Dear Editor, It's time to link provincial and municipal election dates.
Think of it as an electoral echo. While many British Columbians are just getting over the election hangover from May's blockbuster BC Liberal comeback win, up to 13 municipalities were thrown into potential by-election mode.
Four mayors and 10 councillors from 13 different communities were elected May 14, including a dozen BC Liberals and two New Democrats.
Some councils have avoided the expense by encouraging newly minted MLAs to take unpaid leaves of absence until Jan. 1, when provincial law stipulates that by-elections no longer have to be held ahead of the usual November 2014 municipal election.
While we would generally applaud costsaving efforts at municipal halls, this is not the place to cheap out.
Democracy is always worth the money. Taxpayers deserve to be fully represented, and mid-term votes give a unique opportunity to focus on issues that can be overlooked in larger campaigns.
But the issue of municipal politicians moving on to provincial politics isn't a new one and it's not going away.
Any municipal politician who stays on until Jan. 1, even on a leave of absence, may be in contravention of B.C.'s conflict of interest laws, especially given the broader interpretation of the law brought down in a recent B.C. Court of Appeals judgment.
The simplest solution, long-term, is to marry municipal and provincial election dates. In 2017, for example, both levels of government have elections scheduled; this will rule out any costly by-elections for politicians changing jobs.
Why not have those elections on the same day, with the same ballots? There will be some logistical issues that need to be worked out, but they are manageable, for example, ensuring that voters get the correct ballots for provincial ridings that cross municipal borders. Elections BC will be needed to oversee those votes.
In the May election, the NDP promised to move the fixed election date to the fall of 2017, in order to allow preliminary numbers from the February budget to be available to taxpayers before they vote. This is one NDP plank the BC Liberals would be wise to embrace, as it would extend their term by six months with no fight from the opposition.
To keep election dates together, municipal politicians' terms would need to be lengthened to four years. While not ideal to reduce the amount of democracy provided to local voters, this is supportable, as long as B.C.'s recall legislation is extended from MLAs to cover mayors, councillors and school trustees.
The one major snag would be what to do if the provincial government fell in a minority parliament. This has not happened since the 1950s, but is always a possibility especially if the Greens or Conservatives gain support. A provision could be made to allow such interim votes with a return to the regular electoral calendar as soon as possible.
While some may argue that the provincial campaign might overshadow local issues, the fact remains that only one in five eligible voters cast a ballot during municipal elections today. What we are doing now is not working. By tying these election campaigns together, taxpayers can avoid more rounds of big by-election bills.
[Note: Bateman is B.C. director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.]
@ Copyright 2013