A Closer Look at the Study Paper on Public Hearings: Purposes of Public Hearings
May 9, 2022
BY Kevin Zakreski
This post is part of a series highlighting BCLI’s Study Paper on Public Hearings: An Examination of Public Participation in the Adoption of Local Bylaws on Land Use and Planning. For other posts in the series click here.
Purposes: To provide a forum at which all aspects of the bylaw might be reviewed
An early case on the duty to disclose documents in advance of a public hearing contained an influential statement of the legislation’s purpose. “In my view,” the court said, “the purpose of the Legislature in enacting s. 720 [now section 464 of the Local Government Act] was to provide a forum at which all aspects of the by-law might be reviewed so that members of the public, having become aware of the by-law’s purpose and effect, would be in a position to make representations to council of the manner and extent it affected property owned by them.”
This passage has been quoted approvingly in a stream of subsequent BC court cases. The use of the word forum is telling, as it imports classical democratic ideas about the public hearing serving as “a meeting or medium for an exchange of ideas.”
Broadening the scope of inquiry further, this idea of the public hearing as a forum for public participation in local-government decision-making has appeared in academic commentary on the law.
For example, a law professor has characterized public hearings as “[a] device to achieve citizen participation.” Legislation requiring public hearings can be seen as supporting “the vitality of the democratic process” by advancing “the premise that decision-making should be kept responsive to the needs of widely representative groups and that arbitrary action of central planners in disregard of the legitimate needs and desires of the people they serve should be avoided.” In a similar vein, an urban-planning textbook has noted that public hearings can be “viewed as revitalizing democratic practice in general by giving opportunities for local self-government to the ‘average’ citizen.”
Commentators have also speculated on the downstream benefits of providing such a forum for democratic public participation. Public hearings can be viewed as fulfilling a function to “help to maintain the stability of society” and guard “the public interest” by giving local residents a sense that they are involved in the decision-making process and “ensur[ing] that bureaucracies are responsive to the public.
For more information on this topic—or to see the citations for the quoted material—read the Study Paper on Public Hearings: An Examination of Public Participation in the Adoption of Local Bylaws on Land Use and Planning.