Vanderhoof municipal office. (Aman Parhar/Omineca Express)

Public, media blocked from council meetings in northern B.C. town for months

Other councils in region use video conferencing, as government says cities required to follow transparency rules

Neither the public nor media has had access to District of Vanderhoof ‘open’ council meetings since B.C. first declared a state of emergency due to COVID-19 in March.

During this time, the district discussed and passed bylaws involving Vanderhoof’s five-year financial plan, tax rates, record management and others, without providing a platform for the public to see or hear the discussions that led to their decisions.

Under normal circumstances, the provincial community charter stipulates that council cannot vote on bylaws in a closed meeting. There are a number of exceptions, including discussions pertaining to contracts, personnel matters and others.

An inability to observe social distancing in council chambers with public attendance has been offered as the reason for the closed meetings.

The municipal office did not provide teleconferencing or online platforms where their meetings could be under public scrutiny, as other local councils in this and other regions around B.C. have done over recent months.

Mayor Gerry Thiessen and town CAO Lori Egli cited Ministerial Order M083 issued by the ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing on March 26, as the reason for not providing public access to council meetings. That order stated that even though councils could disallow public attendance at open meetings under the pandemic circumstances, those meetings would not be considered ‘closed.’

However, the ministerial order referenced by Thiessen and Egli was actually rescinded and replaced by a new order on May 1, along with a news release which said that public input is an essential part of decision-making.

“As public input is an essential part of land-use decision-making, even for those decisions that do not require a public hearing, local governments are still expected to find ways to encourage public participation,” stated the release.

Communities across B.C., including Fort St. James, Fraser Lake, Burns Lake and Prince George made their public meetings accessible online during the virus pandemic, either via video conferencing or dial-in.

The Express contacted neighbouring municipalities to establish how much it cost them to move their meetings online. Officials said setting up their meetings online was cost-free, as municipal councillors already have access to iPads or other technology on which free video-conferencing software can be installed.

Members of the public are then given an access code to observe virtual meetings of council.

The City of Prince George has streamed webcasts for the past 12 years, so when the pandemic hit it had little impact on council meeting access, as the public could go online to observe live discussions of mayor and council.

Responding to Express questions in an emailed statement on June 9, Mayor Thiessen said, “We are trying to accommodate, but we have so many projects on the go that have a very tight time frame. We know that we will need to find other options but that may take a few weeks.”

Thiessen did not respond when asked what those options were and why it would take a few more weeks to provide public or media access to open council meetings.

On June 12, Marielle Tounsi, public affairs officer for the ministry of municipal affairs and housing said, the May ministerial order replacing the earlier directive was written to allow local governments to hold council and board meetings using electronic methods.

“Local governments continue to be required to follow procedural and transparency rules and are encouraged to provide online streaming of council and council committee meetings that include opportunities for “real-time” question and answers to encourage communication and support public engagement,” she said.


Aman Parhar
Editor, Vanderhoof Omineca Express

aman.parhar@ominecaexpress.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

municipal politicsnorthernbcVanderhoof

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Comments are closed

Just Posted

Volunteers pull off late-night eagle rescue in Salmon Arm

Bird bound for a rehabilitation centre in Delta

Salmon Arm firefighters respond to nighttime garage blaze

Residential structure fire at Canoe property quickly extinguished

Shuswap River levels declining but remain ‘unseasonably high’

Users warned that some recreational activities common this time of year may not yet be safe

Morning Start: There are over 200 dead bodies on Mount Everest

Your morning start for Wednesday, July 8, 2020

The pandemic is widening Canada’s workplace gender gap

Gender pay gap is incentivizing fathers to work while mothers watch children, a new B.C. study has found

Missing Lake Country man found safe

The 65-year-old, reported missing July 4, has been located safe and sound

Almost 99% less land in B.C. burned this year compared to 2018

2018 was the worst year on record for wildfires

LETTER: Summerland’s solar project should be scrapped

Flaws and objections have been raised

B.C. orders Coastal GasLink to stop pipeline construction near protected wetlands

The 670-kilometre pipeline is planned to transport natural gas from northeast B.C. to Kitimat

Sunflower Highway, art initiative to connect Fraser Valley, Thompson-Nicola and Okanagan

Sunflowers made out of reclaimed materials will be installed on public art trails

B.C. tent camps persist as hotels, housing bought for homeless

Current estimate 40 camps, homeless counts stalled by COVID-19

VIDEO: Trio of orphaned Alberta grizzly bear cubs find new home at Vancouver zoo

The Alberta cubs’ mother was killed by hunters and would have otherwise been euthanized, zoo says

Kelowna’s Gotham Nightclub set to reopen Friday

Gotham will be the second club to reopen in Kelowna amid COVID-19

Most Read