Editorial: Municipal councils need to be reined in

A few months after the election, you’re not happy with the way your municipality is being run. The thought of waiting three and a half years for another election is more than you can take — what kind of trouble will these losers get into given all that time? How much more national embarrassment can we stand?

So you organize a recall campaign, get a bunch of others to agree with you, force the jerks from office, and trigger another election. This time, with luck, you will get some councillors you can stand.

article continues below

They will stay in office just long enough to find the washrooms at city hall. Then other people will campaign against them, force another recall and campaign, and there we go again.

Having the ability to fire local politicians, as proposed by the Grumpy Taxpayer$ of Greater Victoria, makes sense in theory. It could, however, have many unintended consequences, not the least of which would be the nonstop disruption of council business and the relentless campaigning by those already in office.

We can understand why the watchdog group is upset with the way local councils — with Victoria at the top of the list — are being run. We can understand the frustration level, and the feeling that something needs to be done to make things right.

We agree with Stan Bartlett, head of the Grumpy Taxpayer$, when he said that people are angry. “They’re dispirited with local government and the City of Victoria council in particular,” he said in his call for the province to introduce recall legislation for municipal councillors.

We would go even further. Many people have lost faith in the people they trusted with their votes. They do not hear a voice at the council table that represents their points of view. They are disengaged. They feel councillors are chasing their own agendas and ideologies, not doing the job they were elected to do.

The Grumpies say Victoria council spends too much time dealing with issues out of its municipal jurisdiction. “There are deep-seated issues at Victoria council that are not being addressed and what we’re seeing on a regular basis is distraction,” Bartlett said.

Half a century ago, we had municipal elections every fall, with half the council elected each time. That was changed to full council elections every two years, which meant that voters could toss the bums out relatively quickly if things went off the rails. But the election calendar was then shifted to three-year cycles, and since 2014, four-year terms.

One theory behind the move to four-year terms was that council members would spend less time campaigning and more time doing what they were elected to do. In reality, the change just gave rise to a different problem: Instead of tackling the tasks expected of any municipal government, some councillors have taken their elections as a four-year free pass to charge down whatever path they fancy without fear of being reined in.

The Grumpy Taxpayer$ proposal will probably not win the support of the provincial government, and nor should it. We can’t have a system that allows the defeated to demand a rematch for every lost election. Like it or not, the municipal councillors we have today were elected fairly last fall.

Besides, even if the province decided to enact a municipal recall provision, it would not be available to get us out of any messes before the next round of municipal elections in 2022.

But that doesn’t mean the current system works. In municipal politics, four years is too long to go without accountability to the voters.

What can we do? Let our MLAs, the only ones who can fix this, know how we feel. Stay involved. Stay informed. Don’t become disengaged, even though those in power seem to want you to be.

Read Related Topics

© Copyright Times Colonist