‘we’ve got connections’.
For instance if there were four education sessions on, Jackson explains that they tried to make sure that they were going to different ones so they could collect many ideas, not just one. That way they have input from different people on different topics.
Hopefully next year’s convention will be back to ‘normal’.