Friday, April 24, 2020

With a potential return to some form of public City Council sessions on the horizon; it's time for something more than governance by Facebook

Image from past letter to residents from Mayor Lee Brain

If they keep to the original schedule from the start of this year, Prince Rupert City Councillors will meet in public session on Monday, that after having cancelled the only other Council session for April at the start of this month.

Now, as we are still in the midst of the Provincial response to COVID-19 they may not all be in the Council Chamber and in fact the Council session may be as it is in other communities, making for some form of hybrid creation, with Council members joining in by electronic means to carry on with a nod towards community democracy.

Whatever plan they have in mind, like a lot of things out of City Hall these days, it's all a bit of a secret, perhaps only known to Mayor Lee Brain and an inner circle of those around him.

Since the roll out of the measures of Local State of Emergency at the March 23rd meeting and subsequent cancellation of the April 6th meeting owing to "a lack of business"; there have been no public advisories delivered to date as to what the path ahead for Council sessions may be for the Mayor, the Council or civic staff.

One thing is certain however, should the Mayor and Councillors meet on Monday, the monthly opportunity for the public to ask questions or make comments won't take place.

That as the City Council has already cancelled the Council of the Whole process for the month, the advisory issued through a notice posted on Monday; eliminating that one portion of the public sessions where residents can actually participate in local government.

Monday marks the second consecutive cancellation of Committee of the Whole in Prince Rupert.

The last time the Council membership gathered in the view of the public was at that March 23rd session, when the Mayor and the six elected members put forward their Local State of Emergency Declaration related to the COVID-19 situation.

It was a document which delivered only two local orders and lasted in place for less than three days, before the Premier and Solicitor General, introduced their own province wide measures.

A move by Mr. Horgan and Mr. Farnworth which effectively left the Prince Rupert Act one for the top shelf in the Mayor's office; something which did not seemingly sit well with Mr. Brain.

Since then, there has been little in the way of information to come from City Hall, the vast majority of the themes of local governance for the most part channelled through the Mayor's Social Media page.

A portal where the Mayor's tightly controlled narrative usually gains approval from his loyal followers, with little in the way of a contrarian thought welcomed.

By comparison, for the most part any requests for comment or confirmation on important topics from media organizations in recent times, has usually resulted in a final observation from each story, a theme that seems to go along the lines of:

"however Lee Brain did not make himself available ...  or ...  the City of Prince Rupert has not replied to a request for comment"

City gives no response to homelessness concerns
Prince Rupert wants stricter isolation rules for BC's North Coast ...

In early April, Terrace based TV7 aired a report on how local governments across the Northwest were responding to the current challenges of the COVID-19 situation; one community was missing in the round up, we won't spoil the surprise for North Coast viewers!

Even the prospect of some national attention at times doesn't seem to draw the Mayor out for a comment these days ...

Whatever Ms. Stueck may have wanted to ask in her request of the Mayor from April 7th; her quest doesn't appear to have had much success, as the subsequent story went to print with no mention of the Mayor of Prince Rupert.

Lack of comment from the Mayor was also prominent in the fall, that during a string of articles related to themes on water woes in the region, with reporters from Global TV noting that attempts to speak to the mayor did not find much success.

In what seems to be a pattern of late, when the questions appear that they might get a little tough, the default is to bring down the cone of silence, using the friendlier confines of the Facebook page for message delivery.

Something that is apparently the best and only practice that is to be followed.

The somewhat reclusive approach to public commentary isn't limited to the Mayor however, over the last six weeks the public has seen little contribution to themes of governance from the Council members either.

With the six elected councillors having been quite silent on any number of themes that have come up in recent weeks.

There's a bit of a laundry list of late to consider, areas of note where some actual public discussion from Council might have helped us all to better understand the current drift away from accountability that the city is showing.

Among some of the items where much more should have been expected: a review and discussion of the range of measures that the City had wished to adopt as part of their proposed Emergency plans and  the Mayor's rather hostile approach towards the province that followed the suspension of the Local State of Emergency. 

More recent themes could have included the situation surrounding the fate of the local homeless shelter, or whether civic Budget issues may be impacted by the new reality of troubled economic times,  a pair of key topics for the community that have not seen any contribution of note from Council

Instead the recent lack of engagement from those who have been elected to public office has been disappointing at best; at worst it's an indication of a stark disengagement from their purpose as part of the democratic process of elected governance.

At the best of times, hoping that the council members may ask much in the way of a substantive question during a Council session is at times just wishful thinking.

For the most part they seem content to play the  role of extras content to remain in the background for past Council sessions whether they be those fascinating seven minute ones; or those challenging nights that almost make it to a full hour.

On most nights the Council members offer little insight as to how the city embarks on many of the plans they roll out, proposed ventures that they have clearly developed in previous closed door sessions and what seem to be a growing number of out of view workshops.

Perhaps with the benefit of some time away from the spotlight they'll come back energized next week and with a renewed focus as to what their roles may be as part of City Council.

If so, hopefully the first thing that they will seek to call attention to is the need to make City Council once again the focus for civic governance and information sharing, advising the Mayor to perhaps not default the workings of civic governance to a social media page.

A forum of late where a small group of followers at times seems to have more sway on civic policy and direction, than that of the larger and perhaps not quite as social media active pool of residents, who instead have chosen to have elected officials form those policies.

A look at some past themes from City Council can be reviewed here.


  1. The "Strengthening Our Position" slogan on the group photo says a lot. The mayor and his mute councillors have strengthened their position. A full-time salary for the mayor long after the rationale went away. Council honouraria was increased. Yet, public meetings usually last only a few minutes to rubber stamp decisions made elsewhere by means unknown. And the buck is passed to the MLA and Province - who are providing effective government - rather than working in partnership like local governments elsewhere are doing. Effectively the mayor and council are on paid leave of absence.

    Meanwhile, I see on the mayor's Facebook page that he is musing that municipal government could do more if only they had more power, including to run deficits. There is no mention of greater public accountability.

    As for the mayor signing off his Facebook posts with expressions of "love", it all gets a bit much, but then maybe even he knows that his former "in your service" sign off would sound a bit hollow these days.

  2. haters gonna hate haha

    1. ? Don’t you want information as to what’s going on with your tax dollars?

    2. I'm not sure that the Facebook model of "information" as seen often through the Mayor's FB page ins't much more than what they call Social Media click bait ...

      Now this contribution from Councillor Barry Cunningham, this is how a City Council should operate and how they should inform the community, Bravo Councillor Cunningham, this is well said ...


  3. Hate? No. But sometimes love is blind.

  4. Hopefully councillor Cunningham will be allowed to turn his fine words on public engagement into action, considering that the mayor is so much the centre of attention and seems to take personal ownership of anything positive.

  5. I would rather prefer we stop governance by facebook. Had to unfollow the guy's page because it became too clickbait-y. I know most municipal mayors offer a "personal" page on the south coast in like sized communities, but they usually parrot offical city postings, NOT announce the policy. Seriously, whoever runs to put a social media policy for city hall will win my vote.