By Korie Marshall
There are elections, and electoral reform in the air, it seems. Or maybe they always are, and I am just starting to notice.
The federal government is proposing changes they are calling the “Fair Elections Act,” which, if approved, will be in place for the next federal election. The province is proposing changes to the electoral boundaries act before the next review of the boundaries, and is also proposing changes to the Local Elections Act, which if approved, will be in effect for this fall’s local government elections.
For the local elections, there are proposed changes to the financing rules, which I don’t know enough about to have an opinion on, but a big change that will likely be in effect is that the next term will be four years instead of three.
It is being touted as a good move by many – it was recommended by the Union of British Columbia Municipalities, and many current councillors and mayors feel it is a good thing. Most of our current councillors in Valemount seem to support it, because they feel a council needs time to get projects done, and because, as first-time councillors, it takes a long time to learn the job.
While this change may bring us in line with the rest of Canada, it is a little strange that the consultation happened with people who are already in local government – not with people who may be considering running in the next few months.
Mayor Andru McCracken said at the last Council meeting he realizes it may be too late to argue or change this proposal. However he is concerned that, especially for small communities like ours, having a longer term will mean even fewer people are able to consider running for office. A point he made to me is that not many working people can afford to take the pay cut to the mayor’s position, and I know it is certainly true for me. That could mean it is much more likely to be retired people, or at least those already financially well-off representing us. That may not be a bad thing, but it might not be the best variety of representation.
But is four years that different from three? If you were to consider running for council – and if you were thinking about it for next time around, you better start thinking now, because it’s coming up fast – would a year make a difference?
And here is a strange connection I see – the proposed federal election changes will mean that Elections Canada will no longer be responsible for educating the public – especially young people – about elections. The government is essentially saying they haven’t done a good job, so why bother. I think young people especially need to be more involved in politics, and I don’t think it can be done with commercials. I think we have to get young people running for office, and then young people will start to pay attention.
But how can you get them interested, when they can’t even afford to run for local council?
Seventeen thousand dollars (roughly what Valemount’s mayor gets a year) is not much if you are going to look at being mayor as a full time job. Certainly bigger centres see their mayors as full time positions, so why shouldn’t we here? Councillors get paid less, and I think most of them are juggling part-time or full-time jobs, and had no idea how much work was involved when they signed up to run for council. I think we need to better recognize them, not only for their time and effort, but for what they can’t do because they are busy representing us.
The next local elections are November 15, 2014. What would make you consider running for your local council?