Langford council warms to livestreaming its meetings

Langford will decide this fall whether to join most other municipal councils in the capital region and begin streaming its council meetings online.

Coun. Lillian Szpak said in an interview Friday that the COVID-19 pandemic has led to more discussions about providing remote access to council meetings.

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So staff will bring forward a report in September that lays out the options, costs and any technical challenges associated with live-streaming technology, she said.

“We understand that this is a trend that is happening and that it’s part of your community’s expectation, I think,” she said.

“It’s a new tool to use and so why not have that available for people? Especially people that don’t have the ability, for whatever reason, to come physically to meetings, and they would like to be present or they would like to be observing the meeting rather than just listening to it.”

With council chambers closed to the public due to the pandemic, Langford currently relies on a teleconferencing system whereby people can listen to meetings by phone and press a button if they wish to participate.

Webcasting or live-streaming, however, is used by most other municipalities in the region to allow residents to actually see and hear what’s happening at council meetings.

Szpak said she’ll wait to see what the staff report says, but she’s personally in favor of adopting the technology.

“It’s just come around to that time,” she said. “Langford was never a holdout; it’s just that we’ve never had much interest from our community on it … But when it was being talked about a little bit more, we asked if staff could please look into it and come forward with a report in September.”

Coun. Lanny Seaton said he has no strong opinion on the issue.

“It doesn’t really matter to me one way or the other,” he said. “I don’t think there’s a negative or a positive either way. I don’t have a problem with it.”

Langford is the latest community spurred to action by COVID-19. View Royal was already considering a move to live-streaming, but accelerated its plans once the pandemic hit. The town began using the technology last month after council allocated up to $40,000 for the equipment.

Langford Coun. Denise Blackwell said at the time that her city had never really entertained the idea largely because “it’s a lot of money,” and that the only people who had asked for it were the Grumpy Taxpayer$ of Greater Victoria.

The municipal watchdog group has been calling on Langford for months to adopt live-streaming as a way to improve transparency and accountability to taxpayers.

Stan Bartlett, who chairs the group, said Friday that he’s glad to see the city finally warming to the idea.

“We hope that council proceeds with it,” he said. “We heard from the public about a lack of live-streaming, and in this day and age it’s simply unacceptable to not have it.”

Bartlett says other municipalities have recognized that people are busy these days and many don’t have time to physically attend or dial into a meeting. In Langford’s case, people are often driving home from work when council meetings begin at 5:30 p.m., he said.

But the video technology used in live-streaming allows people to view an archived recording of the meeting at their leisure in order to understand a particular decision.

“Municipal government is complicated, it’s complex and there’s a lot of things going on. And you have to have easy, accurate access to its activities. You can look at the agenda, you click on an agenda item that’s of interest … and you can find out exactly what was said by a councillor or mayor,” Bartlett said.

“That’s absolutely vital to good governance. Better decisions are made, money is saved with better decisions and we’re all the happier.”

lkines@timescolonist.com

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