EDITORIAL: Open government isn’t just a talking point

It will be interesting to see how many times, and for what purposes, local councils go behind closed doors

Modern-day candidates and politicians talk a good game about transparency, open government and public consultation.

Part of our job is to make sure they aren’t blowing smoke.

With new councils in place in the Regional District of Nanaimo, Parksville and Qualicum Beach, we looked up the section of B.C.’s Community Charter that relates to closed meetings. The list of circumstances in which a council can close meetings — go ‘in camera’ as it’s called — is a long one. Too long, we’d submit. In fact, one could make an argument every piece of business a council conducts could fall into one or more of the categories that allows for in camera proceedings.

That stated, let’s get back to campaign promises and how candidates love to spout how they will be more open and transparent and seek more public input.

The best way to seek public input is to have open debates on topics, not behind-closed-door discussions. Councillors generally have more information about the issues at hand because they have taxpayer-funded staff to provide them with pertinent facts.

With that info, their open, public debates can allow the public to form opinions not only on the subject at hand, but also about how they might rate the performance of their elected officials.

There is no reason, for example, for the RDN board to go in camera to talk about its relationship with the Island Corridor Foundation. Parksville council should not hide behind closed doors to talk about downtown revitalization, Craig Street or the PDBA. Qualicum Beach taxpayers should hear all of the discussions about any plans to change bylaws enacted by the previous council.

We believe councils in this region are too quick to go in camera. What’s worse is the woeful lack of reporting from those closed-door meetings, which is to say we believe there are parts of the discussions and motions that flow from these in camera sessions that are not being shared with the public.

We get there are labour issues, personnel issues and land-acquisition issues that need to be discussed outside of the eyes and ears of the public and the media.

However, we believe these newly-sworn-in councils should double their efforts to ensure the maximum amount of debate on the issues at hand is done in public.

— Editorial by John Harding

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