Delegates at the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) have thrown their support behind the idea of making the term for municipal leaders four years instead of the current three to match up with their provincial and federal counterparts.
As someone who has closely covered municipal politics for the better part of a decade, the idea certainly has its merits. But, that being said, it certainly has its drawbacks as well.
Perhaps the biggest plus to having the same faces sitting in council chambers for four years instead of three is it provides a much greater degree of continuity when it comes to major projects that involve various levels of government. Those federal and provincial politicians working on the file will be able to move forward knowing that the municipal leaders they are working with will be the same for the next 48 months and that the council of the community will have a consistent direction throughout. It must be tough to work on a multi-year project only to have someone new come in with new priorities that make the work done in the past a moot point.
But the flip side of that coin is that the voters have less opportunity to change the leadership should council move in a direction they simply don’t like. Perhaps the priorities of the council are not those of the residents or perhaps council continually makes decisions resident disagree with. Instead of a relatively quick three-year turnaround, voters will be stuck with those in office for four years. This could lead to greater apathy in the community than already exists (given the lack of any audience at any council).
On the ugly side of things, I think these new four-year terms will discourage people from seeking office more so than in the past. Making a three-year commitment to office, which involves a lot of work for not a lot of pay, is one thing, but four years of your life is a long time to commit given how much can change. This could lead to more costly byelections.
It’s another idea that seems to benefit the professional politicians in the Lower Mainland, but doesn’t make sense for rural B.C.