The provincial government is increasing municipal election terms from three years to four.
That means when Elk Valley voters head to the polls in November, they have to live with their decision for an extra year.
Increasing the term was a controversial decision to say the least. The four year term has been brought to the Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) several times over the last few years and turned down. However a government task force recommended it, and after much hesitation, civic politicians endorsed it. All that’s left to do now is change the legislation, which is set to take place in the next few months.
Up until 1987, local councils were elected for two year terms. This helped to hold councillors accountable for decisions they made on local issues. Since 1987, councils have been elected for three year terms. As a result of the passage of time and voters’ short term memories, this has led to many controversial issues, which rarely cause much upheaval and have very little impact on the makeup of a council.
There are pros and cons to be considered with a longer term.
There is the fact that longer terms give a longer planning horizon for major projects. New councillors now have four years to make a difference – like they promised they would while campaigning. Many municipal projects take several years to become a reality, and it doesn’t help when they have to be handed over to a new council. This gives mayor and council four uninterrupted years to work on plans and projects, resulting in a more stable form of local government.
However a four-year term requires a longer commitment by the politician. While one might argue that this should result in better candidates, what about the smaller local governments like our own who feel this is too much time to give? In places like Fernie, Sparwood, and Elkford, most of our councillors are paid next to nothing and have a full-time job on top of the work they do for their communities. Four years might be one too many to ask them to devote their free time to a too-small budget and a job that often comes with more negatives than rewards.
Yes, less frequent municipal elections will mean less cost. And yes, there are those who believe four year elections could help boost voter turnout. But voter turnout, which was cited as the reason for going from two year terms to three in 1987, has only spiralled downwards since then.
Whether you agree with four year terms or not, it’s a done deal. So make the best of it by making the best choice you possibly can when election time rolls around this fall.