The qathet regional district (qRD) board has updated its public communications and engagement policy, including a section on the use of social media.
At the August 25 regional council meeting, trustees debated the merits of the policy.
Electoral Area B Director Mark Gisborne said that since the August 18 committee of the whole, when trustees received amendment recommendations, his view of the policy has changed.
“This policy applies to the personal social media accounts of elected officials and members of our staff,” Gisborne said. “I believe that the inalienable sovereignty of the people is at the heart of the principle of true democracy and finds its enduring political expression in the absolute right to criticize government conduct in the public forum.
“When a member of our staff is not on time, I do not expect them to continue serving or acting on behalf of the regional district. I see this policy as intended to preemptively silence or prohibit board members and staff from participating in their right to criticize government conduct in a public forum. Otherwise, they could face punitive actions and jeopardize the financial security provided by their employment.
Gisborne said the policy appears to be an attempt to cleanse the forum of political criticism. He said that in order to protect the rights of current and future staff and to protect the rights of current and future regional council members, he strongly encourages his fellow council members to vote against the policy.
Patrick Brabazon, director and chairman of the Electoral Zone A board, said he did not see how censorship could be interpreted in politics.
“Its purpose is to clarify that when trustees speak, either they speak for themselves or they have some authority to speak on behalf of the regional council,” Brabazon said. “As chairman of the board, under the law, I can speak on behalf of the board. I’m very aware that when I do that I better have the board behind me and they’ve already spoken one way or another and then I can address the public on the question.
“I wouldn’t want the public to be confused when any of us speak, as to whether or not we’re speaking personally, or whether we’re actually speaking on behalf of the regional district board.”
Gisborne said that was not the concern he had with politics.
“When a member of our board speaks on behalf of the board, it makes sense,” Gisborne said. “Restricting an individual’s personal social media account is a bridge too far.”
The council voted in favor of adopting the policy, with Gisborne opposing it.
According to the policy, staff should not speak on behalf of the Regional District using personal online accounts. qRD staff and directors should state that their opinions are their own and do not reflect the views of the organization.
Staff and administrators should not post personal comments or status updates that reflect negatively on the integrity of the organization, or expose grievances that should be escalated to Human Resources.
Staff and directors should avoid using their personal social media channels to express opinions that could create the impression that they are unable to perform their duties objectively or impartially.
The Regional Council also passed amendments to adopt the Public Communications and Undertaking as amended and that the Council direct staff to conduct a comprehensive review of the Complaints and Enforcement Policy and to present a revised policy to the full committee.
The board also voted to include communications with community groups as a topic for discussion at the next strategic planning session.