Nova Scotia

CBRM's struggle with virtual council meetings may be over

Cape Breton Regional Municipality has struggled with its livestreaming technology, making virtual council meetings difficult, but its IT director says a solution may be at hand.

IT director says bandwidth, existing technology have conspired against livestreaming

Cape Breton Regional Municipality has struggled with its livestreaming system for council meetings, but a solution may be at hand. (Cape Breton Regional Municipality website)

Since Nova Scotia declared a state of emergency, municipalities have had to hold council meetings online instead or in person.

That has posed technical and logistical challenges for most.

Some smaller municipalities quickly put together virtual council meetings and are posting videos online within 24 hours.

Others simply hold telephone conference calls and post a list of decisions in the minutes on their websites.

Cape Breton Regional Municipality has a fairly sophisticated livestream system in its council chambers, including multiple cameras and an operator in a soundproof booth.

Lately, though, the municipality has gone from having good quality audio and video to lower quality audio only.

John MacKinnon, CBRM's director of information technology and deputy chief administrative officer, said the second-largest municipality in the province faces some unique challenges.

Bandwidth at a premium

"Surprisingly enough, we don't have a ton of technology resources available," he said. "At the same time, though, there are a lot of moving parts in a bit of a larger municipality."

MacKinnon said with a mayor, 10 councillors and a large number of staff, online meetings can be unwieldy.

Many are at home in rural areas where high-speed internet is spotty or non-existent, and with so many other family members at home, internet usage is a big problem.

"We are hearing from our service providers ... that bandwidth is at a premium," MacKinnon said.

"Because people are home, they're watching Netflix, things like that, [and] it's putting a significant strain on the bandwidth that exists."

CBRM's existing livestream technology was also getting in the way. The initial plan was to use the existing system in conjunction with the internet meeting app Zoom.

MacKinnon said the existing system created sound delays and feedback that meant livestreaming had to be abandoned.

However, the next council meeting scheduled for this Wednesday afternoon will be livestreamed using Zoom only.

John MacKinnon is CBRM's director of IT and deputy CAO. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

Yarmouth Mayor Pam Mood, who is president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Municipalities, said there are many ways for municipalities to hold online meetings, including several software programs that have similar functions and abilities.

"We are left to choose whichever virtual means work best for us," she said.

"What I'm hearing thus far from municipalities is that it's working. I think it's much smoother than we all expected it to be."

Rural internet is a challenge, she said, but telephone conferences are possible.



Tom Ayers


Tom Ayers has been a reporter and editor for 37 years. He has spent the last 19 covering Cape Breton and Nova Scotia stories. You can reach him at