We would like to see term limits in place for municipal government. While some, especially well ensconced mayors and councillors, see them as unnecessary, even detrimental, we disagree. We think term limits of two consecutive terms of four years each would improve municipal government greatly. And we think it is time that a policy of term limits for mayor and councillors is considered seriously.
Instead of governments imposing term limits, municipal politicians should do that themselves, suggests [Ont.] Municipal Affairs Minister Jim Watson.
“If you spend too long in the job, you can get a little complacent, not as full of fresh ideas,” Watson said in an interview with the Sun….
“I don’t believe in imposing term limits, but it’s always healthy for councillors to impose their own limits,” Watson said, suggesting three four-year terms should be enough.
We are do not like over-regulation but the trouble with leaving this to candidates to decide is that the best candidates may self limit and not offer again – as Bob Stead was originally and rightly planning to do but unfortunately did not- while the worst will return term after term to their cosy positions of power.
“Three terms is 12 years, if you haven’t been able to get through what you want in 12 years, maybe it is time to move on,” he said.
We agree there. The ideal for us would be limits exercised by the voters, i. e. a policy of refusing to vote for candidates who have been in their positions more than eight or twelve years except in exceptional circumstances. However voters don’t do this; incumbents are notoriously hard to dislodge.
...Watson says he hears from community groups who want a more level playing field for newcomers interested in challenging incumbents.
In the last two municipal elections, for example, no incumbent [Ottawa] city councillors were ousted, though incumbent mayor Bob Chiarelli lost to Mayor Larry O’Brien.
In recent memory, the only new city councillors finding a spot on council have been those like Gloucester-South Nepean Coun. Steve Desroches or Kitchissippi Coun. Christine Leadman, who ran in wards where the incumbent had resigned.
“I really admire Steve Desroches, who ran the first time telling his residents he wouldn’t stay more than two terms,” Watson said.
We admire him too. As we would have applauded Bob Stead’s sense had he followed his first instincts.
“New candidates throwing their hat(s) into the arena have an uphill battle getting their word out and overcoming the public’s lack of knowledge of them or their campaign platform, so in many cases prospective campaigners don’t bother running particularly when coming up against long time veteran(s) of city council. “Obviously this can lead to very stale dialogue and a lack of fresh ideas around the council table.
Incumbents have many advantages not least of which are well cemented ties to interest groups of various sorts in town who have become dependent on municipal favours. And incumbents, especially mayors, have a profile in the media and the use of administrative staff and facilities which they use to their advantage before and even during their campaigns, without scrutiny or oversight, as happened here in Wolfville.
The Ontario Minister of Municipal Affairs Jim Watson says much in favour of term limits in this article in the Ottawa Sun, and perhaps will remove one of incumbent’s advantages in that province.
Watson said the Municipal Elections Act is reviewed after each election.
One of the things the province is looking at, Watson said, is the ability of incumbents to bank any surplus they raised during the election for the next time around.
That makes it even harder for newcomers to win over the more experienced candidates.
While we too would prefer that limits were voluntary or decided by informed and honest voters, the Sun reader who said that until the obstacles to newcomers running are removed, imposed term limits may be the only way to ensure a level playing field, has a point. And if municipalities won’t set such a policy for themselves then perhaps it should be written into the NS Municipal Elections Act [not that the Act is very strictly enforced; are municipal campaign contributions, for example, monitored by anyone?]
Although we have a stale mayor who is well past his “best before date”, what an accomplishment it was to get not just one but THREE new faces on Wolfville’s Council! We hope one of the fresh ideas at the table will be a discussion of term limits for the next time round.