Doubts cast on plans for four-year local government terms

One Terrace city councillor says longer terms might discourage young people from running

NOT ALL local government officials are in favour of changing three-year terms to four-year terms beginning with this November’s elections.

Seen as a cost-saving move that will align B.C.’s local election terms lengths with those in other provinces, the provincial government announced last week it will introduce appropriate legislation this spring.

The proposed four-year terms will apply to municipal, school district and regional district elected positions.

Terrace mayor Dave Pernarowski said he is surprised to hear that the change would be legislated so soon after the Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) narrowly passed a resolution last fall in favour of recommending the change to the province.

“I’m surprised that this UBCM resolution which failed two years ago during voting and only narrowly passed at last year’s convention would be high on the provincial government’s priority list of things to legislate,” he said, adding he favours the traditional three-year term.

“I heard very good arguments during last year’s debate at the UBCM convention that have me leaning toward the idea that a term of three years is a reasonable length of time for a municipal government to hold office …” said Pernarowski.

Pernarowski, who has yet to decide if he’ll run again this November, said the length of term will not be a factor leading to his decision.

“My reasons for participating as a member of council have no bearing on the length of term. I’ll make this decision based on the circumstances that are before me when it’s time to file my paperwork for re-election,” he added.

City councillor Bruce Bidgood, who is also the chair of the Kitimat-Stikine regional district, is opposed to the change.

“Why? The rationale for the change seems to rely primarily on the desire of the province and reportedly business to have a higher degree of predictability in their dealings with local government. There was no mention about improving governance. The proposed cost-savings can only really be achieved if the provincial and local government elections are synched so that voters go to the poll only once every four years. I do not believe that the province is proposing this…so we will save one election every third or fourth electoral cycle.”

“I am also concerned about the level of commitment that this requires from local elected officials who are essentially elected volunteers. I am hoping that this does not lead to some potential candidates refusing to run because of the tenure of office. This will remain to be seen,” said Bidgood who is planning to run for mayor.

City councillor Brian Downie, on the other hand, voted in favour of the resolution at UBCM and agrees with the timing of the provincial legislation.

But he acknowledges that the legislation might be a blow against younger candidates being interested.

“Some would say its an impediment to recruitment, especially younger people, into municipal politics,” he said. “I do support extending of the term and I did vote in favour [at UBCM] … I think it is useful, particularly now in the northwest, with so many opportunities I think a four year term is useful to council to develop policies and strategies and see them carried out. The next four years is when an important part of our work is going to be done,” said Downie.

Downie said he plans to run again for council again.

Bidgood did say the impending change to four years did factor into his plans and Downie said that it is important for councillors to seriously consider the commitment before running.

“Of course, the term of office will cross my mind when making the decision to run in the next local election,” said Bidgood. “Who doesn’t account for a whole year of their time when making future plans.”

City councillors Stacey Tyers and James Cordeiro are against the change.

“Longer time commitments will likely reduce the number of people wishing to run for council,” said Cordeiro. “In my opinion a robust field of candidates is in the best interest of the electorate.”

He added that the change has not affected his decision to run again or not but he is not releasing his decision until the filing deadline.

Tyers prefers a three-year term, adding “I think in smaller communities where it is part time and essentially volunteering, it’s harder to commit the extra year.”

“I also think it will discourage younger people from stepping forward because they may be starting families, have families, or change direction in their careers.”

Tyers said the change will be a factor in her decision to run again.