On June 13 of this year, with four councillors absent, the mayor and the rest of council made the decision that, as of Nov. 1, you no longer deserve to be informed of what’s happening in the city, unless you use Facebook or are willing to hunt through the city’s website. Their unanimous vote has now ended the placing of notifications in our local newspaper.
They have chosen to limit who in our city needs to be told that their favourite city park is up for sale or being rezoned for industrial use. Five people decided that some of our citizens aren’t worth informing if a new heavy industrial use wants to rezone land in our bowl.
Their decision is one that will disproportionately exclude our seniors; those who still consume most of their information through the newspaper.
My dad is an example of that. He has a flip phone but not a computer and reads the paper each week to know what’s going on. Or people like my best friend since elementary school, who still doesn’t own a cell phone. He goes online to watch comedians and music videos, but never fails to read the paper.
The mayor and four councilors were able to reduce the openness and transparency of the City of Prince George because the city pounced on a change the provincial government made late last year: adding Section 94.2 to the Community Charter.
The new section recognized many B.C. communities no longer have a local newspaper and allows “alternative means of publication” for them to notify their citizens: instead of publishing those notifications in their newspaper.
Our members of council in attendance justified this exclusion of residents by pointing out it would save the city between $90,000 and $130,000 a year by not publishing the notices in the Prince George Citizen.
The irony is not lost that this is the same publication that has held these same elected officials to account for not being aware of, or informed of, the overspending at city hall.
The bar should be set higher for the city when it comes to notifying our community, not lower. Haven’t we learned from the Moccasin Flats fiasco that each individual matters? That every member of our community should be informed so that they have the opportunity to come to council and be heard.
There is still hope, though.
Five of our recently elected members of Council (Mayor Simon Yu and Councillors Tim Bennett, Trudy Klassen, Kyle Sampson, and Brian Skakun) included increased transparency in their campaign platforms or speeches. Perhaps, with your encouragement, they will choose to take a new direction in how the city shares information with its residents.
Please email them at email@example.com and ask that they follow through on their promise to be more transparent and inclusive.
The voice of one councillor could have persuaded their colleagues that the City of Prince George should do more than the legal minimum to be open, inclusive, and transparent.
Cameron Stolz is a Prince George writer.