Friday, May 14, 2021

When it comes to Government process and financial elements; BC municipalities now have option to make temporary COVID governance measures full time ones

If they wish, the members of Prince Rupert City Council will be able continue to make it a Zoom event for their Council sessions, as that and a range of other 'temporary measures' are set to become permanent once the current COVID related measures come to an end.

Josie Osborne, the Minister of Municipal Affairs and former municipal politician outlined the course ahead for municipal governments yesterday, explaining how the special measures of COVID will become permanent.

 “The COVID-19 pandemic has changed all our lives, and local governments have been on the front lines delivering the critical services people in communities count on. The lessons we’ve learned during the past year have shown us how we can do things better. We are hearing that having the option to participate in public hearings and meetings virtually is more equitable for people who face barriers to joining in person, which is why we are giving communities the power to do a mix of virtual, in-person or hybrid meetings, while maintaining transparency safeguards.” 

The civic governance changes will provide municipalities and regional districts in B.C. with new permanent authorities, a process which will allow  them to hold virtual and hybrid meetings and public hearings in addition to in-person meetings

Something the Municipal Affair Minister observed means that local governments can focus better on the specific needs of their communities when holding meetings and hearings. 

The changes will come into effect once the COVID-19 emergency authorities for electronic meetings and public hearings are lifted. Prince Rupert Council has for the most part been meeting remotely since those COVID measures were put in place, only recently shifting the process to the Zoom option.

Hopefully, Prince Rupert Council chooses the hybrid route, returning to in person council proceedings and inviting the public to once again have full access to the Council Chamber and City Hall for that matter.
As well, the announcement  of Thursday will now offer the chance to introduce the remote participation model permanently, that something  which would allow for full engagement of community residents in the local government process.

Some of the other elements of the pending legislation include:

Expand eligibility for mail ballot voting by bylaw in local government elections 

Permit improvement districts greater flexibility with the timing of their annual general meetings and trustee terms 

And create new ministerial authorities for borrowing in emergency situations and elections administration matters, allowing the Province to be more responsive in future extraordinary events.

The expansion of the COVID related measures for more general use will also be of note for the City's Financial Office,  as the legislation also ensures extraordinary financial measures and corresponding repayment obligations currently under COVID-19 Ministerial Order 159, which is set to expire on July 10, 2021, will continue to have legal effect after this date. 

That means local governments can continue to meet their repayment and other obligations as originally intended under the order.

Some of the areas where that may be of interest to Council and the CFO are on the list below:

Click to enlarge

More on the provincial governments plan can be explored here.

The announcement comes just ahed of Local Government Awareness Week in the province, 

With the initiative one that is only a day old, there so far has been no mention of the provincial government's move from the City Council or by the Mayor through his social media feed.

For more notes on the BC Legislature see our archive page here.

A wider overview of City Council themes can be explored through our Council Discussion page.

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