An editorial by Mel Rothenburger.
IT’S HARD TO ARGUE against creating more opportunities for people to serve on City council and, indeed, not a single comment, let alone dissent, was offered around the Kamloops council table on a proposal to significantly expand the use of online meetings in certain circumstances.
On a motion by Coun. Dale Bass, council supported allowing up to two councillors on parental and/or caregiver leave to participate in council meetings from home via electronic means as often as they want.
A well-intended gesture, and it might encourage more women in particular to run, but it deserves some scrutiny. What if three or more successful candidates want to take advantage of the new policy? Which two get the benefit?
Secondly, while COVID has proven that online meetings are a good way to handle occasional situations in which some members can’t attend a meeting, no one suggests that meeting online is preferable to being there in person.
Sitting at home and trying to interact with a group dealing with sensitive or complex issues isn’t as good as everyone being in the same room. It just isn’t, and should be reserved for times when a councillor is out of town or under the weather as current guidelines provide.
It’s a tool to be used sparingly.
Thirdly, being a councillor is about more than attending council meetings. Meeting with constituents and attending public events are important parts of it. Working from home doesn’t always cut it.
Increasing opportunities for aspirants to seek public office is a good thing but I’m not sure this motion actually accomplishes much. Nevertheless, the thought behind the motion, which also includes a clause about accommodating members with “diverse abilities,” is worth exploring.
Why not look at the issue of accessibility to civic politics on a broad basis rather than as a one-off that might create more problems than it fixes?
That would be a worthwhile exercise.
Mel Rothenburger is a former mayor of Kamloops and a retired newspaper editor. He is a regular contributor to CFJC Today, publishes the ArmchairMayor.ca opinion website, and is a director on the Thompson-Nicola Regional District board. He can be reached at email@example.com.