Saanich council approves studying public participation at council meetings

Motion put forward by Coun. Colin Plant asks staff to come back with option in three weeks

Rookie Saanich Coun. Colin Plant is pushing forward with one of his first acts as an elected official: allowing residents to address council on any topic of interest at public meetings.

On Monday, Plant put forward a report that requests staff look into how other municipalities allow public participation at council meetings. Staff will return with options on how to implement any potential changes by Jan. 26.

“During the campaign, one of the things that we heard overwhelmingly, was the fact that people felt Saanich council wasn’t open to residents to be heard from,” Plant said.

“Moving forward, regardless of the governance review … we can at least in the interim put our money where our mouth is and really show right away that one of the most important things we value as a council is the public input.”

One of those options could include concluding in-camera business prior to the start of council meetings, a relatively easy method done elsewhere in the region except in exceptional circumstances.

Esquimalt holds its in-camera business mostly before public council meetings.

The method allows the public and council a chance to interact immediately following meetings, but it wasn’t done intentionally as a way to foster public engagement, said Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins.

“It certainly does allow for the public to mingle with council after meetings, but it’s just a matter of your mind being focused on the information at hand. If it’s in-camera, it’s usually significant, and your focus is there at the beginning of the night,” Desjardins said.

“Running into 11 p.m. and midnight meetings where you then have to engage in in-camera decisions can be tough.”

Desjardins added anything that improves public contact “is all good.”

Saanich Mayor Richard Atwell said he hopes Plant’s report and request to staff receives unanimous council support.

“I think it’s time to move these things forward and we don’t have time to waste. The sooner we open this up the better,” Atwell said.

“Other municipalities have a system that works for them and it may be as simple as replicating the system of View Royal or Esquimalt. I’m interested to see what staff will present to us moving forward,” Atwell added.

Council voted unanimously to pass Plant’s motion Monday night.

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