If you’ve always wished you could watch city council meetings online from the comfort of your own home, keep wishing.
In a 5-2 vote, city council decided against webstreaming future meetings. Providing the service would have added $30,000 a year to the city’s budget, a price that most of council wasn’t willing to pay.
“I think this is a little excessive,” said Coun. Cathy Heron.
Heron felt the public has ample opportunity to view council meetings given that Shaw broadcasts them.
Local environmentalist and council watcher Elke Blodgett was livid at the decision because many council meetings run longer than Shaw’s four-hour cutoff.
“Council might as well meet in camera for all the public is to know about what’s going on,” Blodgett said.
She said council hasn’t lived up to its promises of better communication.
“So far it’s only made it worse by council meeting at three in the afternoon when most people can’t come,” she said. “I’m literally speechless that in this era of modern technology there’s no way of letting the public take part in major decisions in this city.”
Improving communication was a major campaign focus of many of the councillors, including Mayor Nolan Crouse. Shortly after being elected, council passed a motion that Crouse put forward to develop a communication strategy.
Crouse defended Thursday’s decision by saying council hasn’t started to brainstorm ideas, meaning it would be premature to assume that webstreaming will be part of its communication strategy.
“I’m not going to jump to the conclusion that streaming video for $30,000 is the solution,” he said.
“I’m not going to just start throwing money at communicating in all kinds of fashions.”
Heron also defended her decision.
“We’re working on lots of different ways to be transparent,” she added, noting that councillors are making an effort to be available through email and in person.
People who can’t attend meetings can keep tabs on council by recording the Shaw broadcasts or reading council minutes, she said.
“We’re a pretty transparent council. People have every opportunity to know what we’re doing,” Heron said.
It was Coun. Cam MacKay who urged council to fund the webstreaming program. He said many residents have asked him why they can’t watch a full council meeting. He felt the $30,000 cost was “a very small sum” for a project that would expand council’s public communication and accountability.
“There’s a lot of people who never even watch television today but get the vast majority of their information from the web,” MacKay said. “This opens council chambers up to a whole new demographic of people.”
Another benefit of webstreaming is that the meetings could be archived and viewed later, he said.
“I think it’s a bold step forward and we can’t rely on Shaw to broadcast our services forever,” he said.
Coun. Wes Brodhead was the only other member to support MacKay’s motion.