I’ve written before in this space of the value of virtual council sessions, which have enabled reporters to attend more meetings free of travel restrictions or scheduling conflicts. Though not without some technological mishaps, a virtual option has made discussions during meetings easier to see and hear because of the ability of viewers to adjust volume and have a clear view of faces rather than the backs of heads that can come from meeting room space challenges.
Virtual meetings have also been helpful for the public. Rather than needing to arrange childcare or drive to council sessions during breaks from work, or wait hours in council chambers for one agenda item of interest, viewers are more able to multitask while a video plays at low volume, tuning in when they so choose.
Think of the benefit this has brought to the county’s seasonal residents alone, who can hear the discussions – even make delegations remotely – from wherever they are during the week, during the winter, on the local matters that are important to them year-round. Councillors too, can take in discussions on similar issues happening in neighbouring townships without travelling to attend in person – and some have, bringing knowledge learned back with them.
If a video is uploaded to YouTube for access after the meeting, the advantages for the press and public increase. Now, reporters don’t need to juggle schedules as much to ensure meetings can be attended – those who prefer to work at night or on weekends can tune into recorded meetings at that time, or attend one meeting in person, catching up on another meeting later. This is especially important because greater access to meetings has meant, well, more meetings.
The option of nighttime council meetings is available in some other towns throughout the province but a recorded meeting available online allows for nighttime views of meetings that took place during daytime regular work hours without having to shift work schedules for township staff. If a constituent has a question after a meeting, township staff – or councillors themselves – can send them a link pointing to the moment in the meeting in which they’ll find answers in the form of a full discussion. Overall, a recorded option allows for greater transparency and accountability.
Minden Hills council remains the only council in the county to offer the press and public livestream recordings only while the council meetings are in session. If you don’t watch them as they’re happening, they aren’t available to view later. On the township’s YouTube page, there’s no content.
Compare that to the offerings from Algonquin Highlands, Dysart et al, Highlands East, or the county, which offer uploaded videos for varying lengths of time – sometimes longer than a year. From the Dysart et al YouTube page, it’s possible to watch the municipality’s May 5, 2020 meeting to your heart’s content. That video has had 270 views, far surpassing the number of people who usually show up to council meetings, or would even fit in council chambers. The shoreline preservation bylaw virtual open house held by county council last year in July has been viewed more than 1,100 times and can still be referenced ahead of next week’s shoreline preservation bylaw meeting for those who want to catch up – in fact, a message from the county to the public suggests just that for those who’ve missed the previous discussions.
If the virtual sessions have boosted public participation, enabling broader access to them for some time after they happen has removed some significant barriers for increased civic engagement. Time for Minden Hills council to offer that same opportunity, with just the click of a mouse.