Yellowknife council to discuss four-year terms

by Avery Zingel - April 27, 2018

City council will discuss a recommendation Monday that would see city council terms extended to four years from three.

An agenda item on the municipal services committee agenda also states the decision could be made by voters in a public plebiscite this fall.

City council at the start of their term in 2015: From left are Adrian Bell, Steve Payne, Niels Konge, Linda Bussey, Mayor Mark Heyck, Rebecca Alty, Julian Morse, Shauna Morgan, and Rommel Silverio. Voters may be choosing councillors for four-year terms in this year’s election.
NNSL file photo

Before the increased terms can be put to a plebiscite, council must pass a bylaw, stated Keith Sulzer, manager of municipal law and policy, in an e-mail.

Several councillors reached by Yellowknifer voiced their support for such an initiative, citing voter fatigue, and shoulder years where councillors are either learning the ropes or preparing for a coming election.

“The recommendation is to go to a four year term from a three year, which is consistent with the trend elsewhere,” said deputy mayor Adrian Bell.

“It makes sense for a variety of reasons but there are also drawbacks,” he said. “In the first year you’re learning the ropes. In some terms, the third year is people getting ready for the election and thinking about sound bites and politics and that can be a distraction at the back end of the term.”

Some drawbacks to a four-year term, said Bell, include a need for greater commitment from prospective councillors.

Coun. Julian Morse favours a four-year term to bring the City of Yellowknife in line with other municipalities in Canada.

“The bottom line is I am in favour of it. Elections are expensive (and) three years is a really short mandate,” he said.

“It is a short period of time and I’m coming to terms with that as our term ends,” said Morse.

There is “more to accomplish,” said Morse, publicly announcing for the first time that he will run in the coming election.

In a prospective second term, Morse hopes to advance projects with the heritage committee, economic development initiatives, and work with the university feasibility study.

“For me, I really want to ensure Yellowknife has a prosperous future,” he said. “I think the city needs to focus more on economic development than it has in the past. It really matters to me and that’s why I ran.”

Morse echoed Bell’s sentiments that other municipalities have four year terms.

“It’s more common and it would line us up with the territory which would be nice,” he said.

Councillors are often voting on budgets of previous councils, and have their hands in only two budgets during their term.

“That’s a really fast turn around and there is something to be said for settling into a role. Government is slow, it takes a long time,” said Morse.

Coun. Linda Bussey also favours a four year term, although she does not plan to run in the coming election.

“If you really want to make a difference in your term, the third and fourth years are incredible,” said Bussey.

At the tail end of a term, councillors often go into “election mode.”

An extended term would allow councillors “two solid years” to propose changes and see recommendations come to fruition, rather than future councils voting on items put forward by previous councils.

Bussey is pleased with her achievements during her term, she told Yellowknifer.

“My plans right now are to move into a new job and it’s going to demand a lot. I ran on a platform to do some work with the homeless and I think I met my goals,” she said.

“I think what I stood for, I reached. I’m ready to go into the next chapter of my life.”

Before Bussey leaves office at the end of council’s term, she will work to get the GNWT “up to the plate” to back social initiatives for homelessness in the city.

“I think its time the GNWT injects money in it,” said Bussey. “We’ve taken on social issues and we don’t have a social issues department.”