Thursday, September 29, 2022

Dedication to Transparency and Accountability needs a more detailed narrative from the candidates

Two themes that have probably marked every political campaign for every office anywhere that a democracy can be found, took a bit longer this time around to get to the talking stage when it comes to the Prince Rupert civic election campaign.   

But with Monday's Election Forum at the Lester Centre, voters did get a chance to hear the views of both incumbents and challengers for office on the popular messages of Transparency and Accountability at City Hall.

The theme is one that often is the first thing to come from a candidate upon entering an election race: the challengers observing on their desire for more of it; the incumbents suggesting they have been doing their best.

And while the timeline was a bit delayed for its introduction this time around, the above description pretty well sums up the split when it come to the candidates on the topic in this campaign. 

As we outlined in both our Mayoralty candidate review and that of Council candidates, the Question at Monday's forum brought a range of answers.

For the incumbents, many retreated to their mantra at Council that they can't comment on many items owing to Land, Legal and Labour themes ...  which we imagine accounts for the 16 Closed Council sessions to date this year (23 in 2021) and little in the way of any disclosure on many of the items that come from them. 

However, a glimpse into how the current Council membership may have considered the topic of Transparency actually came out of the State of the City presentation back in June, a showcase event which was noted by a few of the candidates on Monday as part of their tributes to the goal of more transparency.

Following the State of the City show in June, we outlined a curious bit of phrasing from Mayor Lee Brain during a segment related to Watson Island and Legacy Fund themes. 

The Mayor on that night noting of some discussion in town over the term of office on transparency, stating:"if it means you know some people questioning transparency versus saving the town, well I'll choose Saving the Town over that"

The full commentary can be retrieved from the State of the City presentation at the one hour thirty nine minute mark of the June presentation. 

It made for quite a shift in opinion on the theme for the Mayor from his campaign days of 2014

The Mayor's proclamation wasn't picked up on by the current council members during subsequent Council sessions that followed right up to this month; so there has been no indication since late June towards whether they as a group concur with that belief on when transparency can, or should be trumped.

The legacy of Transparency and Accountability in Prince Rupert Civic politics has a long timeline and reaches into many previous Council years and even towards candidate Herb Pond, who is now seeking a return to the Mayor's office.  

Back in 2008 the City Hall of the day which was led by Mayor Pond,  was a focus of a number of media accounts both local and provincial that related to a civic contract hiring of the time and concerns  over transparency and accountability. 

The controversy of the time was one which the then Mayor addressed citing the period of civic governance as an unusual decision for unusual circumstances, that theme delivered  through a follow up letter to the editor of the Daily News at the time.

So as candidate Pond was shaping his narrative on Transparency themes for Monday night from the stage of the Lester Centre, he may have been calling on the ghosts of 2008 to help frame his commentary and views as to how the topic should be best addressed, should he gain the confidence of the voters for a return to office next month.

Those days of 2008 did seem to stoke more interest in the workings of municipal government in town, the  controversy of that period of time, was one that spurred two candidates in the 2008 election campaign to seek office.  

Gina Garon and Anna Ashley,  were candidates who both ran successful campaigns some of which was notable for their concerns related to the discussions in the council chamber in the years previous.

Sheila Gordon Payne who also has past council experience, as well as her own run for the mayoralty back in 2014, may have been searching the memory files on Monday as well. 

The Former councillor (2005, 2008) thinking back to her time on Council and the challenges on more open government that were presented in those days and how they were addressed at the time.

The topic of Transparency and Accountability is unfortunately one that  doesn't seem to be an area of interest for local media; which for the most part doesn't cover much in the way of anything when it comes to local council themes to begin with.

So, when you combine the lack of local oversight by the media, with a voter turnout of just over 30 percent in the last election ... it's probably not a stretch to think that anyone on Council, or in senior staff at City Hall might have a thought that issues of transparency or accountability may not be all that important to the public.

As the 2022 campaign works its way to the finish line on October 15th those residents that will bother to vote this year, will have to weigh the topic with sone consideration. 

Using the next few weeks to determine which of the candidates is truly a disciple of more transparency and open discussion at Council; with those that may find it useful for a campaign theme on the way to office,  followed by little attention to the goal  during the course of a four year term.

You can review the themes of the 2022 campaign through our archive page here.


  1. Under the Community Charter the general rule is that council meetings are open to the public subject to some exceptions where a meeting may be closed and a very short list (made even shorter in February) where the meeting must be closed.

    The outgoing mayor and incumbent councillors seem to operate on the opposite premise that there are large areas - the three L's of Labour, Land and Legal - that must be discussed in closed meetings, although none of them are on the list of topics that must be considered in closed meetings.

    As for the mayor's rather theatrical statement where he would choose "saving the town" (whatever that means) over transparency, transparency is governed by the Community Charter and on some issues (notably personal privacy) by the Freedom of Information & Protection of Privacy Act. There is no 'nuclear option' where elected politicians can ignore those requirements because of a perception of necessity.

    Herb Pond and Sheila Gordon-Payne gave answers that reflect a more nuanced understanding of transparency - perhaps because of the controversy in 2008 - than was evident from the overly simplistic statements of some of the incumbents.

  2. Good luck to the candidates.

    Words of wisdom from the peanut gallery,

    Remember that there is a big difference between campaigning and governing.

    You are what you do, not what you say you'll do.

    Election day is October 15th.