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UBCM rejects four-year municipal election terms



Delegates to the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) convention voted last Thursday to keep municipal election terms at three years.

Slightly more than 350 people voted against a motion to extend the election terms to four years, while 280 delegates supported the proposal.

This is a wider voter margin than a standing vote the previous day, where 244 voted for the motion and 268 voted against. Those results were immediately contested and the motion was put to a ballot vote Thursday morning.

Election terms have been a contentious issue within the UBCM in previous years. A motion to move to four years was defeated in 2009. It was brought up again after an electoral task force recommended in May that B.C. municipalities follow the rest of Canada's lead and move to four-year terms.

The task force also recommended changing the date of municipal elections from November to October, which the UBCM delegates agreed last week. This change will likely be effective for the 2014 election.

The six-member elections task force was a joint provincial and municipal project, co-chaired by they-Minister of Community and Rural Development Bill Bennett and then-president of the UBCM Harry Nyce. The task force reviewed specific issues related to government elections, including campaign finance and corporate votes.

The provincial government has adopted 30 of the 31 recommendations. The exception was the four-year terms, which the Liberal government left to the UBCM to make a decision.

Vancouver Councillor Ellen Woodsworth said she was surprised that the provincial government kicked the issue back to the municipalities at all.

"It just seems like the province doesn't want to deal with the issue," she said.

She spoke in favour of the motion last Wednesday, saying it would allow for more stability. She said she was disappointed with Thursday's results.

"I thought it was very divisive," she said. "I think we used up a huge amount of time that we could have been voting on other things," said Woodsworth.

The divisions seemed to split urban and rural communities. Smaller community leaders spoke out against the motion Wednesday saying that it's difficult enough attracting people to commit to three-year terms.

Supporters of the motion stated that an extra year would allow for more follow-through on agenda issues.

"No, it shouldn't take any more than six months to get up to speed, and then you have your time in office," said Whistler Councillor Ralph Forsyth, who spoke against the motion on Wednesday. "People were making the argument that in the third year you're campaigning. Well, no one's campaigning for a year."

Minister of Community and Rural Development Ben Stewart told Pique in an e-mail that what the UBCM delegates decided is final.

"I respect the decision and will be taking UBCM's decision to Cabinet," Stewart wrote. "Ministry staff are working on developing the necessary legislation reflecting all of the changes recommended by the task force which we intend to have in place in time for the fall 2011 municipal elections."

A spokesperson for the UBCM said that since four-year terms have come up in the past it's entirely possible that it will come up again in the future. However, the timing of this year's decision - with legislation moving forward next spring solidifying three-year terms - means delegates may avoid the discussion for a few years.