Nanaimo city council has opted to continue to live-stream meetings, even during this fall’s election campaign.
A motion to suspend live-streams was during the campaign was recommended by city staff but failed on a 4-4 tie vote at a meeting July 4.
Sheila Gurrie, the city’s chief election officer, said the purpose of the recommendation was out of fairness to all candidates, and also to try to ensure that councillors and members of the public will stick to council business at meetings.
“Not to suggest this of any of you, but some council members that are going to be running again could use this opportunity as a campaign pulpit, and/or people that are running that aren’t members of council could use it as an opportunity to campaign,” Gurrie said.
A staff report noted that live-streaming, broadcasting and posting of recorded council and committee meetings was suspended during the 2008, 2011 and 2014 election cycles, but council opted not to continue that practice in 2018.
Coun. Ian Thorpe said suspending live-streams is considered best practice and has been done for good reason in past years.
“I’ve seen it happen in the past: grandstanding by incumbent councillors and in fact, also would-be councillors coming to the podium as a delegation…” Thorpe said. “This [recommendation] levels the playing field to the extent that we don’t have to deal with that.”
Mayor Leonard Krog also said he felt strongly that live-streams should be suspended during the campaign and said that it is a recommended, ethical and appropriate policy.
“I’m rather conscious of the advantage of incumbency and what it means when others are challenging an incumbent,” he said. “So anyone who wishes to get a seat on council who goes up against a council that is still getting … free TV time for the whole period of the campaign faces an uphill battle.”
Coun. Jim Turley was also in favour of the blackout for reasons of fairness, though he noted that the live-streams could also be a disadvantage if councillors are faced with making an unpopular decision.
However, council was split on the issue, as other councillors felt that the live-streams provide transparency that should supersede considerations about fairness.
“I think the ability for people to see and discuss our conversation is more important to me than perceived favouritism,” said Coun. Erin Hemmens.
Coun. Sheryl Armstrong agreed, saying, “We’ve got some big decisions coming up and I think the public has the right to see them.”
Coun. Ben Geselbracht added that in his opinion, the live-streams during the 2018 election campaign weren’t advantageous to incumbents.
Thorpe’s motion to follow staff’s recommendation failed on a tie vote with councillors Armstrong, Hemmens, Geselbracht and Don Bonner opposed and Tyler Brown absent.
Gurrie said she anticipates that staff will bring a similar motion before the next council in the lead-up to the 2026 election campaign.