Challenges in Richmond’s 2014 Municipal Election
In this article, I analyze two challenges that two local civic groups have put to all candidates in this election. RITE Richmond’s challenge (for Disclosure) is for all candidates to disclose, immediately, who is contributing to their campaign. The other challenge (for Term Limits) is by the Richmond Community Coalition (RCC): Each candidate should limit themselves to two terms in office.
I will demonstrate that Disclosure is unambiguously an advantage to our community. On the other hand, I will show that Term Limits is fraught with problems, to the extent that I, personally, am opposed to requiring term limits for our elected officials.
RITE Richmond’s Financial Disclosure Election Challenge
Early on in this election campaign, RITE Richmond challenged the other civic groups to disclose their financial contributions as they come in, i.e. not to wait until after the election to do so. As stated here on the RITE Richmond website:
An important part of understanding a candidate is knowing who are their financial backers. Candidates are legally required to disclose this information only after the election, and this is too late for helping voters in their election choices. With regards to campaign contributions, we challenge all civic groups in Richmond to disclose during the election, and in a timely fashion.
Basically, by waiting until after the election to disclose finances, as far as this is helpful to the elector, it is like closing the barn door after the horses have escaped.
A counter challenge has been issued by RCC, that candidates should commit to limit themselves to two terms in office. Reasons that RCC have given are:
- Bring new ideas to council
- Councillors will work harder under time constraints
The source of good ideas tends to be experience and insight, not inexperienced newcomers. A private company would not entertain a retention policy that automatically fires good employees! What about “bad” councillors? Simply, they can meet their fate at election time. An interesting discussion, not to be indulged in this article, is how to make clear which councillors are good, and which are bad. However, to solve this problem, we should not be throwing out the baby with the bathwater.
Term limits have been considered as an option for thousands of years, dating back at least to ancient Greece. Some cities in North America follow this practice, today. The main reason, however, has been to reduce the incidence of corruption on Council.
Due to serious problems with Term Limits, some courts have banned the practice. Here are problems with Term Limits:
- The right and freedom of nomination and election is curtailed
- Any corruption can move from the Council to the back rooms
Our free elections are a cornerstone of our democracy and traditions in Canada. Any limitation that we put on this freedom must be very carefully weighed. Term Limits does not meet this level of scrutiny.
Term Limits introduces a higher turn-over of councillors, thus introducing more newcomers to the political arena. Newcomers that have high financial backing will have more exposure, ads and name recognition, giving them a distinct advantage over newcomers not so well-backed financially. Consequently, wealthy backers can “sell” candidacy slots, in the expectation of currying favour from their elected officials.
In summary, RITE’s practice of immediate Disclosure has no down-sides, and has the distinct advantage of passing important and timely information to the electors. In contrast, RCC’s proposal of Term Limits is controversial, with serious actual and potential disadvantages. It is clear to me that we, in Richmond, should not be experimenting with Term Limits.