EDITORIAL: Silence isn't always golden | Squamish Chief

EDITORIAL: Silence isn't always golden

Some traditions are worth breaking.

In the case of provincial elections, this would be a long-standing convention — which is not a law — that dictates government stays silent from the start of an election campaign period to the end of voting day.

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This needs to go.

The public may not be aware, but during provincial elections, when journalists ask provincial communications staff questions  for stories about government operations and policy, this is the response we get back:

“During the election period, all Government of B.C. communications are limited to health and public safety information, as well as statutory requirements. We can direct you to information already publicly available.”

This happened last week when The Chief asked for information on why approvals were taking so long for the Macdonald development at Britannia Beach and for clarification on when the developer had submitted the items for approval.

There was no previous public information the staffer could point us to.

Don Zadravec, Government of B.C. assistant deputy minister of communications and media relations told The Chief this relative silence is a “convention” that goes back consecutive elections under various governments. He said he has been working for government since the 1980s and it was a convention then.

“It is by convention as the public sector moves into a caretaker mode and so we remain neutral,” he told The Chief.

Kim Speers, assistant teaching professor and engagement and communications facilitator at UVIC also notes that “civil servants must avoid the perception that they are in any way partisan and are serving any political party’s current or future objectives.”

She added that policies, programs, and ministries can radically change if a new political party comes into power.

There are also strict Elections BC advertising guidelines that are quite broad. Any communication with the public or journalists would have to stay away from electioneering in any way.

But the guidelines clearly state: “Elections BC recognizes that, where appropriate, government bodies and Crown corporations will continue to inform the public of available services during an election campaign period.”

And not all levels of government handle election periods with this convention of silence.

The District of Squamish's communications policy does not specifically address elections, but the District continues to operate as per usual during the election campaign period.

“The mayor is the spokesperson for council, and would continue to speak on behalf of the District or council body in the lead up to a municipal election...,” District staff told The Chief.

Surely, if  local government — where things are much more close to the people, so to speak — can be expected to remain neutral during its election period, then so can the provincial government.

Journalists represent the public and are paid to ask questions of the powers that be. The refusal of the government to answer those questions is their refusal to answer you.

Expect better. Ask candidates what they think of this policy and if they would lobby to change it.

Consider their answer when you vote.


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