Strathcona Regional District open board and committee meetings will be held throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, but without the public present.
The meetings, two of which are scheduled for this week, will be held electronically amongst the district’s directors and staff. This allows the district to carry on with its work through the crisis. However, the SRD does not have a function for the public or media to observe their meetings. The district will be posting the minutes of meetings by Friday on their website. The district will not be live-streaming or providing video or audio recordings their meetings since the technology is not available to them at this time.
On March 26, provincial Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnsworth enacted a ministerial order with slightly Orwellian wording that allows open and public meetings to occur even if the public is not allowed to attend meetings.
The exact wording of the order is that “a board… is not required to allow members of the public to attend an open meeting…” and “if a board or board committee do not allow members of the public to attend an open meeting… the open meeting is not to be considered closed to the public.”
Under that order, officially titled the “Local Government Meetings and Bylaw Process (COVID-19) Order,” governments do not have to allow the public to attend their open meetings, and the meetings will still be considered “open.”
The ministerial order does not specify info about the presence of the media as a proxy for the public. It does however allow all meetings to be done electronically, and board members who are present electronically are considered present for voting purposes. The order also allowed boards to pass and adopt bylaws in the same meeting as their third reading, which greatly expedites the process.
Under the Local Government Act, the public does have continued access to Regional District records, which includes meeting minutes. Meeting minutes include the motions passed during the meeting, directors who leave and enter the chambers, vote tallies, and brief descriptions of verbal reports and delegations. That part of the act is not affected by Farnsworth’s order.
Regional District meetings in other jurisdictions are made public through various means. The Comox Valley Regional District has closed their meetings to the public, but are encouraging members of the public to view agendas and make submissions to be read during the meetings. Videos of the meetings, including ones where directors telecommute are posted to the district’s Youtube channel after the meetings. The Regional District of Nanaimo regularly has a live feed of their meetings and posts the audio recordings after the meetings.
The City of Campbell River has also set up a livestream and posts videos of their council meetings online after the fact.
Members of the public can still file applications to be delegations for the board and committee meetings, and will be added to agendas at later dates. All public hearings, meanwhile, have been postponed.
The order is in effect until the end of the provincial state of emergency around COVID-19.
Two meetings are to be held this week. Both the Regional Board meeting and the meeting of the Strathcona Gardens Commission. The agendas are posted online at https://srd.ca/about/agendas-minutes/ and minutes of these meetings will be posted on Friday.