Vancouver’s first-ever electronic Public Hearing May 12, 2020 (6 pm) merits scrutiny

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On May 12, 2020 at 6:00 pm, the City will hold its first-ever electronic Public Hearing. This is a huge precedent. It has never been done before in the City Vancouver and merits a high level of scrutiny. The stage for this to happen has been evolving since mid March.

In response to the COVID-19 State of Emergency, the City of Vancouver has been conducting meetings of Council electronically under a provincial order that made an enabling temporary variance to the Vancouver Charter.

However, the City was also trying to use that same order to hold Public Hearings electronically. Section 566 of the Vancouver Charter deals with Public Hearings. It was NOT actually covered by the provincial order at that time. CityHallWatch described this move by our municipal government as opportunistic (City staff are proposing an immediate shift to ‘electronic’ Public Hearings: Illegal under the Vancouver Charter, opportunistic under COVID-19 emergency).

On May 1, 2020, the province created a new Order No. 2 to allow for electronic Public Hearings on a temporary basis during the COVID-19 State of Emergency. http://www.bclaws.ca/civix/document/id/mo/mo/2020_m139

It appears that the City was indeed previously acting in conflict with the Section 566 of the Vancouver Charter by continuing with Public Hearings through an electronic process. The province is now addressing this discrepancy by enabling it.

However, it still does not justify a business as usual approach to go ahead with electronic meetings and Public Hearings. The Order states the following:

Application

  1. (1) This order only applies during the period that the declaration of a state of emergency made March 18, 2020 under section 9 (1) of the Emergency Program Act and any extension of the duration of that declaration is in effect.

(2) This order replaces the Local Government Meetings and Bylaw Process (COVID-19) Order made by MO 83/2020.

The Order does NOT set aside the requirements of the City to involve the public fully in the process.

The provincial Order will legalize the May 12 Public Hearing. But already this week the province is talking about starting to lift restrictions by May 16, so we will see how long this lasts.

Municipal lawyers Nathalie Baker and Ryan Parsons of law firm Eyford Partners recently posted a commentary on the provincial order: https://eyfordpartners.com/electronic-council-meetings-should-be-a-short-term-fix-not-a-long-term-goal/

Their comments outline how important public participation in the Public Hearing process is and how this temporary provincial order is very limited in how it should be applied for electronic means during the State of Emergency. The emergency measure should NOT be treated as a new way of doing business.

The city is proposing to only bring forward “non-controversial” rezonings to electronic Public Hearings. But it is not clear on how the city determines this when it often is not clear what is controversial until a Public Hearing takes place.

City staff were previously trying to bring forward very controversial rezonings for referral to Public Hearing, but Council previously voted against them or the referrals were withdrawn after significant public backlash.

Three of the rezonings previously not approved for referral to Public Hearing are now being reconsidered under a motion at Council on May 12: Reconsidering Three Proposed Referrals to Public Hearing, at this link: https://council.vancouver.ca/documents/b1.pdf

Below is the agenda of the Public Hearing (as of 9-May-2020)

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https://council.vancouver.ca/20200512/phea20200512ag.htm

Public Hearing
Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Revised: May 6, 2020

Date and location

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

6 pm

Council Chamber, Third Floor, City Hall

 

Please note:

    • This Public Hearing is to be convened by electronic means as authorized by Ministerial Order No. M139, “Local Government Meetings and Bylaw Process (COVID-19) Order No. 2”.
  • Members of the public may attend at the Council Chamber in City Hall to hear and watch the meeting proceeding, but are strongly urged to listen and watch the proceedings via the City’s website or follow Twitter @VanCityClerk.
  • Due to COVID-19, it is recommended that speakers participate by telephone or provide written submissions; however, limited space will be made available at City Hall to accommodate those who are unable to participate by telephone.
  • To participate in the public hearing process, you can register to speak in person or by telephone at the Public Hearing:
  • by going to the Council meeting page on the City’s website and selecting the meeting date, meeting type and agenda item(s) and specifying whether you will participate in person or by telephone;
  • by emailing the meeting date, meeting type and agenda item(s) and specifying whether you will participate in person or by telephone to publichearing@vancouver.ca; or
  • by calling 604.829.4238 and specifying which meeting date, meeting type and agenda item(s) you wish to speak to and whether you will address Council by telephone or in person.
  • If you want to participate by telephone then you must have access to a telephone, provide a telephone number that can be used to contact you, and an email address where instructions on when and how to call into the public hearing can be provided to you.
  • You can also register by telephone, on the day of the public hearing, between 5:30 pm and 6 pm, or 30 minutes before the hearing starts, at City Hall. For more information, visit vancouver.ca/publichearings
  • Send your comments to Council by emailing publichearing@vancouver.ca.
  • Get live updates on the meeting at http:vancouver.ca/speaker-wait-times or follow Twitter @VanCityClerk.
  • Watch the meeting live at http:vancouver.ca/council-video

Get involved and stay informed

Tip: Send your comments by the day before the meeting so Council has time to review them.

Send comments to Council

Sign up to speak about an agenda item:

  • Register by phone at 604-829-4238 between 5:30pm and 6pm on the day of the public hearing, or 30 minutes before the hearing starts at City Hall. Find out more
  • Online by 5:00pm on the day of meeting
  • In-person from 5:30pm to 6:00pm on the day of the meeting

If you miss the deadline, listen to the livestream of the meeting and follow the Chairs phone in instructions, or attend in person, and raise your hand, when the meeting Chair calls three times for any other speakers after all registered speakers are heard.

Request to speak

Watch the live broadcastGet updates on Twitter

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