Nova Scotia Health Authority to open board meetings to the public

Frank van Schaayk, chair of the board, said approach would see meeting minutes published starting in September and meetings opened to the public in 2019.

'The public trust is important and in fact it's potentially the most important thing'

Frank van Schaayk is the chair of the board of the Nova Scotia Health Authority. The board voted unanimously Thursday morning to open its board meetings to the public. (Emma Davie/CBC)

The board of the Nova Scotia Health Authority voted Thursday morning to open its meetings to the public and make its minutes publicly available.

No one from the board was available to provide details of the meeting, but a health authority spokesperson said the motion passed unanimously.

"The public trust is important and in fact it's potentially the most important thing," board chair Frank van Schaayk said in an interview Wednesday at the authority's annual general meeting. 

"When they're done completely in private, it's not clear to people how decisions get made, why they get made," van Schaayk said. "People are wondering, 'Why are you keeping this secret?'"

Phased-in approach

He said Wednesday that the vote would include a two-phased approach to becoming more transparent.

The first phase would see the board publish meeting notes online and give established groups an opportunity to present to the board. That would begin at September's meeting.

The second phase, opening the meetings to the public, might happen in 2019, van Schaayk said, adding that it would "take some time to prepare, just because the board has worked differently for the last few years."

"We're not wanting to delay it, we just need to be ready for it so it's a useful process for the public and a useful process for the board."

He said the format would look similar to the IWK Health Centre's board meetings, which include open sessions and in-camera portions to deal with privacy concerns or things they "need to debate vigorously."

The NSHA board meets six times a year — and van Schaayk said they could have four of those meetings open to the public, while the other two would be private and reserved for deliberations and strategic planning.

"Those sorts of things which are much more conversational in nature and really we're not doing any business in those meetings, we're really exploring ideas and looking at options," he said.

NDP bill

The NSHA board has long been criticized for its closed-door meetings. The provincial NDP introduced a bill in February to open them, but it didn't pass.

Tammy Martin, the NDP health critic who proposed the bill, said in an interview she's glad the meetings will be open, but she doesn't understand why it will take so long to implement the changes.

"We should be able to do that immediately, I would think," she said. "It's a matter of posting the minutes, the agenda and inviting the public. I don't know why we need to wait a year."

NDP MLA Tammy Martin says she's glad the meetings will be open, but she doesn't know why it may take until next year to happen. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

Martin bristled at the suggestion by Health Minister Randy Delorey that the Liberals were responsible for the change.

Delorey told reporters on Thursday morning, "I can assure you, the work and the direction that the NSHA and the government takes is really from the executive table of the government, and that would be cabinet."

Martin said she was taken aback by that comment.

"This government had nothing to do with making these meetings public. They're taking credit for something they didn't do, when in fact the premier should have made this mandatory."

Read more articles from CBC Nova Scotia

With files from Frances Willick and Carolyn Ray,,,,,,,,,,