(Black Press files)

Local meetings slowly moving online due to COVID-19

COVID-19 highlights need for digital updates, public meetings

Municipalities across B.C. have been forced to adapt the way they conduct public meetings.

Selina Robinson, the B.C. Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, applauded the continued cooperation between municipalities and the province in a statement released on Monday (May 4).

“Local governments will be a key partner in our recovery effort,” Robinson said. “Construction and development activities are expected to be a key part of B.C.’s recovery efforts – and building housing, in particular, affordable housing, will contribute to our goal to provide affordable housing for all British Columbians.”

RELATED: Mayor: Harrison officials stress staying the course, looking ahead

Public meetings concerning land development and zoning are frequent subjects of municipal council meetings all across the province, and Agassiz-Harrison is certainly no exception. Local governments are required to hold public hearings for certain development applications prior to making a decision. According to the release, not having these public meetings due to the coronavirus pandemic is simply not an option as the delay in application submission could result in increased cost or worsen an already long list of canceled projects, which would further negatively impact local economies everywhere.

On a broader scale as public meetings go, ministerial orders to allow for electronic public meetings to take place could open up a whole new level of civic engagement in communities that previously had little or no access to such services. While not uncommon in bigger cities, documentation or even live streaming of public meetings in smaller communities were a bit harder to come by before the pandemic hit.

Harrison Hot Springs Mayor Leo Facio recently announced the village council would soon test their video recording system for their council meetings and have the meeting posted for viewing the following day. Village officials confirmed video recording hardware was tested at the most recent council meeting on Monday (May 4) – May’s only council meeting for the village. The Observer has been in attendance via conference call in recent meetings. Prior to this, Harrison started releasing the draft minutes of each meeting to keep villagers up to date while further improvements are in the works.

RELATED: District of Kent to webcast next council meeting

Earlier in April, the District of Kent held their first-ever public meeting available via online broadcast. Through the use of Microsoft Teams, members of the public were able to register to and attend the public meeting in which they could comment on and ask questions about upcoming proposed regulations. The entire meeting was not available via online broadcast. However, the relative lack of technical difficulties during the meeting period may speak to a promising future for more online content from the district. For the moment, the District of Kent hosts council meeting highlights via their web page at https://www.kentbc.ca.

The steps taken to bring their meetings into the virtual world are especially important for transparency on the local level, given the current council meetings are restricted or outright cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.


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