Members of the public are not allowed to attend public meetings held by the Strathcona Regional District again due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The move came into effect in December, when the province enacted a Provincial Health Order preventing public attendance at meetings and public hearings. The order says that local governments must “continue to make ‘best efforts’ based on local circumstances to inform the public of meetings and provide alternative ways for the public to provide comment on agenda topics.” This can include email, letter or phone communication or allow people to participate electronically.
SRD Corporate Services Manager Tom Yates said that the district has been looking into ways to let the public participate virtually, but that they have been unable to do that as of yet.
“The application we are using, MS Teams, we’ve not been able to find a to have the public view that in a live environment without corrupting the process as participants in the meeting as opposed to simply observers,” he said.
Last summer, the move to exclude members of the public from attending live meetings was made to follow public health orders. Under Ministerial Orders from that time, local governments also had to make “best efforts” to ensure members of the public could attend in a virtual way. Also in the summer, the Mirror reported that other local governments use Microsoft Teams for public livestreaming.
The SRD is moving forward with livestreaming software, but have not completed the project as of yet. Directors and staff do not attend the meetings in person; they use Microsoft Teams software to connect virtually. The meetings have been streamed live at the SRD office for those interested in watching the proceedings live. Those videos have also been made public on the SRD’s Youtube Channel within a few days after the meetings are complete.
According to the Community Charter, “a council must not vote on the reading or adoption of a bylaw when its meeting is closed to the public.” Public Hearings, which typically come as the regional district is considering changing a bylaw, are also closed to public attendance. However the public have had the chance to call in to public hearings.
On the agenda for the next meeting are items concerning Electoral Area B director Noba Anderson and potential disqualification and censure motions against her. The agenda is available online here until the meeting occurs at 12:30 p.m. this Wednesday, Jan. 27.
Yates said that staff hope to have the video up on the SRD’s Youtube channel by the weekend.