Open Municipal Government Toolkit – Meetings
In Prince Edward Island, the Municipal Government Act requires municipal councils to hold meetings that are open and accessible to the public. Complying with this requirement is a cornerstone to open government and good governance. Holding open meetings ensures that decision making is transparent and accessible to the public. Open meetings provide an opportunity for citizens to observe and understand the decision-making process as resolutions and actions are debated and discussed in public.
The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled on the importance of open meetings. In 2007, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down an interim control by-law made by the City of London, Ontario. During the public meeting, which lasted 8-minutes, the City Council introduced, gave three readings to, and passed 32 by-laws including the interim control by-law without public debate or discussion. The Supreme Court of Canada found that there was a statutory obligation to hold public meetings.
“Municipal law was changed to require that municipal governments hold meetings that are open to the public, in order to imbue municipal governments with a robust democratic legitimacy. The democratic legitimacy of municipal decisions does not spring solely from periodic elections, but also from a decision-making process that is transparent, accessible to the public, and mandated by law. When a municipal government improperly acts with secrecy, this undermines the democratic legitimacy of its decision, and such decisions, even when intra vires, are less worthy of deference.”
Section 118 (1) of the Municipal Government Act states that all council meetings and council committee meetings must be conducted in public and members of the public are entitled to attend all Council and Council committee meetings unless the meeting is closed by resolution. The public should be welcome at Council and council committee meetings. Council must commit to discussing and debating most issues in these public forums.
What is a meeting?
The term “meeting” is not defined by the Municipal Government Act but is understood to mean scheduled or special Council meetings or meetings of council committees such as the planning committee or the finance committee.
However, municipalities may hold other gatherings or events, such as workshops, planning sessions or retreats, which may be considered a meeting. Care must be taken to consider whether an informal gathering or event is a meeting that should be open to the public.
The attached guide outlines how to determine whether a gathering or event is a meeting that should be open to the public. Best practice indicates that most gatherings held by Council should be open meetings.
The Province of Prince Edward Island has provided a sample procedural bylaw.
Guide to open meetings (pdf)
An important step in ensuring openness and transparency is to provide clear and detailed advanced notice of meetings. The Municipal Government Act and the Procedural Bylaw Regulations lay out meeting notice requirements including sharing an annual schedule of meetings.
The Guide to Meeting Notice outlines meeting notice requirements and includes a checklist to ensure that all requirements have been met.
Section 119 (1) of the Municipal Government Act lays out specific reasons for holding a closed meeting. In general terms, only confidential matters may be discussed at a closed meeting.
Closed meetings can only be held by resolution which must be passed before the closed meeting is held. This resolution must specifically state which part of section 119 (1) is being considered.
Council cannot pass a resolution or bylaw during a closed meeting except for resolutions giving instructions to a lawyer or person acting on behalf of the municipality or to an employee.
The Guide to Closed Meetings provides Council members with information about holding a closed meeting as well as a checklist to ensure that all requirements of section 119 (1) of the Municipal Government Act are met.