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Task force recommends longer municipal election terms, shunts corporate votes

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Would you want to sit in public office for four years? That could be the question you'll face if you decide to run for council in the 2011 municipal election.

The Local Government Elections Task Force is recommending that B.C.'s election laws be updated to allow four-year terms instead of the current three, which would make local elections concurrent with provincial ones.

The recommendation is just one of several in the Report of the Local Government Elections Task Force, which was delivered to the provincial government on May 28.

The task force reasons that longer terms would allow councils and boards to do more long-term planning and implement their own visions, rather than wait for a succeeding council to implement them.

The task force also argues that extending terms for municipal officials could reduce the number of elections across all three levels of government. It would thus "reduce the potential for voter fatigue over time."

The task force thus aligns itself with a UBCM policy that favours extending the term length for elected officials. The suggestion came up frequently in the task force's deliberations and arguments were made that moving the voting day to October from November would make better weather more likely, as well as increased accessibility for people who travel.

The suggestion to extend terms by a year met with lukewarm response among Sea to Sky politicians. Susie Gimse, a councillor with the Village of Pemberton and former president of the UBCM, said she likes the three-year term because it allows her to be held accountable by voters more frequently.

"I know I've been around a long time but in my mind, during an election, you as an elected official are held accountable for the decisions you've made and your performance over the term," she said. "In that regard... it's a longer time period before you have to go before the people that you represent."

Meanwhile Ralph Forsyth, a councillor with the Resort Municipality of Whistler, opposed the term extension flatly, saying it's too long for someone to sit a single term in public office.

"I don't like it," he said. "I remember the first time I ran I failed. I thought 'okay, I've got three years to get my shit together and do it again,' but four years is a long time.

"The feds generally stick to a four- or five-year time frame, the province is a four-year time frame and I think local governments should be a little bit quicker."

Other items tackled in the report included a "corporate vote" that would allow businesses to vote in municipal elections. The task force recommended against it, saying that there's no corporate vote anywhere except for London, England.

The task force did, however, recognize that business owners in some communities are concerned about issues such as property taxes and want their concerns heard. They thus recommended exploring non-electoral approaches to address their concerns.

The decision went against the wishes of the B.C. Chamber of Commerce, which supports a corporate vote because it was in place in B.C. before and, said Chamber President John Winter, it was a means for businesses to have some say in municipal affairs.

"There's a growing concern about what is sensed to be a lack of responsibility being executed by municipal governments, but not most municipal governments, with regard to the flagrant way they play, develop budgets and spend," he said in an interview.

"Clearly it's been established that businesses pay a disproportionate share of the tax and use a disproportionately small portion of the services that municipalities offer. That gap continues to widen in some instances, but not all."

Premier Gordon Campbell announced the elections task force at the Union of British Columbia Municipalities' (UBCM) annual convention in 2009, and charged it with changing legislation governing local elections. Bill Bennett, Minister of Community and Rural Development, was appointed to head up the task force alongside UBCM President Harry Nice. Other members of the task force included Surrey Councillor Barbara Steele, Cariboo-Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett, as well as Robert Hobson, a past president of the UBCM.

 

 

 

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