Council term status quo the way to go

by Editorial Board - May 4, 2018

It’s a funny thing when politicians champion for changes the public has neither asked for nor likely cares about.

The latest case at hand is the city proposal to extend term limits for city council and mayor from three years to four.

Yellowknifer spoke to three city councillors last week who, no surprise, were all very much in favour.

The Cities, Towns and Villages Act legislates term lengths for the mayor and council. The Act allows the terms to be increased to as many as four years or reduced to as few as two.

We can appreciate that it’s a sharp learning curve for newly elected councillors, whose first order of business typically is to jump right into budget deliberations for the following year. The idea, however, that mayor and council could get more done if they had four years instead of three to move their agenda forward is more suspect.

It’s laughable if the benchmark for comparison is the legislative assembly, who have four years to get the job done.

This is the same legislative assembly who have dithered for nearly a decade on legislation to allow municipalities to collect a hotel tax to help community efforts to boost tourism. MLAs have been talking about a 911 emergency phone service for even longer. One is finally coming next year apparently.

If the goal is to see things through until they’re done, why not just bump term lengths for elected office to 10 years? How about 20?

Of course, this is democracy we’re talking about. For that reason, we’re inclined to support the status quo – even if elections cost $50,000 to $60,000 a pop. That’s the cost of a new bylaw truck. They can wait a year for another one.

From our perspective, a three-year term is more appropriate for municipal politicians if only because of the difficulties finding committed politicians willing to do the work. It is, after all, only a part-time job, or at least it only pays part time. As suggested by Coun. Adrian Bell, four years is a big commitment to expect of someone who needs another job to pay the bills.

And from what we can tell, the city is already having a hard enough time finding candidates.

In fact, in most municipal elections, with the top eight being awarded seats on council, candidates have at least a 50 per cent of getting elected simply by putting themselves in the ring. In 2015, there were 15 candidates, in 2012, there were 12.

The mayor’s race is rarely ultra-competitive either. You have to go back to 2000 for a mayoral election with more than three candidates in it. That year’s winner, Gord Van Tighem, was acclaimed twice after that.

The one good thing about the four-year term proposal is that it’s tied to voter approval in this fall’s municipal election. If council and city administration can convince voters that this is a good idea, and a majority say ‘yes’ in a referendum, then so be it.

Maybe people don’t want to vote for council every three years. If that’s the case, then let the voters decide.