Streaming online video feeds of municipal council meetings has increased in popularity, as Vancouver Island communities look to generate more interest in local politics while trying to be more accountable and transparent.
The District of Sooke is the latest to webcast its meetings. Council members will broadcast their first live feed in September after hiring California-based company Granicus to provide the service.
North Saanich has been using the system for more than a year, while other municipalities in the capital region - Victoria, Saanich and Esquimalt - expect to do the same in coming months.
Granicus provides webcast service for hundreds of government bodies in North America, although some communities use their own in-house programs, as in Nanaimo, where live streaming started in 2009.
"I just think it will be common practice in the nottoo-distant future," said Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard, who has asked his staff to research options for a webcast feed as part of an information-technology upgrade. "You will look to be out of date if you don't get to it in the next couple years. It will move from being best practice to common practice."
Sooke will broadcast a live feed of meetings and make an archived copy of the video available on its website. As in many other communities, residents can go to the portion of the archived video they're interested in by clicking on agenda items listed below the stream.
North Saanich council members were the first in Greater Victoria to use a webcast when they introduced the system last April. Since then, Comox has moved to webcasting and other Island communities, such as Cumberland, want to do the same.
North Saanich does not provide a live feed, but posts an archived version to the web by noon on the day following the meeting.
Mayor Alice Finall said her council wanted to improve communication with residents, and saw webcasts as a way to do that.
"I personally felt there was not good communication with residents about what was going on with council and the municipality," she said. "The feedback has been great and our council has already approved funding in next year's budget, so it clearly has support."
North Saanich paid about $10,000 for the service last year, Finall said. Sooke council members say they paid about $7,500 for the first year.
Esquimalt council is also considering webcasts as part of a social-media marketing strategy aimed at increasing interest in municipal politics.
"Council feels that we want to provide as many options as possible for people to participate and to hear about what's happening at council," said Mayor Barb Desjardins. "People's lives are changing, so you have to bring it to them as opposed to them coming to you."
Nanaimo council members got creative with their webcast recently. Two politicians were away on vacation, but wanted to participate in a discussion about the city's strategic plan.
Coun. Bill Bestwick was in Hawaii and Coun. George Anderson was travelling in Europe. Both joined the discussion by telephone, while Anderson also used the live online feed during the talks.
Nanaimo links a television feed from Shaw TV to the city's website. Every council meeting since August 2009 is still online.
The politicians even started keeping video records of other committee meetings and archive those on the website, said IT director Per Kristensen.
Municipal staff also benefit from the video archive. Rather than attend meetings in person, some staff can now review the videos online and watch sections relevant to their departments.
"It will also reduce the number of staff meetings where people go to get second-and third-hand information about what was discussed," said Sooke Coun.
Rick Kasper. "People can just go watch it for themselves whenever they want."
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