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Governance &
Structure Division
 

Electronic Meetings

 

Section 128(1) of the Community Charter gives municipalities the opportunity to conduct special council meetings using electronic and communications media, such as telephone and video conferencing. This section also authorizes municipalities to allow individual council, or committee members, to participate in council or committee meetings through such media, when the member is unable to attend in person.
 

The intent behind this provision is to provide flexibility to councils in conducting business, without compromising the rights of the public to have access to the decision-making process. The legislation does this by setting standards, which require a municipality to:

  • include the process for electronic meetings in the municipal procedure bylaw;
  • provide notice of electronic meetings; and
  • provide the appropriate facilities and equipment to give the public the opportunity to hear, or hear and see, the participation of council members.

When to Consider

Conducting Special Council Meetings Electronically
In general, municipal councils conduct their business during regularly-scheduled meetings. However, there will be occasions when a council needs to call a special council meeting.
 

The following are examples of these occasions.

  • A new bylaw may be required to prohibit a particular activity that, in the absence of the bylaw, would likely occur in the very near future. If council’s regular meeting schedule and the need to separate the first three readings of the bylaw from fourth reading and final adoption would result in unacceptable delays, a special meeting may be held for timely adoption of the bylaw.
  • Council may choose to schedule special meetings at budget time to allow members to focus solely on their review of the municipality's proposed financial plan.
  • Councils may choose to hold special meetings to debate important development projects or the implications to the municipality of major events.

Whether they are called to take care of urgent business or to consider key matters, special council meetings are important. Generally, all members of council will want – and in certain cases, need – to attend. However, in cases where attendance is not possible, council could choose to hold the special meeting electronically.
 

Electronic Participation by a Council or Committee Member
Usually, the schedules for regular council meetings, standing committee meetings and select committee meetings are set well in advance. There will be situations in which individuals are unable to attend a regular meeting or committee meeting in person. In instances where the individual’s (including non-council members sitting on council committees) attendance is deemed critical, participation by electronic means may be helpful.
 

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What to consider

Before adopting provisions for electronic meetings, each council will want to consider the implications and whether such provisions are appropriate for their community.  If the decision is made to proceed, council will need to define the scope of the provisions, by considering the following:

  • the situations where electronic special council meetings will, and will not, be permitted;
  • the extent of an individual council member's authority to participate electronically in non-special meetings;
  • logistical issues related to using electronic technology; and
  • the costs associated with electronic meetings.

Below are considerations to assist municipalities in determining the value of electronic meeting provisions. This list is not exhaustive.
 

Conducting Special Council Meetings Electronically

  • Should provisions allow for all special council meetings to be conducted electronically or should there be defined circumstances where the public can expect council members to be physically present?
  • Should the decision to designate a special council meeting as an electronic meeting be left to the discretion of the mayor, acting mayor or council members who actually call the meeting?
  • Should other individuals (e.g., consultants to the municipality, staff members, etc.) be permitted to participate electronically? Or should they be required to be present in person at the specified venue?

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Electronic Participation by a Council or Committee Member

  • What types of meetings (regular, special or committee) should council consider allowing members to participate electronically?
  • What constitutes a valid reason for being unable to attend? Should each member be given the discretion to judge validity?
  • Should the chair of the meeting be allowed to participate electronically (as chair)? Or should the chair be assumed by an individual who is physically present?
  • How many members of council should be allowed to participate electronically in the same meeting (e.g. should council or council committees require a quorum of members physically present)? If there is a limit, how are participants chosen?
  • How many times should an individual member be permitted to participate electronically?
  • Should a member who is participating electronically be allowed to join a meeting that is underway – i.e., arrive late?
  • Should a member who is participating electronically be entitled to receive an agenda package electronically or by courier?
  • Should there be provisions to amend agendas with controversial items to defer the issues when members are participating by electronic means? What would those circumstances be (e.g. certain number of members participating electronically or certain type of issue to be dealt with by council)?
  • Should presenters to council be required to tailor their presentations to accommodate members who are participating electronically?
  • If a member, participating electronically, cannot view a presentation or read a report which is the subject of debate, should the member be allowed to participate in the debate?
  • Should council have a policy about providing information received at the council or committee meeting to members participating electronically before voting on the matter?
  • Should the same rules apply to council members and non-councillor committee members?

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Logistics

  • What type of electronic means should be permitted? Audio? Visual? Both?
  • Should cell phone and satellite connections be permitted in addition to land-line connections?
  • Does the municipality have a conference phone system and an audio system that allow for clear projection of voices throughout council chambers (or the designated meeting place), and for continuous two-way communication?
  • Are there facilities available at other nearby locations that are acceptable to council (e.g., university)?
  • Are the video links in place capable of providing an uninterrupted video stream, similar to a conventional television broadcast?
  • Are video monitors in place to project images to all members of council and to the public?
  • What happens if a communications link is lost during a meeting? Should the meeting temporarily adjourn until the link is re-established? What if the lost link is with the chair of the meeting?
  • Does the specific meeting place provide adequate facilities for municipal staff and the public?

Costs

  • Should the municipality be responsible, in every case, for the cost to a member of participating electronically in a meeting?
  • Are cost limits necessary?
  • If council pays per diem costs for attendance at meetings should electronic meetings be reimbursed at the same rate?
  • Do the benefits of electronic meetings justify the capital expenditures on new telephone and video equipment?

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How to Proceed

If council decides to adopt electronic meeting provisions, it must establish the process in the municipal procedural bylaw.
 

Section 127(2) of the Community Charter requires a municipality to post a notice of every special council meeting, except in cases where the requirement is waived by unanimous vote of all members. As per section 128(2), each notice must specify if the special meeting is to be conducted electronically and, if so, must identify the place where the public may attend to hear the proceedings. The facilities for the electronic meeting must enable the meeting’s participants and the public to hear, or watch and hear, each other. A designated municipal officer must be in attendance at the place of the electronic meeting.
 

Additional Comments

Given advances in communications technology, some municipalities may view incorporating electronic technology into meetings as an idea whose time has come. In certain circumstances, electronic meetings provide a valuable tool for councils, but they may not be a substitute for conventional meetings.
 

Please direct questions or comments to Advisory Services Branch.
 

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