- The Washington Times - Monday, July 2, 2001

TORONTO — Call it political science meets "Survivor," just don't expect the participants to vote themselves off every week.

Fresh from a landslide election victory, British Columbia's new Liberal government has put a different twist on "e-democracy" with what's believed to be the world's first televised Cabinet meeting in the provincial capital of Victoria.

Inspired in part by reality TV, the government has vowed to air one Cabinet meeting a month live — all in an effort to demonstrate an open, accountable administration.

"This is a two-hour Cabinet meeting," Premier Gordon Campbell warned reporters on his way into the first such meeting last week. "I don't expect it is going to be great television."

While it was no "tribal council" and lacked a torch-dousing cliffhanger ending, the meeting was broadcast live by Canada's version of CNN and the provincial government's own parliamentary channel.

"Cabinet TV," as it's being called, even had a live audience. Twenty seats were set aside for the public, though a few went empty. Many of those who came were union members and critics more apt to accuse the government of being the province's weakest link.

Most analysts praised the B.C. government's move to allow TV cameras into Cabinet meetings but wondered what it meant for the time-honored tradition of Cabinet confidentiality.

"Obviously there will be legitimate issues of privacy and legality," Mr. Campbell admitted. "It will be a struggle to balance the need for Cabinet solidarity with the need for frank and vigorous ministerial debate."

The premier says decisions such as those on land use, environmental issues and major government construction projects can be discussed in public.

But there is a restricted list. Cabinet ministers cannot reveal information that might violate a person's personal privacy, along with anything that could affect investments or other financial interests.

Any talk of labor negotiations, buying or selling government property and the hiring or firing of personnel will also be kept private.

Still, the government has promised taxpayers they'll be provided with the same background reports and briefing notes that ministers rely on in Cabinet meetings.

"The intent is to try and be as open as we can," said Andy Orr, the government's communications director. "Are we going to be on the edge around parliamentary tradition? Yes."

For the highlight of the first televised meeting, the Cabinet abolished an unpopular program that used cameras attached to radar to catch speeders. But the drama of the democracy in action wasn't enough to keep Denis Oliver rapt with attention.

Sitting in the audience, he nodded off while the 27 Cabinet ministers introduced themselves and explained their portfolios. A security guard had to wake him up.

"I was just bored," he said. "It was more show than meeting. I thought it would have had more meat and potatoes to it."

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