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Term extension 'practical' says Chilliwack mayor

The plan to extend city council and school board terms from three years to four came from UBCM last fall. - CHILLIWACK PROGRESS FILE
The plan to extend city council and school board terms from three years to four came from UBCM last fall.
— image credit: CHILLIWACK PROGRESS FILE

Reaction to a decision to move to a four-year term of office for local government was somewhat favourable this week in Chilliwack.

The extended term of office idea was the result of a Union of B.C. Municipalities vote last September, said Chilliwack Mayor Sharon Gaetz, and it's reassuring to see the province following through on the matter now.

"I concur that four-year terms are practical," Gaetz said.

The plan to extend city council and school board terms from three years to four is expected to be passed in time for next fall's local government elections.

Gaetz said she experienced a steep learning curve taking office as a novice school trustee and later as a city councillor.

"In some ways you're just getting started after three years," she said. "I also support it because it will save money on elections, which can be an expensive endeavour for a municipality."

There was also widespread support by UBCM delegates for the idea.

"Overwhelmingly elected officials said they wanted to move to four-year term," said Gaetz, describing the debate on the UBCM convention floor.

"It allows (newly elected) officials a chance to really plan for the future, starting with learning their jobs. They also said they wanted time to time to plan for and complete major projects in their communities."

If there was a down-side offered, it was the suggestion by some delegates from rural B.C. communities that four years could make it harder to get people to run for office, or the job might be viewed as too big of a commitment.

"But overwhelmingly the majority were in favour," she said.

Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development Coralee Oakes announced the provincial plan to introduce it shortly in the legislature.

"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."

Former city councillor Pat Clark agreed that it can be tough to get a lot done in a three-year term, so she understands the proposed move to four years.

"It's true, the first year you are learning the job," she said. "So overall you might have a productive year and a half in a three-year term.

"It's kind of hard to get things done and build cohesion, as well as to create plans and see them implemented in that timeframe."

But she's still on the fence personally about whether she'd be in favour of a longer term.

"That would be a tough call," Clark said.

Clark served a combined total of 17 years on city council and school board locally, which meant three terms as a trustee, and almost three as a councillor.

"If it's your first time elected and you're fully committed to things, four years might not seem like a long time. But someone running for their third or fourth term, it might seem like a long time."

Former Chilliwack Mayor Clint Hames, who was elected as a city councillor in 1990, and served as mayor from 1999-2008, said he didn't really have a strong opinion either way.

"I guess if you have good governance, four years seems like a good idea. If you don't, it feels like a long time.

"A community like Chilliwack is generally well served by its local councils and boards, however, there are many places where four years is going to feel like a very long time."

Hames said the notion that adding a year to the mandate "will somehow allow Councils the opportunity to see projects through to completion is a bit of a mystery to me. Most municipal projects have much larger timelines, having to fall within a mandatory five-year capital plan.

"Ironically, I think the politicians who support four-year terms think this is an opportunity to solidify their relationship with the electorate. I suggest that the longer you keep politicians away from the voters, the more changes you will see on election day.

The positive from this might be a larger voter turnout."

The changes also mean the next municipal election would be held in October 2018, on a schedule that follows provincial elections by one year.

jfeinberg@theprogress.com

Twitter.com/chwkjourno

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