North Saanich councillors are about to enact an oath of office and one of them has questioned why it’s needed at all.
Coun. Murray Weisenberger challenged Mayor Alice Finall at the Feb. 19 council meeting, saying the mayor “seems to think councillors need to be prevented from talking about what goes on behind closed doors.”
The proposed oath of office has a section — and it’s clearly the largest of the requirements within the oath — that would have councillors, current and future, affirming their willingness to keep in confidence records, information and discussions that take place in meetings lawfully closed to the public.
Weisenberger said the B.C. Community Charter already has this stipulation in place.
“I fail to see the logical reason to do this,” he said. “If I thought that that was not the case, I’d be singing like a canary here, ‘cause I think there’s a lot of things that people would like to know about what goes on in closed meetings. but I don’t, because it’s in the Community Charter and I’m not allowed to do that.”
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Part 5 of the Community Charter does, in fact, outline that very thing under its statements on council roles and responsibilities.
The same section of the Charter also states “A person elected or appointed to office on a council must (emphasis ours) make an oath or solemn affirmation of office…” within a specified time frame. If a person fails to do so, continues the Charter, the person is disqualified from holding office.
North Saanich council did not have a bylaw requiring such an oath before 2010 and had used the oath as prescribed by provincial regulation. As part of its strategic plan, council set out to consider putting a bylaw in place to formally establish an oath in North Saanich.
Staff reported that council put a bylaw in place in 2010, but it differed “in that it contained an additional provision to highlight the duties of council members and former council members to respect confidentiality.” The bylaw was repealed by council in 2012, returning the District to its pre-2010 state of affairs.
The staff report also pointed out council is not required to establish an oath of office bylaw, if it so wishes.
Finall pointed to that background by staff, in answer to Weisenberger’s challenge.
Council voted for the new oath and will officially ratify it at an upcoming meeting.