Delegates at the Union of BC Municipalities have endorsed having local elections every four years, to match up with provincial votes.
The resolution to extend terms of office from three years to four was supported by 60 per cent of voting delegates, who want the B.C. government to make the change in time for municipal elections in November 2014.
If it is enacted, B.C. would join Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Quebec, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, Ontario, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick, which have four-year terms for local politicians.
The issue has divided urban and rural communities for years, with some rural councillors calling for shorter terms for what they say is mainly volunteer work with minimum pay. One rural delegate said the idea comes from “professional politicians” in the Lower Mainland, where council pay is higher.
Proponents argue that four-year terms reduce turnover and would increase local election participation by being timed with provincial votes.
The UBCM executive added another argument for the change, noting that several local mayors and councillors were elected to the B.C. legislature in May. The executive called for direction from the province “to avoid governance conflicts, expensive byelections, long absences on council and boards and the double-dipping of salaries.”
The UBCM rejected the suggestion of four-year terms at its 2010 convention. It was debated and supported in 2007. Earlier motions supported the current system of elections every three years province-wide.
“The matter of extending the civic election interval is already being considered by the Provincial government though they did not say that their considerations will be done in time for the 2014 election,” said Mayor Bill Humphrey’s
“In 2008 four municipalities held referendums around the issue. Three municipalities passed the referendum and one failed, that municipality being Merritt. This has long been a hotly contested issue with good points on both sides of the argument. Personally, I support four year terms for civic elections. I also support having them match to Provincial elections to avoid costly by-elections. The four year term will allow for proper planning and guidance from Council as well as allow enough time for new Councillors to properly learn their roles and responsibilities. In the end the municipality would be better served with a longer term.”