I have been hearing about some very disturbing trends in municipal governments around the province. More and more municipal governments are instituting restrictive “codes of conduct” or "communications policies" for their elected officials! Elected officials in areas where these codes exist are no longer able to exercise their right of free speech by voicing a concern about something their fellow councillors have decided to do!
These policies stipulate that once the motion is passed (or defeated) in the meeting, all debate must cease. The reasoning is that opponents had their chances to voice their opposing views during the meeting. Elected officials in opposition will not be able to voice their concerns about the decision made without possible “punishment” from their council. In my opinion, this is a very dangerous direction for municipal governments to go!
It is true that once the decision is made democratically, all councillors must uphold that decision and employees of the municipality must carry out the wishes of council. That is part of the Municipal Governance Act (MGA) and it is one of the cornerstones of our democratic process.
But verbal opposition from the elected officials to that decision must not be muffled! It is important that electors understand why their elected official opposed the decision made. That may not have been made clear in the minutes of the meeting and not every elector can attend every council meeting in person.
Supporters of these “gag orders” say that their codes of conduct are designed to eliminate false or erroneous information being spread by the rumour mills through Facebook, blogs, Twitter, forums and other parts of this huge world called social media. I say that false information which can be easily rebutted and/or clarified is better that no information at all, save a sanitized announcement from the municipal office!