Vanderhoof municipal office. (Aman Parhar/Omineca Express)

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However, the ministerial order referenced by Thiessen and Egli was actually rescinded and replaced by a new order on May 1, along with a news release which said that public input is an essential part of decision-making.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

Just Posted

Dr. Bernhardt’s freshly planted strawberries. (Mary Lowther photo)
Mary Lowther column: Hoping for a bumper crop of strawberries

Because our new plot gets a lot of sun, maybe strawberries won’t become consumed by wood bugs

Sarah Simpson
Sarah Simpson Column: Newton’s first law of motion

I could have sworn I told them to help each other get unbuckled and to come inside.

Commercial property owners in Duncan will have an opportunity to beef up their security in 2021 with matching grants from the municipality. (File photo)
City of Duncan to help commercial properties increase security

Municipality to set up matching grant opportunities

John and Jeri Wyatt hope the upcoming North Cowichan public hearing will move things along toward exclusion of the Chemainus River Campground from the Agricultural Land Reserve. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Input sought on Chemainus campground ALR exclusion at public hearing

Matter back on the agenda after a late reprieve in 2019 for Chemainus River Campground owners

Vancouver resident Beryl Pye was witness to a “concerning,” spontaneous dance party that spread throughout social groups at Kitsilano Beach on April 16. (Screen grab/Beryl Pye)
VIDEO: Dance party erupts at Vancouver’s Kitsilano Beach to the dismay of onlookers

‘It was a complete disregard for current COVID-19 public health orders,’ says Vancouver resident Beryl Pye

Lord Tweedsmuir’s Tremmel States-Jones jumps a player and the goal line to score a touchdown against the Kelowna Owls in 2019. The face of high school football, along with a majority of other high school sports, could significantly change if a new governance proposal is passed at the B.C. School Sports AGM May 1. (Malin Jordan)
Power struggle: New governance model proposed for B.C. high school sports

Most commissions are against the new model, but B.C. School Sports (BCSS) and its board is in favour

Russ Ball (left) and some of the team show off the specimen after they were able to remove it Friday. Photo supplied
Courtenay fossil hunter finds ancient turtle on local river

The specimen will now make its home at the Royal BC Museum

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Pall Bearers carrying the coffin of the Duke of Edinburgh, followed by the Prince of Wales, left and Princess Anne, right, into St George’s Chapel for his funeral, at Windsor Castle, in Windsor, England, Saturday April 17, 2021. (Danny Lawson/Pool via AP)
Trudeau announces $200K donation to Duke of Edinburgh award as Prince Philip laid to rest

A tribute to the late prince’s ‘remarkable life and his selfless service,’ the Prime Minister said Saturday

B.C. homeowners are being urged to take steps to prepare for the possibility of a flood by moving equipment and other assets to higher ground. (J.R. Rardon)
‘Entire province faces risk’: B.C. citizens urged to prepare for above-average spring flooding

Larger-than-normal melting snowpack poses a threat to the province as warmer weather touches down

Vancouver-based Doubleview Gold Corp. is developing claims in an area north of Telegraph Creek that occupies an important place in Tahltan oral histories, said Chad Norman Day, president of the Tahltan Central Government. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO)
B.C. Indigenous nation opposes mineral exploration in culturally sensitive area

There’s “no way” the Tahltan would ever support a mine there, says Chad Norman Day, president of its central government

Stz’uminus Elder George Harris, Ladysmith Mayor Aaron Stone, and Stz’uminus Chief Roxanne Harris opened the ceremony. (Cole Schisler photo)
Symbolic red dresses rehung along B.C. highway after vandals tore them down

Leaders from Stz’uminus First Nation and the Town of Ladysmith hung new dresses on Sat. April 17

A Western toadlet crosses the centre line of Elk View Road in Chilliwack on Aug. 26, 2010. A tunnel underneath the road has since been installed to help them migrate cross the road. Saturday, April 24 is Save the Frogs Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Progress File)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of April 18 to 24

Save the Frogs Day, Love Your Thighs Day and Scream Day are all coming up this week

Most Read