The view from Coun. Colin Plant’s seat in the council chambers during the audience-free half of the Feb. 11 public hearing. (Colin Plant/Twitter)

The view from Coun. Colin Plant’s seat in the council chambers during the audience-free half of the Feb. 11 public hearing. (Colin Plant/Twitter)

Saanich council ponders meaning of a public hearing with no audience

‘Public engagement and consultation are really critical,’ noted one councillor

Saanich council addressed an empty gallery during the last half of the Feb. 11 public hearing.

There were four items on the agenda for the Tuesday night public hearing but the audience left halfway through. Council continued on as though there were still residents in attendance.

Once the first two items – a temporary use permit and a zoning bylaw amendment paired with a heritage designation – had been discussed and passed, the public filtered out leaving council to continue the hearing alone.

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Council passed the final two proposed zoning bylaw amendments.

After the meeting, Coun. Colin Plant took to Twitter to remark that, as far as he could recall, this was only the second time Saanich has held a public hearing with no public.

In August, council had a public hearing with three items on the agenda. Audience members slowly trickled out and by the third item, there was no one left in the gallery. At the time, Plant noted that in more than four years of being involved in local politics, he’d never seen a public hearing with no audience.

Following the Feb. 11 hearing, Plant said he has mixed feelings about an empty chamber; on one hand, he values public input but on the other, he takes the lack of public commentary as a sign that residents approve of what has been proposed.

Coun. Ned Taylor pointed out that some public hearings draw large crowds but that the level of controversy surrounding the items influences attendance. He also acknowledged that public hearings take place in the evening making them inaccessible to many – such as those who work nights, have small children or need to study.

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He emphasized that “public engagement and consultation are really critical” because it helps elected officials gauge what matters to the community, but that the hearings aren’t the only way to provide input. Taylor feels it’s important that councils be proactive and engage residents through online surveys, open houses or advisory positions.

Plant pointed out that public engagement seems to have increased during his time on council and he feels this is due to procedure changes as well as the public’s knowledge that the current council values and considers the public’s input.


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devon.bidal@saanichnews.com