Thursday, May 11, 2006

Now We Have Turned the Five Year Plan into a Four Year One!

From the London Free Press:

Municipal politicians will be up for four-year terms come election time this fall, after the Ontario government yesterday passed a controversial bill expanding the current three-year term.
The law will take effect beginning with this November's municipal elections.

If you've ever wondered if politicians are speaking from the same cue-card, this is Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty addressing a meeting of civic officials in Toronto back in February:
"It's a matter of respect. We have fixed four-year terms at the provincial level and federal terms can run a maximum of five years. Why should you be any different?"
And this is Finance Minister Dwight Duncan speaking yesterday after the passage of his omnibus budget bill that included for no apparent budgetary reason the municipal provisions:
"It's a matter of respect for our municipalities."
Although the legislation has been passed, it bears repeating from the London Fog, February 22:

If this is not a case of politicians protecting politicians from citizens' opportunities for holding them accountable for an extra year, the prooffered rationales are pretty unconvincing. McGuinty's first interest ought to be the respect accorded to citizens, but his comparison of municipal officials with provincial or federal representatives is misleading. His government's legislation providing for fixed four-year terms in Ontario is a political artifice that supercedes only one aspect of the parliamentary tradition that otherwise governs the calling of elections at the provincial and federal levels — a tradition that does not govern municipal councils. McGuinty is pretending an equivalence exists that does not. When a politician invokes respect he merely appropriates a common sentiment and scatters it into the barren ground of passive assent. But he continues:
"It's also a matter of efficiency. Three years is too short. A four-year term is the ideal period of time for a council to forge an agenda, implement it and then seek the people's judgment.
I must differ — history suggests that the agendas of central planning authorities are suited to five-year plan increments. But for meeting agenda quotas, a four-year plan has at least got to be better than a three-year one! Nevertheless, this rationale supposes that the role of municipal councils is to have and implement agendas — what are these? In simpler times, the role of municipal councils was to judiciously administer those few functions suggested by the sources of their revenues — that is, basic services to property such as roads and sewers. One year alone is plenty of time to implement a budget ordinate to those proper responsibilities. Unfortunately, the purview of municipal responsibility is assumed by politicians — and by too many voters — to have expanded to grandiose capital projects and social and cultural engineering, line items that financially require multi-year commitments. A like-minded politician, McGuinty is sympathetic to agendas.

At the time, London mayor Anne Marie DeCicco was similarly sympathetic, although she could not be reached for comment by the Free Press last night:
Politicians can work longer without the distraction of elections and newcomers will have more time to learn how to make their mark, she said.
[…] The work of responsible politicians is exceedingly simple and undemanding — which is why the position of councillor, for example, is part-time. With three-year terms, politicians are given far too much leeway as it is to reinvent their trusts. The politician who, like DeCicco, considers that judgment by the electorate is a distraction obviously confuses the matter of who exactly is employing her — when she begins to believe that she is working for herself in a position of authority, her term has been long enough already.

DeCicco is also answered well by Toronto councillor Michael Walker who, after remembering that council terms in Ontario used to be just one year, and only two years until 1982, wrote:
Those politicians who favour the 4-year term see it as a good career move. As I see it, they may be in the wrong career: If you can't get the job done in 1,095 days, you probably won't do it in 1,460 days.

Good government has less to do with the calendar than it does with the embrace of democratic principle. Accomplishment and accountability are not enemies; they are two footings in the foundation of democracy that gives credibility to local government.
Presumably not having been a resident of London at any time under DeCicco's administration, however, Walker might be forgiven for expecting credibility from local government in the first place.

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