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Does transparency exist behind closed doors?

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Added: Wed, 06/29/2016 - 10:07pm
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The City of Ottawa defines transparency as conducting business in an
accessible, clear, and visible manner and having activities open to examination by
stakeholders. It’s a popular campaign buzzword that almost all candidates will claim they stand by in some form or other, but how does the term move from being simply a platform slogan to being put into action? 
During one of this year’s Council of Mayors (COM) meeting, a colleague, as well as other members of the media and public, had to wait outside the meeting room for over an hour while the mayors and MRC
members spoke privately during an ‘in-camera’ session. These private discussions are not frequent, but they occur now and then. In addition, the mayors meet a week prior to the COM meeting for a plenary committee meeting, which is closed to the public and media. 
Although this committee has no decision making power, this is where files are brought forth, discussed, and analyzed and where motions are either laid to rest or continue for approval or rejection by the COM. Yet, the only thing the public sees or hears are the final decisions that take place during the COM meeting; the discussions, details, opinions, questions, reservations, and anything that does not progress along the flow chart happens behind closed doors. Is this not valuable information? 
Before the major restructuring last summer, plenary committee meetings did not exist; most issues were discussed during the COM meeting or during special working sessions. Since then, it has been stressed several times that questions and discussions are reserved for the plenary meetings and that only
decisions should be made during the COM meeting to boost efficiency. Doesn’t this new method therefore reduce transparency? Is it a step backwards?
Closed door sessions are also common at both the provincial and federal
levels, but are generally reserved for discussions about personnel and other sensitive issues.
Can there be valid reasons for withholding information from the public, like in instances where a file must be analyzed to see if it is feasible and if there is
reason to believe it will move forward? Take, for example, the Biomass Conversion Centre. It was in the works for about two years as studies were conducted “to confirm the viability of and possible benefits of the project” before the public became aware of its existence last September. There were also concerns that other regions could pick up the idea and becoming competition, which is what Warden Raymond  Durocher said has happened since going public with the project. Although understandable, is this true transparency?
But in the end, does the public care? If the meetings were open to the public, would anyone attend? The COM meetings are always open (other than in-camera
sessions), yet it is rare to have anyone filling the
audience seats. Or is simply being informed somewhere along the line good enough for us?

Allyson Beauregard