Municipal elections to switch to four-year terms

Four years or three?

Opinions are mixed on Salmon Arm council regarding proposed provincial legislation that will extend the terms of municipal politicians to four years from three. The B.C. government will introduce the legislation during the current session and, if approved, the next municipal elections after November 2014 will be in October 2018.

Mayor Nancy Cooper said she thinks a four-year term will provide more time to complete projects and will add continuity. She also points to the cost of elections.

“For example, the City of Salmon Arm has set aside $30,000 in the budget for the 2014 election, so over time there would be savings. I understand that if a community has a dysfunctional council, four years can seem like a long time. However, overall on this particular issue, the positives win.”

Coun. Alan Harrison said although the idea has pros and cons, “overall, I think four year terms will work well.”

Coun. Denise Reimer pointed out that in a community the size of Salmon Arm, politicians must work part-time.

“My first reaction was that four years could be a detriment to potential candidates who may be interested but are not able to commit due to other employment commitments…,” she said. “Having said this, I believe moving from three years to four has the potential to work in favour of municipalities as there will be less cost to the taxpayer, and more time for elected officials to implement ideas they have run on.”

Reimer said she will run whether the term is three or four years.

Coun. Ken Jamieson has mixed feelings, but added the length of term will have little bearing on his decision regarding the next election.

“While I am not opposed to longer terms, I think three-year terms are appropriate and are working well. The provincial government cites saving money, and that may be true, but does it make municipal governments better or more effective?”

Benefits to four-year terms could be city hall becoming more predictable, aiding in planning projects and land-use decisions for investors and developers, he said.

“Another bonus would be that we would see less of those annoying campaign signs.”

Jamieson said making the commitment to run for four years might be difficult for some, particularly young people, who might not want to stay in town for the small salary of a city councillor. Then there’s the possibility of a person being elected who  is not up to the challenge.

“We are stuck with them for one year longer than now.”

Jamieson notes that during his first stint on council in the late 1980s, local elections were held annually, with three new politicians elected each year for two-year terms.

“We were forever getting ready for another election.”

Coun. Marg Kentel said she is concerned that four years could discourage people from running.

“I personally think we should just leave it alone. Two years is not enough, it takes you a good year to learn,” she said, nothing that three years works well.

Coun. Chad Eliason said he thinks three years in smaller communities works well, but in larger centres like Vancouver or Kamloops, campaigning starts early.

“For smaller centres, I think three years is still reasonable. But I definitely see why for larger cities, especially with the expenses they’re putting into elections, they want a four-year term.”

Eliason says in a smaller community, being a city councillor “is basically a volunteer job,” while in bigger cities, “it’s a job.”

Delegates at the Union of BC Municipalities voted for three- year terms last year, and four-year terms this year, he pointed out.

“I don’t know if they really have the support, one year later.”

Coun. Debbie Cannon wasn’t available for comment.




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