Bits and Pieces: Back to the Future??

Ron Bolin: Jan. 29, 2015

Councillors: You ran… Now don’t hide…

[Note: This post was accidentally deleted.  This is a repost.]
There was a time when it was impossible for a municipal population to be imminently and intimately connected to municipal decision making. That day, given tv, video, Wi-Fi and internet developments, has now been over for some time and the public has a shot at an enhanced democracy.

Not so long ago, in an enlightened moment, the Council of the Day moved to avail itself and the public of the benefits of modern technology. It moved the Committee of the Whole (COW) meetings to the VICC which is owned by the City and provides space and facilities for adequate public participation in the governance of our municipality. It further undertook to ensure that all could potentially participate by either immediate or imminent video capture or transmission thus providing a complete and open public record of public proceedings rather than severely edited minutes. The essence of democracy is that the business of the public take place in public.

Now, in a difficult to comprehend turn of events, while discussing whether the issuance of Council meeting agendas should provide at least a minimum of time for consideration and question before a meeting takes place, there appears to be a movement to put back the veil which practically, if not absolutely, separated the public from Staff reports and Council decisions at COW meetings by removing the full public record provided by video and by dismissing most of the public from the meetings themselves by retreating to a small board room at times which make it impossible for most people to attend.

While it is easy to imagine that unwitnessed meetings are more comfortable for those involved, it is as dangerous to the public weal as taking the easy way in serious matters is to personal development. I do not recall any of our Councillors who campaigned on making the jobs for which they were campaigning easier by effectively bypassing the public.

Rather than trying to hide from public observation, Council should be moving to make all its meetings open to both immediate and imminent public participation by video capture and distribution: Special Council Meetings, Committee Meetings, even In-Camera meetings, though these would be subject to the same withholding conditions of current in-camera documents.

Councillors: You ran… Now don’t hide…

Empire Days, Culture and Heritage

I was perturbed at the Council meeting on the 19th where, in a moment of passion like that of the Leadercast event which brought Nanaimo into infamy across the country, Council acted similarly precipitously to withhold $3000 out of a total of $231,826 brought forward by Diane Brennan, Chair of the Cultural Committee/Heritage Commission, on behalf of some 24 requesting groups. The hold was placed on the funding recommended for the Empire Days Celebration Society, until that group changed its name to remove the reference to “Empire”, from this event which has been celebrated in Nanaimo since 1863 and is reputed to be the oldest annual continuous community celebrations of Victoria Day without a break in the Commonwealth.

I do not propose to get into an argument regarding the moral issues involved in Empire, but I do wish to suggest that, like any matter which comes before Council for decision, it is something which deserves better examination, discussion and public scrutiny than it was given by being entirely contained within the confines of a single meeting and without benefit of notice in the agenda. This is exactly the same situation as occurred in the Leadercast debacle even though it may not have the legs to carry it all across Canada.

The situation also reminded me of a similar occurrence, though not so precipitate, which took place when I was working in Jamaica with the Survey Department in the preparation of a Request for Proposals for a computer system for digital mapping and land titling. Naturally, as background to the situation existing in Jamaica, the subject of the history of mapping and land titling arose. As it happened, the issue aroused considerable lively debate about whether that history should include the period under slavery or whether that period should be forgotten in the document as it was hoped to be forgotten in life on the island. Note: It has not been forgotten.

On the other hand, when in Singapore, a throwaway comment disparaging the British heritage in the development of Singapore and its institutions was quickly put down by the civil servants among whom I worked as uninformed.

It is all a matter of our perception of history and its hold on us today. I do not know whether the Empire in Nanaimo should be recognized or forgotten. But I do know that to do so without sober consideration is thoughtless indeed and that history may be forgotten but, but while its manifestations can be modified, it cannot be changed.



More on Culture and Heritage

I attended one of the recent meetings held by the City to introduce Nanaimo’s cultural and heritage organizations to new procedures for applying for City grant money. I attended the afternoon session at which some 35 organizations were represented and found the presentation to be encouraging regarding new methods for assessing the worthiness of applicants for taxpayer funding. It sounded as though the procedures and, even more importantly the assessments of activities and successes, may perhaps have been less than rigorous in the past. The new procedures should overcome this situation. Nanaimo has some outstanding organizations and activities in the area of culture and Heritage and they are deserving of our assistance.

Questions remain however, about how much assistance and for how long. When I questioned whether we should be looking forward to some or all of these now tax supported agencies eventually reaching a time when they could fly on their own, the notion was not met with enthusiasm. Rather one of the participants noted that the arts always require assistance from the public whether via private patrons or the tax purse. This left me wondering: if all current cultural or heritage organizations are to be supported by taxpayers, a) why should private patrons provide support; and b) how do new organizations get on the supported list if all old organizations require funding forever? I suspect that these are questions which, while needing to be kept in mind, are more the subject of instance than of ultimate solution.

But another, more significant point came clear. If we look at the millions which are spent by the City on culture and heritage, the paltry sum of some $231,000 which was recently divided among some 24 agencies requesting operating or special function grants pales in comparison to the millions spent in the area on capital projects. Why are we willing to spend millions on facilities which many, if not most, of the agencies we support cannot afford to use? In requesting a list of all of the facilities available for theatrical events, for example: City, University, School Board, private, etc. I was told that no such list existed. It should. This area, as others, warrants attention.