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Banff councillor pushing for more accountability in meeting recording policy

“I would like to see incumbents being able to use the material that shows them off well and I would also like to be able to see challengers use materials that might hold people accountable to their decisions."
Banff Town Hall 2
Banff Town Hall

BANFF – A Banff town councillor is pushing for a change in the Town of Banff’s policy governing recording and publishing of legislative meetings in a bid to promote open communications and accountability, including in the run-up to municipal elections.

The current policy for recording council and governance and finance committee meetings does not allow the use of recordings posted on the municipality’s website for commercial activity, political party advertising, election campaigns, or any other politically partisan activity.

But Councillor Peter Poole, who got the backing of his council colleagues to have administration return with alternative wording in the policy for consideration, said he is approaching the issue from a perspective of accountability.

Having made a decision against seeking re-election in the Oct. 18 municipal election, Coun. Poole said he believes accurate excerpts of council recordings should be allowed to be used in an election campaign by candidates or community groups.

“I would like to see incumbents being able to use the material that shows them off well and I would also like to be able to see challengers use materials that might hold people accountable to their decisions,” he said.

“I think that is the diversity and benefit of democracy and I think we need to allow for that in its contemporary form while preventing the types of distortions and deep fakes that (we) would be concerned about.”

The policy does allow for reproduction of the recordings for personal, non-commercial, educational and news reporting purposes only, provided the copied material is not modified or altered and ownership of the material is attributed to the Town of Banff.

Libbey McDougall, the Town of Banff’s municipal clerk, said the policy forbids use of recordings for election campaigns in order to create an even playing field for candidates, noting incumbents already have an advantage with name recognition.

McDougall said a community group is welcome to use excerpts of recordings for education purposes, but the policy aims to preclude a community group from using it to campaign for their chosen candidate.

She said it also prevents election candidates from taking recordings of incumbents and “altering it somewhat to spin it.”

“We’re trying to make sure that everyone can come into these elections in a manner whereby they do have the same abilities to campaign that anybody else does… we’re not trying to give an unfair advantage,” she said.

“Certainly you can tell people there is a record of my voting online –  please go back and look at what I’m saying – you just can’t use the particular section as part of your campaign rallies.”

Coun. Poole noted much of the information is already shared, including on social media.

“I got elected to be responsible for what I say and from time to time I’ll make mistakes, but that’s alright, and I think I ought to be accountable to the electorate,” he said.

“We have the benefit now of being able to see and refer to these recordings when they’re available, and I see there’s great merit in members of the public being able – not to distort the material that’s there – but use the material and share it.”

Coun. Poole also questioned the policy’s reference to partisan activity and political party advertising given there are no political parties at the municipal level, adding he would like to see that part of the policy also fine-tuned.

“These are not relevant at the municipal level,” he said.

In response, McDougall said the wording acts as a preemptive measure.

“You’re certainly correct that there are no parties at the municipal level, but that does not mean, though, that individuals do not run with the understanding that they are affiliated with a certain party,” she said.

“It’s actually been an issue in cities like Vancouver where there’s very concerning things happening, where certain councillors vote along party lines. If you look to our neighbour down the road to Calgary, I guarantee you could pick out clearly which candidates are running under a particular banner, so it is to discourage that type of activity as well.”