EDITORIAL: Voters in the dark

Qualicum Beach council and staff seem to believe just about all decisions can be made behind closed doors

Qualicum Beach town council continues to poke its finger in the eye of the public’s right to know. What’s worse, town staff has no problem explaining how it is within its rights to keep voters in the dark.

There was a time earlier this year when council was meeting two or three times a week behind closed doors. We were told they were personnel matters.

Some members of council made a public fuss and tried to come off as defenders of the public’s right to know by saying there were too many things happening behind closed doors. So, those meetings died off a bit, but we now suspect that was due to the summer break, and not some see-the-light realization by any member of council or town staff.

Like new episodes of popular TV series after Labour Day, in camera sessions are now back in full swing in Qualicum Beach.

In plain language, the Community Charter essentially allows councils to deliberate matters in camera when they relate to personnel, land purchases or speculation and legal matters. The beauty of this — well at least for councils and town staff who want to keep everyone in the dark — is that you could apply that criteria to almost everything a municipality does. They are law-making bodies, for goodness sake.

Case in point from Monday night: out of the blue, and not on the agenda, comes a host of hastily-read motions from a town staffer, decisions apparently made behind closed doors but read into the record at a public meeting because that’s the absolute least they can do in terms of public notification. We don’t know which way councillors voted or why.

The subject matter of these motions — the development of a Qualicum Beach digital arts studio and the suspension of payments to the Island Corridor Foundation for rail crossings in town — have been discussed before in open council and other forums. Why, all of a sudden, is open debate and accountability regarding the actual decisions on these matters taken away? And another one is on the way relating to Crystal Gardens — one staff member suggested, in a manner that made it sound like this is a normal way to do business, this issue will be discussed in camera soon.

There is nothing more dangerous in a municipal setting than a council and senior staff that believes it can and should operate in a secretive manner, that it knows better than all of us and pats voters on the proverbial head like children.

— Editorial by John Harding

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