In May, when a B.C. task force released its recommendations to improve local government elections, one recommendation that didn’t get much attention was to increase the length of time local politicians stay in office from three years to four. Although having to ask voters less often for their support might be great for local politicians, it’s bad news for local citizens.
The B.C. government struck the Local Government Elections Task Force in 2009 to find ways to improve the electoral process for municipal elections in B.C. Task force members included three provincial politicians and three Union of British Columbia Municipalities members. But UBCM is a lobby group that represents the interests of local politicians and was able to use its position on the panel to support its own recommendations. Some, such as campaign contribution limits and the corporate vote received a fair bit of attention. However the recommendation to increase the length of the election cycle flew under the radar screen.
UBCM has lobbied long and hard to give local politicians an extra year of job security. In the 1980s, it was UBCM that lobbied to increase the election term from two years to three. Since 2007, it has been actively lobbying the provincial government to extend the election term by yet another year. So the recommendation for a longer election cycle came as no surprise.
How does a local government lobby group justify an extra year of pay, perks, and power?
UBCM claims holding elections less often will save money. Nice to know local politicians occasionally look for places to save taxpayer’s hard-earned dollars. But who really benefits with fewer elections? It’s the politicians, not the taxpayers.
UBCM claims a longer term will give local politicians more time to learn the ropes. Yet, according to CivicInfo B.C., of the 1,195 local government officials elected in 2008 (including mayors, councillors, trustees, and regional district officials) only 18 percent reported “no experience”. Frankly, with 82 percent getting re-elected, this excuse just doesn’t hold water.
UBCM also says that other provinces have four-year terms, so we should too. Since when does the excuse “everyone else is doing it” make something right?
There is other bad news. Because there is no ability to recall municipal politicians, it is virtually impossible to remove a politician from office mid-term.
For example, in 2008 the mayor of Port Coquitlam was charged with a criminal offense. He was sentenced to a one-year conditional sentence and 18 months probation. Port Coquitlam councillors asked him to resign, but he refused. A longer term would have kept him in office even longer, leaving local citizens with questionable representation.
Moving from a three to a four-year term is a big mistake. It lets politicians hang around in office even longer without seeking the approval of voters. Local government is supposed to serve citizens, not itself. To enhance accountability, local politicians need to face voters more often, not less. There is no legitimate justification for the provincial government to increase the election term.
You can make your views known by contacting Minister of Community and Rural Development Ben Stewart at 250-387-2283 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Maureen Bader is the B.C. director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.