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Toronto Star - May 24, 2006 - By Royson James
Three terms enough on city council
One. Two. Three. Thanks, you're out.
Someone ought to launch this catchy campaign to introduce term limits for city and town councillors across the province. Too many local politicians set up shop at city hall and never seem to leave.
Toronto Councillor Howard Moscoe is into his 28th year; and so is Hazel McCallion, who just won't go. Since the two of them started at city hall in North York and Mississauga, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, two George Bushes and Bill Clinton have occupied the White House.
Markham Mayor Don Cousens may be ailing, in search of a kidney, but he is clinging to office. My own wonderful councillor, Mike Feldman, 78, has been at city hall since 1992. But he's registered to run again in November in Ward 10, instead of leaving it to youngsters Alex Dumalag and Craig Smith.
This is not about ageism. Giorgio Mammolitti is a pup, compared to Feldman, but a long-in-the tooth councillor in his 17th year. He, too, should go.
Anyone at any age should be eligible to run. We just don't want them to stick around forever.
Three terms is enough, don't you think? Especially now that each term has been extended to four years, from three, starting November. If you can't get it done in a decade, you're likely stumped or tied up in knots or confused or incompetent.
Want to solve the garbage crisis? Get to city hall and get it done inside of 12 years.
Want to kickstart the waterfront revitalization? We'll give you a decade, plus two years. Then you must move on to something else.
Fed up with the slow pace of transit improvements and the transportation inaction that stalls our travel across the region? Jump in for a dozen years and see what you can accomplish. But hurry.
New York's Rudy Giuliani had to leave after two terms. San Francisco has term limits. Bring it here. Think of the constant turnover, fresh ideas and new blood. The energy this would inject into city hall. We might even elect some councillors who look like the people they serve.
If only there was a sense of urgency, maybe we'd get a lot more things accomplished at our city halls, and in a more timely manner. But why hurry when you have all the time in the world? The current system rewards inaction, pays councillors to sit back and don't rock the boat, and compensates politicians who idle away the years. No fuss, no rush seems to be the modus operandi — from the mayor down to the rawest rookie.
Apart from local politicians, few Ontarians had been begging Premier Dalton McGuinty to entrench politicians in office and give them even more of an advantage than they already hold. Still, McGuinty rushed to give councillors a four-year term. With no fixed term clause.
Some Toronto city councillors, led by Michael Walker, will try, today, to get a council motion requesting the province have a plebiscite on the matter in the next election. If the people want it, so be it. If not, keep it at three years. The law has passed, but everyone recognizes that sneaking in the bill, attaching it to the budget bill, with little opportunity for dissent was not one of McGuinty's finest moves.
But don't expect city council majority to support Walker's move, though it's backed by a dozen councillors. A four-year term means some of them will be able to achieve a life-long dream — to die in office.
It is nearly impossible to knock off an incumbent now, after three years. Walker and Doug Holyday have been around since 1982. At least 19 councillors have been in office for 15 years or longer. Add an extra year, during which incumbents can continue to build their profile and we might as well forget elections.
"We are making it more difficult to unseat an incumbent," says mayoral candidate and Councillor Jane Pitfield. "There is no talk about term limits. People who've been here 17 to 20 years, this will keep them here longer. It's self-serving."
Think she's wrong?
At the hearings into provincial Bill 51, Mammolitti told the committee how giving him more time to do the same job he hasn't done for 17 years would help communities. With an earnest voice, he said he needed a four-year term to build affordable housing. I guess voters should demand a refund of his salary the past 17 years.
We love our councillors. But they are in public service. Public. Service. They do not have, and do not deserve, the right to permanent residence at city hall. We should make their stay as temporary and fruitful as possible.
And we should do everything possible to give newcomers a chance.
Since amalgamation, only four city councillors have been defeated at the polls: Anne Johnston, Sherene Shaw, Elizabeth Brown and Ron Moeser. It's bad enough that fewer than 40 per cent of people vote in municipal elections. Why would anyone bother, if the odds are so stacked against change?
Royson James usually appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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