Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Term Limits for Councillors


The following item is my Nov. 23, 2009 column “Eye on City Hall” published every Monday in Oshawa Durham Central Newspaper. I also host a 3 hour radio program under the same title every Monday from 6-9 pm. Both can be accessed at http://www.ocentral.com/

This week I am going to focus on two ideas proposed by Councillor John Henry at a Committee Meeting this past week….Term Limits for City Politicians and his proposal to rectify the loss of local community representation due to City Council’s decision to adopt the City-wide general vote. Henry is suggesting that council appoint councilors as ward representatives in something he called "special interest" wards.

While the first proposal is outstanding, it will not get the support of council, and the second is ludicrous, but will probably be adopted by the next council elected in November, 2010.

The real question is why Councillor John Henry proposed these ideas knowing full well that neither has a hope in hell of succeeding. He is either naïve or just spouting wind proposing ideas that even he probably disagrees with.

Funny how things work in politics. So why would Henry do this?

The only criteria for election under the general vote is “high name recognition” and does not at all depend upon quality of input to city business or a high level of service to ward voters responsible for political success under the ward elections that are used in every large city in the country except for Vancouver which has Municipal Political Parties. These are illegal under Ontario Municipal Law. Funny that Oshawa City Council has abolished the system used virtually everywhere else and has adopted a system not used in any large city in the country. If Oshawa City Council’s system was best, wouldn’t it be widely used?

In requiring only high name recognition for political success and making every councillor a competitor for the same city wide vote, the general vote promotes a non-productive and dysfunctional city council. All councilors will backstab, bitch, bicker and grandstand to grab the press to enhance their name recognition. No councillor will support a good idea coming from a fellow councilor since they wouldn’t want to give any competitor a “leg-up” for the next election. So let’s use these ideas of the dynamics of a general vote council to see why Councillor John Henry would make his suggestions and why council would never support them leading up to an election.

Henry’s first idea is limiting councilors to 3 consecutive terms (12 years) for any single position on council. This idea is outstanding since we have 3 council members who have sat on city council in excess of 20 years and 9 of 11 councillors have sat for over 12 years. Wouldn’t it be useful to insure some turnover to bring vitality and fresh ideas to council? Term limits are not a new idea and are used with some frequency in Democracies around the world. Term limits guarantee that councils do not become dominated by senile“flat-earthers”

When the question came up for committee discussion, it was if the city council “truck” was stuck on the top of a manure pile…and you were asked to help push it off as city council drivers spun the wheels and shot it right back in your face. It’s time for city voters to reverse the spin!

All of the political “spin” was negative….but what would you expect. With the lucrative part time job on council, why would councilors vote themselves out of this windfall? It doesn’t matter what is best in producing vibrant leadership for the city. Opponents said, 1) in a democracy, no candidate should be denied the right to run for office, and, 2) turfing office holders out after 12 years would result in too many inexperienced members. They didn’t mention that shooting the idea full of holes would guarantee the positions of the council dinosaurs. Holy Cow…the most powerful politician in the world, the USA president is limited to 2 terms or 8 years and thus an inexperienced president is elected every 4 or 8 years….but inexperienced office holders are incapable in running Oshawa’s business? Get real!

In terms of democracy, I don’t know why politicians are so keenly jumping on this track when they failed to insure the most basic and fundamental democratic right in regards to the general vote plebiscite question, the right to be informed which Canada’s Supreme Court has indicated is a citizen’s basic right and a most basic requirement for democracy to function in Canada. They said it was not their responsibility to inform voters about the question. Ludicrous! What would be your reaction if your child failed a test because the teacher refused to teach the content of the test?

Politicians cannot tackle this question of term limits because of conflict of interest problems. The Ontario Municipal Act prohibits them from voting on issues in which they have a pecuniary interest. Now that the issue has arisen, I suggest that council must now hold a plebiscite on this question to let the people decide. The result would then be forwarded to the Provincial Government to encourage them to introduce legislation allowing term limits. The idea of term limits was discussed, but unfortunately not adopted, in government proceedings leading up to recently introduced revisions to the Municipal Elections Act.

The second idea introduced by Councillor John Henry would have politicians themselves divvying up the city and appointing themselves to their favoured wards. This goes against everything we believe in our representative democracy and also the chief rationale given by council for adopting the general vote. They said that ward voting led to councillor’s parochial views in only being interest and engaged in their own communities without taking a city-wide view, a red herring flouted by ward system opponents prior to 1985 when I brought ward politics to the city. I don’t know how new arenas downtown and in the north end, new firehalls in the developing parts of the north end, rebuilding and renovating city hall downtown, etc. squares with the idea of parochialism since these expenditures required majority council votes. Council then is unlikely to undermine the chief rationale they gave for changing the election system….they can’t very well appoint ward representatives now that they have just thrown them out.

And why would Councillor John Henry vote continually and on every question to throw out ward representation and want to return it now? With no ward responsibilities, Henry must realize that his workload will be substantially reduced as he won’t have to deal with any constituency problems and thus will be able to devote more time to his other endeavors.

The idea, though, is philosophically ludicrous. In a democracy, don’t voters directly elect their chosen politicians to represent their specific interests? It’s only in autocratic totalitarian police states that despots, dictators, fascists are appointed to look after the “people’s interest.” While city bylaw officers with police and locksmiths in tow raided UOIT student bedrooms rifling panty drawers for leasing documents might be close to these kinds of regimes, we’re not quite there yet!

So why would Councillor John Henry introduce these ideas to committee? He knew they wouldn’t fly. He also knew that none of his fellow general vote competitors on city council would support his or any other councillor’s good ideas.

Now the real question. Was John Henry really sincere about these ideas that he probably doesn’t support….or did he simply want to grab the press?

Good Ideas John…but no kudos from me! You just wanted the press!

1 comment:

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