By Chad Ingram
Published March 29, 2018
Last week we published a letter from our pal and former Times columnist Neil Campbell, who suggested that municipal council meetings should take place during the evening rather than during the daytime, as they do currently.
Campbell made a couple of good points, his argument being that evening meetings would allow a wider range of people to get involved in local politics, and allow more residents to attend council meetings.
Evening meetings would certainly present the opportunity for a more diverse pool of local political candidates. That is undeniably true. Under the current structure, the old adage is that only the rich and retired can run for politics in Haliburton County. I would add self-employed to that list. The bottom line is that to sit on a municipal council in the county, people need to have complete control over their time.
This precludes anyone with a regular, nine-to-five job from running for local office, which of course includes most of the working-age population of the community. Indeed, almost all of the council seats in the county – there are 24, all together – are filled by individuals ranging from middle-aged to those who are golden in their years. There is very little representation from 30- and 40-somethings, which, one could argue, creates a fairly homogeneous mindset around most council tables that does not adequately, or at least empirically, recognize the priorities and challenges of the child-rearing, mortgage-paying, gig-economy-job-working portion of the population.
Evening meetings would allow more people to run for municipal office. Fact.
Whether evening meetings would actually increase attendance is another matter.
Currently, the only consistent attendees of council meetings within the county are members of the local press and a very small group of regulars. Hello to Jim, Paul and Diane. However, evening meetings certainly do not necessarily draw bigger audiences. My first newspaper job was in a community in B.C.’s Okanagan Valley, where the municipal council held its meetings in the evening. The only regular attendees were myself, a woman from the local cable channel and one resident with a dislike for the mayor.
As some current councillors may tell you, some local councils held evening meetings in prior decades, and low attendance saw those meetings eventually moved to daytime hours. And, with council meetings sometimes running as long as four, five or six hours, it’s possible that a 6 p.m. meeting could run until midnight or later.
That said, just because the current system is most convenient for sitting councillors, municipal staff, and, quite frankly, members of the media, doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t change.
“One of the problems of governments at all levels is that the status quo suits the incumbents or they wouldn’t be there,” Campbell wrote in his letter, and that is another good point.
With municipal elections and a new council term coming up, these types of conversations are worth having.