When it comes to civic engagement, nothing beats attending a council meeting in person. Be it the buzz of a well-attended council meeting or the stuffy near-silence of an almost empty chamber, showing up is the best way to get a feel for what’s going on in any municipality and how engaged its citizens are.
But sometimes, being present at an evening council meeting just isn’t possible—especially now that we are living with the COVID pandemic and even a light case of the sniffles means staying away from public events.
That’s where digital options to view or attend council meetings become crucial.
Over at The Westshore, reporter Zoë Ducklow recently worked up a rubric for assessing how well local councils are doing at helping the public engage with their regular meetings. Now Capital Daily has applied that rubric to the seven other municipalities in Greater Victoria as well as the Capital Regional District’s board of directors.
See how your council stacks up!
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1. Saanich — Close to perfection
Saanich has one of the most variable council meeting schedules but typically holds council meetings on two Monday evenings per month plus one committee of the whole meeting. Both meetings start at 7pm.
The largest of the Greater Victoria municipalities also boasts one of the best options for catching council meetings online.
Promptly available— 4/5 Videos are posted the following day.
Easy to find— 5/5 Links are posted on the city’s website alongside agendas and minutes for each meeting dating back to 2017. There is also a robust search option—gold star for that!
Audible— 5/5 Audio is generally solid.
Visible— 5/5 Multiple camera angles that follow the conversation around the chamber. However, videos are not available on the district’s YouTube channel.
What we’d like: Saanich may have the best meeting accessibility of any council in the region. Posting videos on YouTube would be a great addition.
17/20 Victoria city council meets weekly on Thursdays with committee of the whole every second Thursday. While council meetings are typically scheduled to start at noon or 1pm, those taking place on the same day as committee of the whole often start as soon as the committee’s business is finished. Public hearings take place on Thursday evenings.
Promptly available— 5/5 Videos are posted soon after meetings conclude.
Easy to find— 4/5 Videos are posted on the Council and Committee Meetings page on the city website. There is a search function but it only seems to capture documents, not videos. No council meeting videos on the city’s YouTube channel either.
Audible— 4/5 Technical issues do happen but presenters and council members are usually easy to hear. City staff are also good about introducing themselves when they begin their presentations and members of the public are prompted to do so.
Visible— 4/5 Multiple angles are always appreciated! Presentation materials are also included in the livestream, as well as for reference following the meeting.
What we’d like: In an ideal world, staff names would be included on the screen throughout their presentations for easy reference.
2. Oak Bay
Council usually meets twice per month on the second and fourth Monday at 6pm and committee of the whole meetings are held on the third Monday.
Promptly available— 4/5 Videos are posted by the following day.
Easy to find— 5/5 Oak Bay uses the Civic Web portal so meeting schedules, agendas, minutes, and videos are all on the same site. Videos are also available on YouTube.
Audible— 5/5 Good audio volume and quality.
Visible— 3/5 The dreaded wide-angle static shot again! The only glimpse of presenters is of the top of the back of their heads as they speak to council.
Promptly available— 4/5 Videos are posted within a day of the meeting.
Easy to find— 4/5 The district’s council meeting information is posted on one page on its site. The calendar view is the most convenient way to see previous meeting videos and agendas. Otherwise, you can get lost in a pile of dropdown menus for various council and committee meetings.
Audible— 5/5 Generally good, although some virtual attendees can be harder to hear.
Visible— 4/5 A variety of angles in the chamber are always appreciated but it’s not always easy to identify speakers as name plates are frequently out of frame. Virtual attendees are included via Zoom, which makes it easy to see who is speaking, even if their camera is not on.
What we’d like: This is a pretty solid score but better framing of chamber cameras would improve it. Posting videos on the district’s YouTube channel would also be a plus!
Council meetings start at 6pm on the second and fourth Monday of each month. Committee of the whole meets on the first and third Mondays, also at 6pm.
Promptly available— 5/5 Videos are posted promptly.
Easy to find— 4/5 The town uses the CivicWeb portal and videos and agendas are posted together.
Audible— 4/5 The audio quality is reliable and both councillors and presenters can be easily heard.
Visible— 3/5 The video is a static, wide-angle shot so all council members can be seen. A screen in the foreground shows the agenda and councillors attending virtually.
What we’d like: Close ups of councillors when they are speaking—or at least close enough to be able to read their name plates.
Council meets on the first and third Monday of the month at 7pm with committee of the whole meetings scheduled for the second Monday at 6pm.
Promptly available—5/5 Videos are posted immediately.
Easy to find—4/5 Available via the civic portal on the township’s website, and the website makes it easy to find the portal. The videos aren’t posted anywhere else though. More of a presence on Youtube or other platforms would make this a 5.
Audible—3/5 The volume has been very low and occasionally inaudible even when turned up all the way, especially when speakers aren’t talking into the mic. They’ve also had recent issues with not having any audio during the inaugural meeting. There has been some glitching as well.
Visible—3/5 Happy to have some visuals, but would like speakers to be identified.
What we’d like: Better audio and for speakers to be identified!
4. North Saanich
Council usually meets on the second and fourth Monday of each month at 7pm with committee of the whole meetings taking place on the third Monday of the month.
Promptly available—5/5 Videos are posted immediately.
Easy to find—4/5 Videos of current and past meetings are available via the civic portal.
Audible—3/5 If the speaker remembers to turn on their mic, and speak directly into it, audio is usually fine.
Visible—3/5 It doesn’t show speakers or identify who’s speaking.
What we’d like: For the video to show the speakers, whether they're councillors, staff, or members of the public. For those who speak to council to be asked to spell out their names, if their names are not on the agenda.
5. Capital Regional District — Lots of room for improvement!
The Capital Regional District’s 24-member board typically meets on the second Wednesday of the month, starting at 1pm.
Promptly available— 4/5 Videos are usually posted the following day.
Easy to find— 4/5 Meeting videos are on a page separate from meeting schedules and other information. A sidebar menu makes them easy to find.
Audible— 2/5 Some microphones do not seem to work consistently so speakers cannot be heard. The district does post separate audio-only recordings of its meetings but it can take a while for the files to be posted.
Visible— 3/5 While close-up angles of speakers do happen, most proceedings are captured on a static wide angle. This can make it difficult to keep track of speakers.
What we’d like: Lots of room for improvement on both the audio and video quality!