Municipalities going to four-year terms

Grand Forks will be looking at four-year terms for councilors, mayors and regional directors.

Grand Forks will be looking at four-year terms for all its municipal councilors, as well as regional directors, the same as the rest of the province.

New legislation—passed last week—will have B.C. joining the other provinces in Canada in having four-year terms for those in municipal office.

The next election for Grand Forks council, as well as councils and regional districts across B.C., is set for Nov. 15.

The four-year term, which adds an additional year to the current three-year term, would be in effect for the next set of councilors.

Councilor Cher Wyers said there are many benefits for going from three years to four years.

“Three years goes pretty fast,” she said. “If you’re a newly elected official, those first two years are primarily learning, listening, catching up with what’s going on.

“This will add longevity and more continuity (for councils). (Currently), you just get into the process and year three you’re working into an election.”

She said the four years will also allow councils to complete more projects.

“There’s also the cost factor,” said Wyers. “You’re stretching it out now for four years instead of three. Elections cost money to put on.”

The 2014 municipal election throughout B.C. would be the introduction of the four-year term, said Wyers, after the province released a white paper on election reform on Aug. 27, 2013.

She said there were discussions at the Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) convention in September (2013) in Vancouver, with more input received from local governments around the province. The four-year term was passed as a motion at UBCM in September.

Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development Coralee Oakes said last week she would introduce legislation shortly to extend local government terms from three years to four. The change is to take effect in time for elections next fall.

The issue has been debated many times and has been divisive over the years, with some rural politicians arguing against extending the commitment for jobs with little pay.

Oakes, who served two terms on Quesnel city council before being elected to the B.C. legislature last year, said she had her own doubts about it when it was debated during that time. But she has made up her mind.

“The reason why provinces across Canada have moved to four years is it provides greater certainty in communities to move those very important projects forward, things such as infrastructure improvements,” Oakes said. “It provides opportunities for local government officials to understand their projects and to carry them through.”

The change would mean the next municipal election would be held in 2018, on a schedule that follows provincial elections by one year. Oakes said there was no intent to avoid having both elections at the same time, and she is acting in response to the UBCM’s vote to go ahead.

Asked if the legislation would include a “Rob Ford clause” to remove politicians who misbehave while in office, Oakes said the ministry is examining changes to the oath of office to “provide more tools” to deal with such situations.

— with files from Tom Fletcher, Black Press