Banff town council unanimously voted down a proposed bylaw on April 24th that could have allowed the town to advertise its public notices on the town’s website only, rather than in the local newspaper or through direct mail.
Despite rejecting the advertising bylaw, the town can still put its notices on its website, social media, and other media such as outdoor signs and e-newsletters – but it must continue to advertise in the local newspaper or through the mail as well.
Prior to 2017, Alberta municipalities were required by statute to advertise public notices in a local newspaper. An amendment to the Municipal Government Act was passed that year that gave local governments the option of proceeding with an advertisement bylaw specifying other forms of advertising such as digital; if a municipality could prove its legal notices would reach substantially all affected members of the public.
Council in Banff decided the current system wasn’t broken and opted against trying to fix it.
“The local paper (Rocky Mountain Outlook) is free and it’s ubiquitous, it is very popular in this town,” said Councillor Grant Canning. “For all those reasons, I think the status quo is a good place to be.”
Rocky Mountain Outlook publisher Jason Lyon, and Dennis Merrell, Executive Director of the Alberta Weekly Newspapers Association, attended the council meeting to speak against its enactment of the ad bylaw.
“I’m just so happy to see that [council] acted in support of the newspaper and also the residents of the Town of Banff,” said Dennis Merrell, executive director of the Alberta Weekly Newspapers Association.
Lyon and Merrell told council their main concern was around public transparency. If notices were taken out of the local newspaper, it could make it difficult for residents to find out what is going on in their community, particularly when it comes to developments and other decisions made by council.
Lyon told councilors that advertising revenue is what allows him to employ staff, and even a small drop in revenue would affect his newspaper’s ability to inform residents.
“At the end of the day, revenue is important to us to make sure that we’re employing journalists and photographers,” said Lyon.
The town’s administration said that the proposed bylaw wasn’t intended to get out of placing ads in the newspaper.
Director of Communications Jason Darrah said the goal was to give the town more flexibility and to help inform people more quickly about developments, bylaws, meetings, and other municipal matters.