Local Council

Local councils, or municipal councils, are the folks in charge of running our cities and communities. They’re the ones you elect to make decisions that affect your everyday life. From setting rules and regulations (yep, those bylaws) to handling the city’s cash flow, they’ve got their hands full. They also make sure your garbage gets picked up on time, public transport keeps rolling, and the neighborhoods are planned smartly. These councils don’t work in isolation; they team up with other levels of government, community groups, and of course, you—the citizens—to address local issues and make things better. Being accountable is their thing; they regularly meet up, listen to your opinions, and keep things transparent to stay on track with what the community wants… Well, at least that’s what they are supposed to be doing.

How to find your local council.

You can’t begin to interact with your local council if you can’t find them. Usually, this is as easy as searching online for your town or municipality, then browsing their website.

For example, North Cowichan is simply northcowichan.ca. Once you’re on the website, select Municipal Hall, and then Agendas, Minutes, and Video. North Cowichan hosts their own videos on the website, other Municipalities might utilize YouTube, which is also quite common. For example, the CVRD hosts all their videos on their website.

Visit the North Cowichan website here.
Visit the CVRD YouTube here.

It’s likely your local council hosts between 3-4 meetings per month. These should be open to the public, if you’re a little timid about the process join virtually. You can also show up to the meeting and simply watch, it’s very easy to take a seat and just observe.

Agendas, Minutes, and Meetings.

Each month your local council hosts a meeting, they follow a very familiar format. Typically the week before a meeting your local staff will send out an email with the agenda. These are typically easy to subscribe to and will serve as a reminder for the meeting as well as a heads-up on the topics to discuss.

Meeting minutes can take some time to update, North Cowichan typically takes more than a month to release the official minutes for the meeting. It’s usually much faster to watch the video yourself, especially if you’re interested in just a specific topic. Meetings are usually very heavy on local permits and amendments. These are homeowners wanting to build improvements that might conflict with a local bylaw or Official Community Plan. These are anything from building a fence that’s a few inches too close to the neighbour, all the way to apartment buildings.

As a great start, browse your local website or YouTube channel for past meetings. You’ll start to see a familiar pattern and layout of the meetings, as well as how they are handled. Situations such as deligations and community input can provide a little ‘flavour’ to an otherwise very bland meeting. 

Getting Involved.

Let’s assume you’ve found your local municipality website, browsed some meetings, watched a few videos, and scrolled through agendas. Now, it’s time to speak up and get involved.

It’s important to remember a lot of emotions are lost in these meetings. Coming in when you’re heated, upset, angry, or otherwise emotionally compromised can destroy the entire intent of your interaction with the council. Especially as of late, community members are probably more upset than they have been, and many meetings have a standard set with zero tolerance for profanity, name-calling, etc. Those videos you’ve seen from movies with people just laying into the council are a thing of the past, keep it civil or you will be counterproductive to what you’re trying to do.

With this in mind, what can you do, use your voice of course! The standard speaking time is 3 minutes per person, and the council will typically allow 5 public speakers per meeting. North Cowichan allows 5 in-person, and 5 online/callers. In many cases, if there are a few more people who wish to speak the council can vote to allow additional minutes. It’s moments like this you’ll be happy that you speak respectfully, as the council is more likely to bend the rules to allow you to speak.

So, what should you talk about? You’ve got 2 approaches to take when you speak to council. You can either try to reach a certain council member, perhaps speak on something that has a vote later and maybe you can convince someone to vote in your favour. On the other, you can try to reach the public, regardless of whether the council agrees with what you say or not. Just remember your speech needs to be related to something on the agenda for that meeting. As long as you’re speaking about a topic that’s on the agenda, you can get your 3 minutes to voice concerns. 

As a final thought on this topic, as this one could be pages… AND PAGES long, remember anything on the agenda has likely been spoken about before. By the time a topic reaches the agenda, it’s circulated among stakeholders, groups, friends, family, etc. Your local council probably has dozens of emails on the topic, and most of the councillors have an idea of how they are going to vote. Therefore what you bring to council, should be personable, relatable, and relevant. You’ll get better at speaking as you do it more, don’t be nervous, these are public servants who were elected to hear your voice. Use it!

Now What?

This post is a very, VERY brief overview. Each topic is easily an evening of discussion with a lot of factors to consider. If you’re ready to take the next step, why not reach out to us and we can connect further? We are most interested in other individuals who wish to start the journey in their own community. If you’re a motivated individual who just wants to get involved in local politics, we would love to share with you some tips and tricks on what works and what doesn’t. We’re all in this together!

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