The Case for Web-Casting Council Meetings


I am fully supportive of Council's latest decision to proceed with a proposal for a one-year trial to web-cast all Council meetings. I would have supported this initiative years ago but learned that costs to do so for small municipalities were prohibitive. Until now. So I am very pleased that the District of North Saanich plans to launch this important service this spring.

Why do I believe that this is an important service? Here are some reasons for improved communication with residents:

Adequate ongoing communication with local residents about how Mayor and Council conduct the public's business during Council meetings is always a challenge for local governments and North Saanich is no different. Apart from our standard agenda package, District website, quarterly newsletter and audio recording, it is difficult if not sometimes impossible, for Council members and staff to reach the public on a weekly basis, especially to those who may never attend regular Council meetings, which is the vast majority.

The small percentage of residents who regularly attend Council meetings is understandable, given that the meetings themselves are not relevant to everyone. I have observed that the majority of those who more regularly attend meetings do so out of general interest, as representatives of a community organization/association, out of concern about a specific issue or topic, because of a public hearing or other bylaw issue, or because they have a land use application that requires Council approval. And sometimes, meetings can be tedious, particularly when the discussion is focused on technical, legal or operational matters. So a communications strategy that effectively reaches a majority of residents, such as web-casting, is a positive step and can only boost public awareness, knowledge and understanding of local government and how it works.

"A picture is worth a thousand words." Web-casting is a unique method of communicating with the public, bringing greater accountability to local government, especially for elected officials related to attitudes, behaviour and decision-making.

There is to my knowledge no filter on web-casted Council proceedings -- what you see is what you get. Yes, what happens at North Saanich Council meetings is currently reported in a variety of ways, such as through staff minutes, the local press, the District website, those who attend and individuals such as me who use social media and take the time to write and report on issues and subjects deliberated during meetings. But each of these methods is susceptible to interpretation by whomever the individual is who takes the minutes, reports for the local press, manages the website, attends a meeting or writes a blog. A web-cast, on the other hand, is reality, a form of "raw footage" where the only thing left to interpretation will be how each of us assesses and processes what we have seen and heard.

Information about Council proceedings should be timely, relevant and available to the public at all times.

Council and Committee of the Whole meetings are always open to the public (including North Saanich Commission/Committee meetings), unless topics are designated "in camera." Web-casting Council and Committee of the Whole meetings provides another venue for the public to quickly access information about decisions, issues and topics that are of interest or relevant to them, at a place and time convenient to them. I believe that information fails to "inform" if it is not current or easily accessible -- when the public's ability to access information is limited, then their ability to participate in their local government is also limited. Remember, "information is power" and the best thing that we, as elected officials can do with power and information, is to share them with the people and communities who elect us.