Editorial — Four-year terms another step backwards for local democracy

The diminishing of local democracy continues, with an announcement Tuesday by the provincial government that municipal councils and boards of education will now be elected for four-year terms, instead of three.

While many local governments favour the switch, there are a significant number of smaller communities who do not, as has been expressed when Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) conventions address this topic. Nonetheless, the views of a task force set up by the province and UBCM have now prevailed. All that is necessary is a change to legislation, set to take place in the next few months.

Prior to 1987, local councils were elected for two-year terms, with half the council elected each year in most communities. This meant that councillors were constantly forced to be accountable for decisions they made on local issues. At that time, there were also much stricter requirements that municipal borrowing be approved by voters in a referendum, which acted as another constraint on municipal excesses.

Since 1987, councils have been elected for three-year terms, with just one election every three years. This has led to controversial issues rarely causing much upheaval and having little impact on the makeup of a council, due to the passage of time and voters’ short memories.

It is interesting that voter turnout, which was cited as justification for the changes back in 1987, has continued to spiral downwards. Most people simply tune out local governments and don’t bother voting. In the two Langleys, voter turnout usually is around 20 per cent.

All the platitudes about four-year elections helping boost turnout and allowing local governments to do better long-term planning are just spin. This move puts more power in the hands of councils and municipal administrators, and less in the hands of those who pay the bills.

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