Opinion Column

White Rock ends question period

By Kathryn Marshall, City Hall

White Rock citizens can no longer ask questions at council meetings. (FOTOLIA)

White Rock citizens can no longer ask questions at council meetings. (FOTOLIA)

This week, White Rock City Council voted to scrap question period.

Just like that, White Rock has obliterated a hallmark of liberal democracy.

White Rock residents will no longer have the opportunity to pose public questions to their elected representatives following council meetings.

The 15 minutes following each bi-weekly meeting was reserved for this important purpose, but no longer.

According to Mayor Wayne Baldwin, question period “does not seem to be of any value.” Coun. Lynne Sinclair has stated question period “serves no purpose.”

Baldwin cited question period’s lackluster turnout and the tendency of people to use it as a forum to make speeches as his reasons for wanting it on the chopping block.

So what? These are not reasons to kill this important forum for the public.

Now that question period no longer exists, how are the people of White Rock supposed to pose questions to the people they elected to represent them?

According to Baldwin, “there is plenty of ample opportunity for people to question council.” Those “ample opportunities” include things like approaching council members on the street or writing a letter.

That’s right, the mayor of White Rock laughably thinks the random chance of bumping into a councillor on the street is an acceptable replacement for question period.

Perhaps Baldwin also believes his constituents should be using carrier pigeons to relay their questions. Or maybe use smoke signals.

This week’s vote was the final nail in the coffin for White Rock’s question period. Its slow death began in 2013 when council voted to shift question period from the beginning to the end of meetings at 9:30 p.m. (when the TV cameras often stopped recording), and to limit its scope to matters that were only on that day’s agenda. Previously, residents could ask about any matter, regardless of whether or not it was on the agenda.

White Rock now joins a host of other B.C. municipalities that do not have question period, such as Langley and Surrey.

This is disturbing to say the least.

Politicians may not like question period because the idea of being questioned publicly in front of their peers, the media and their constituents may be both terrifying and potentially embarrassing for them. Perhaps they would rather simply receive an email or a private phone call, and not have to face the public and their peers.

But that is not how democracy works. In a democracy, politicians must be held accountable, and the public must be able to openly question them in public forums.

Shame on White Rock for this move. Email Mayor Baldwin at wbaldwin@whiterockcity.ca and tell him to bring back question period.

Kathryn Marshall is a Vancouver-based lawyer and political commentator who can be reached at Kathryn@kathrynmarshall.ca with your story tips. 


Do you consider question periods valuable at council meetings?

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