EDITORIAL: Begging the question

Question periods – and other avenues for community feedback – work for many city councils across BC, but why not White Rock?

It’s a fair question – as the saying goes.

We must continue to wonder why White Rock city council one year ago banned any semblance of a citizens’ question period from its regular public meetings, and last week further restricted delegations.

The ability to ask questions may not be enshrined as a basic human right – but an inquisitive intellect has been seen, since ancient times, as a cornerstone of scientific method.

When it comes to government – whether locally, provincially or federally – we do have a right to be informed about issues that affect us. And those who accept, without question, the word of this or that authority, are unlikely to be adequately informed.

Naturally, there are many kinds of questions. Some are intelligent and on topic, some are little more than leading and argumentative, some simply foolish. Some may even be repeated ad infinitum – an irritant. Public question periods may indeed be subject to many abuses, but that is no good reason to abolish them.

This is where rules of order and the ability to run an effective meeting – a prime requisite of those seeking political office – should come in. There are rules in place for respectful public conduct, and recourses available when lines have been crossed.

We have heard from White Rock leaders that more than half of municipal governments in B.C. have done away with public question periods. While the non-partisan watchdog IntegrityBC doesn’t have full statistics on this, an informal survey suggests such a guestimate is incorrect.

What cited examples do indicate is that the concept of a public question period is far from dead among other civic governments.

In Sidney, a 20-minute public-participation period is the opener of most council meetings. In Saanich, an ‘open mic’ is held monthly. In Rossland, residents not only have public-input periods, with a chance of council responding, but are also allowed ‘meaningful’ input on agenda items.

In Oak Bay, attendees have three minutes to address any issue – and it doesn’t even have to be a question. Nanaimo has a question-and-answer session. The Regional District of Central Kootenay allows public questions, and so does Kaslo Village Council. Questions at Penticton and Summerland meetings must pertain to agenda items and, in West Vancouver, submissions and questions are allowed – usually after most agenda items.

Why should public question periods work for other communities and not here?