In the June 21 issue of the Victoria Times Colonist, there is an article on the number of in-camera meetings held by Victoria’s city council.
The article says that since the start of the new term for council, it has been calculated that 75 per cent of Victoria’s council meetings were held in whole or in part “in camera” (closed to the public). It also said that Sannich held in-camera meetings 35 per cent of the time, and Nanaimo held in-camera meetings 23 per cent of the time.
This compares to Ladysmith, where almost 100 per cent of council meetings had part of the meeting held “in camera.”
According to the minutes of council meetings in our library, our city council went behind closed doors in 18 of the 19 meetings that the library had on file. The only meeting that didn’t have an in-camera session attached to it was a two-minute meeting where council approved a tax increase.
There are justifiable reasons to allow a council to go behind closed doors, but these cases should be kept to a minimum in order to assure the public a sense of openness and transparency.
One acceptable reason for holding closed-door meetings is when council is considering the sale or purchase of land or an asset, if they feel it is in the public interest to withhold this information.
Since the start of 2012, council has invoked the right to go behind closed doors for 17 issues that they classified as “land issues” — sometimes as many as three “land” issues are dealt with at a single meeting. It would be nice to know if these are separate issues or just one big one. It would be nice to know the progress on any of these issues while still keeping the key sensitive information confidential.
I was once told that in-camera meetings should be confidential and not for convenience.
Paul Brown, a former mayoral candidate for Victoria, is quoted in the Times Colonist article as saying, “Council needs to wean itself of this habit by each and every time questioning whether the risk is greater in short or long term going in camera.”
Coun. Lisa Helps is quoted as saying, ”I do think we are going in camera too much, and I think the reason is that there is an unwillingness to have hard discussions in the public. But I think it is our job to have hard discussions in public.” Well spoken.
I hope that members of Ladysmith council, when reviewing the agenda for future “in-camera” meetings, will follow Coun. Helps’s lead and stand up and say “does this discussion have to be behind closed doors, shouldn’t the public and the press have a right to a transparent government, don’t they have the right to know what is going on?”