B.C. moving to four-year civic terms

If approved, the next civic election after November 2014 will be in October 2018.  - The News/Files
If approved, the next civic election after November 2014 will be in October 2018.
— image credit: The News/Files

The province is extending terms for municipal politicians from three years to four years, bringing B.C. in line with other Canadian provinces.

Community, Sport and Cultural Development Minister Coralee Oakes announced the changes Tuesday saying the current legislative session will seek to switch local elections from a three-year to a four-year cycle, starting with this November’s civic vote.

“My experience as a municipal councillor convinced me that to succeed  in today’s complex world, local governments need enough time to plan and complete projects that build strong, inclusive communities,” said Oakes.

If approved, the next civic election after November 2014 will be in October 2018.

Extending the term of office will apply to B.C.’s mayors and all elected officials serving municipalities, regional districts, park  boards, school boards and the Islands Trust.

It’s a change welcomed by Pitt Meadows mayor Deb Walters, especially for larger municipalities.

“It saves the taxpayers money because it costs money to have an election every three years,” said Walters who served as a councillor for two terms before winning the mayor’s seat in 2011.

The longer term will also allow councils to settle in and perhaps get more done.

“For new councillors especially, it takes a while to learn the lay of the land,” said Walters.

Coun. Janis Elkerton, a veteran on Pitt Meadows council, called the plan to extend terms a “positive move.”

“When you are a new councillor, the first year of the term is a learning experience, then you get into the productivity of the second year and by the third year you are into election mode again,” said Elkerton.

“It will bring more productivity to council.”

The move to four-year terms is part of a package of civic election reforms planned for the current legislative session. The changes will also modernize election campaign financing rules ahead of the 2014 local elections but the province has yet to elaborate on what those changes entail. Expense limits will not be implemented in 2014.

Moving to four-year terms was recommended by the province’s Local Government Elections Task Force and supported via a resolution by the Union of British Columbia Municipalities.

Although he welcomed the change for urban municipalities, Maple Ridge councillor Mike Morden is concerned that the longer terms will adversely affect his rural counterparts.

“For smaller communities, it’s an extreme challenge because they can’t get people to run for elected office,” said Morden, who will be vying for the mayor’s chair in November.

But Morden believes the longer terms will give large municipalities more time to achieve their goals.

“It’s been referred to as the glacial pace of bureaucracy and I’m afraid that it is,” he said.

Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows MLA Doug Bing says the new term length is an excellent idea.

Bing, who spent of eight years on Pitt Meadows city council, said the four-year term will be most beneficial to newcomers to municipal politics.

“It takes you a year or even two, to find your way,” he said.

Rookie politicians will have long enough in office to demonstrate that they can be effective leaders, before the next election cycle, he said.

“B.C. is the last province in Canada to go to four-year terms, so we’re not exactly reinventing the wheel,” added Bing.


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