Newspapers concerned about proposed public notice changes

Saskatchewan’s newspapers are concerned about a proposal that would allow municipalities to avoid publishing public notices in their local newspaper if they determine it to be not “feasible” or “practicable” to do so.

Instead, they would be able to release the information through methods like newsletters, websites or social media.

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Steve Nixon, the Saskatchewan Weekly Newspapers Association’s executive director, said having notices published in the newspaper serves a vital role in local democracy.

“Our position is that there is a deeper role here. There's a reason why newspapers are perfectly positioned to make sure that those public notices are carried out.”

For one, he said, having a notice in the newspaper means that the public will see that there's something happening. If it was on a website, then the public would have to make a conscious decision to regularly check it – a tall order for those that are busy.

The other reason to publish notices in the newspaper is because its archivable, Nixon said. If somebody wanted to see which notices were released in 1993, all they’d have to do is look at papers from that date.

“I don't know how you would do that on a website if it's no longer there.”

The provincial government relations ministry said the change in the rules is being done at the request of the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association and the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities.

At both of those organizations’ conventions, one of the arguments given for the change was that not every town had a newspaper. Nixon said that with the exception of the province’s far north, every community in the province is covered in some manner by a newspaper, whether it's through small local papers like the Humboldt Journal or larger regional papers like the East Central Recorder.

Nixon said he’s planning to meet with government affairs minister Lori Carr to express the concerns of his organization. One question would be what type of conditions would have to be met to make it not “feasible” or “practicable” to place a public notice in the newspaper.

“It’s very vague,” he said. “That's why I want to meet with the minister, to get an understanding of what actually do they mean.”

When asked by the Humboldt Journal how a council will determine that it's not "feasible” or “practicable" to publish public notices in a newspaper, the government relations ministry didn’t give a direct answer, saying that the proposed rules give a council other options if they believe other methods of notice are more effective to reach residents or if a community doesn’t have a local newspaper.

The ministry also said that the new rules will also allow water and sewer bills, assessment notices, notice of assessment appeal, parking tickets and tax notices to be sent by email if a person gives their consent.

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