Let’s Talk Taxes: Longer doesn’t mean better

When an election is called, do you break into cold sweats? Have trouble eating? Just can’t seem to get out of bed on Election Day? No? Didn’t think so. Apparently you are not suffering from what some people refer to as “voter fatigue.”

By Alberta Director Scott Hennig:

When an election is called, do you break into cold sweats? Have trouble eating? Just can’t seem to get out of bed on Election Day? No? Didn’t think so. Apparently you are not suffering from what some people refer to as “voter fatigue.”

You shouldn’t be surprised, most people aren’t. Likely because they either: a) don’t vote, or b) don’t mind spending a half hour to cast a ballot every once in a while.

Nevertheless, some people – well, some politicians to be exact – are advocating increasing the term of office for municipal politicians from three-years to four-years as a way to reduce the number of elections Albertans have.

A great idea if you are a politician, a terrible one if you are a voter.

The issue has been brewing in certain circles in Alberta for the past few years. The Alberta Urban Municipalities Association has passed a handful of resolutions since 2004 asking the province to extend municipal terms from three years to four.

As such, the provincial ministry of Municipal Affairs has recently initiated some consultations on the potential of extending municipal terms. Unfortunately, they are only consulting with municipal politicians and not with voters.

As it turns out, municipal politicians like the idea of an extra year of job security, and spending less time asking their constituents for their support – shocking!

Granted, Alberta is one of three provinces to have three-year terms for their municipal politicians. And it has been this way since 1968 when the province enacted the current length. Prior to that, many municipalities were using one or two-year terms for their municipal politicians.

The reasons most often given for wanting to move to four-year terms are the aforementioned “voter fatigue,” saving the cost of running elections, allowing new politicians a longer period of learning the ropes before they have to run for re-election, and encouraging more long-term planning.

Most of these reasons are weak at best.

As for the cost of running elections, the City of Edmonton estimates a savings of $125,000 per year thanks to fewer elections. This represents a taxpayer savings of 0.008 per cent of annual city spending.

And with approximately 85 per cent of municipal politicians being re-elected each year, it would seem few are being tossed after only three years.

As for long-term planning, it’s laughable to suggest that three years is “short-term” while four years is “long-term.”

Flimsy excuses aside, the real reason most municipal politicians want longer terms is one of job security. Other than perhaps being a tenured professor, being a politician in Alberta is the only job you can get where you are guaranteed not to be fired for three years.

The citizens of Lethbridge learned this the hard way when former Alderman Dar Heatherington faked an abduction, lied to police (eventually convicted of mischief), and only resigned just prior to the next election –15 months after her antics were revealed. Under a four-year term, citizens there might have had a lack of representation for even longer.

Fortunately, not all municipal politicians agree. Ten-term Edmonton city councilor Ron Hayter recently said: “With a three-year term you can’t coast. You’ve got to be on your toes all the time,” Hayter says. “Sure it may save some money but I don’t think it provides better government.”

Well said Mr. Hayter. Well said.