Term limits help create a more diverse culture of change and foster new leadership opportunities, but they also open up some serious concerns that cannot be overlooked.
By Daniel Rodrigues
Published August 18, 2014
Much has been opined on the need for Term Limits for Hamilton's elected officials. One of the reasons being is that the incumbent has a proven advantage over any challenger. This advantage is highlighted by the sad fact that Municipal elections are mostly about "name recognition" versus actual platforms for the next four-years.
If we restrict the number of terms an elected official can sit, we create a more diverse culture of change and foster new leadership opportunities. Term limits provide some assurance that elected officials don't become stale and complacent. That makes sense.
I believe we need new and fresh ideas on a regular basis to ensure this City charts its future. Taken at face-value, I fully support Term Limits as they have merit.
However, would the topic have been raised if the current Council was operating within the expectations of the public? My guess is: probably not.
Imposing Term Limits opens up some serious concerns that cannot be overlooked, including (but not limited to):
Current Ward (mis)representation. Taking 2011 Ward population numbers: Ward 14 has a population of 17,634 while Ward 7 has a population of 62,179.
Councillor/Mayoral apathy in the final year of their final term: why bother doing anything? It's not like they're going to try to get re-elected!
A lack of a suitable candidate. This concern is not intended to question intellect or experience, but rather interest. (At the time of this writing, three incumbents are running unopposed.)
The current elected official is doing a really, really good job.
With the aforementioned cautionary concerns, we cannot ignore the voter in this decision. Ward 6 incumbent Tom Jackson was recently quoted as saying (in relation to how he'll run his campaign), "I approach it the same way...put my past four-year record and my overall record on the line..."
The voter is now led to believe that they are voting based on past performance alone, and not on future endeavours.
It is often said that Elected Officials work for the taxpayer. If this is indeed the case, then the taxpayer needs to view their Elected Officials as their employees.
In the private sector, when you are reviewing an employee's performance, you review their previous work and you set expectations moving forward.
Consider the current four wards which have no incumbent: each candidate is vying for position on who has the better "moving forward" platform coupled with the best past experience.
Incumbents can rely on the past as a performance indicator, but should not use it as a stand-alone reason to be elected. Consider paying for your cable, internet or phone: you pick a plan you like and pay for the plan in advance with a clear expectation of the deliverables.
Elections are no different: you choose the representative which best outlines expected deliverables for the next four years with the best past experience.
While I will support Term Limits, let's not forget that the voter has always held the power to limit any elected official. I will provide leadership, challenges, and information, while inviting input.
With a more engaged and informed electorate, we not only have Term Limits, we also have an electorate who is better informed as to whom will provide the better vision for Hamilton moving forward.
Raise the Hammer has an open call to candidates for the upcoming municipal election to submit opinion articles for publication. We will publish any submission that meets our submission guidelines.
By voting for change (anonymous) | Posted August 18, 2014 at 19:36:00
Excellent Read. This city needs to look forward. Mr. Rodrigues looks like a great candidate with a vision for our future. You've got my vote!
By Marie Robbins - Ward 9 Stoney Creek (anonymous) | Posted August 19, 2014 at 08:32:24
I read your article with interest. I have also proposed term limits for City Council as a part of my broader accountability package. Those interested can find the details on my website at MarieRobbins,ca
All the best,
Candidate for Ward 9 - Stoney Creek
By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted August 19, 2014 at 10:06:46
I'm not totally sold on the implementation of term limits, they seem like they don't necessarily address the problem. If municipal elections are effective, then term limits seem counterproductive since they could make ineligible candidates who would otherwise be voted in because they were selected (again) by a sound electoral process. If municipal elections are not effective, and candidates who are complacent or incompetent are being voted in, then what are we getting?
If it's really just a crapshoot, with a 50% chance that an incompetent/complacent official will be elected, then we are kicking out experienced councillors with absolutely no guarantee that their replacements will be any better. There is no cosmic rule that says that a councillor's replacement will be better just because the incumbent was bad at their job - in fact if a bad councillor can repeatedly win in a particular ward, I would expect that its more likely their replacement would share some of the same traits. In this case term limits don't necessarily accomplish anything, but in wards where the election process might be less flawed, they only serve to frustrate a process that is already working, perhaps despite the issues that may be the real culprit for why bad incumbent councillors can otherwise be elected repeatedly.
Furthermore, this article seems to be based on the premise that councillors who have been in office for a long time are necessarily 'stale and complacent', but is this really true? What if the councillors you think are 'stale and complacent' have actually just always been this bad? Maybe it just took them a term or two to become really effective at doing a bad job.
In fact we know that term limits induce complacency and apathy in elected officials during their final term in office, so if complacency is the issue, then term limits definitely are not the answer. They don't make elections more effective, they 'shuffle the deck' so to speak. But if our municipal elections can be compared to pick a random card from a deck, we have bigger problems. Why are we trying to get better at randomly picking our elected officials? That is insane. Why don't we instead diagnose and fix the actual problems that lead to dysfunctional elections?
By ItJustIs (registered) | Posted August 21, 2014 at 13:16:39 in reply to Comment 104043
I've always laughed at the stridency of those who yell 'Term limits now!' (There's a commenter on another civic engagement site that actually goes by this moniker.) Because they seem to miss the point: we have term limits. They're called elections. It's up to the voters to invoke them, or stick with the incumbent. (Which over the past quarter-century, has been the case in more than 90% of the time. How do I know? I once spent several hours in the local history of the HPL researching it.)
On a municipal level, the days of patronizing politics are fading. (The reasons for this are another op-ed piece entirely.) Or at least they should be. Due to everything attached to the Internet, we have the ability now to contribute, to shape, to steer our own governance. We just don't tend to want to. Or can't be bothered, in toto. To borrow a hackneyed phrase, 'You get the government you demand.'
Elected officials are our employees. The problems here are a) we really don't have a vigorous 'interviewing' process, we're that detached from what goes on at City Hall, and b) we tend to just hand over the keys to the store to these 16 people and walk away for 4 years.
The solution to better governance is creating a dynamic where residents are part of the process. Not an easy task, nor a simple one. But one there are many possible elements to put into play, some game-changing ones that have never been attempted, which to me is encouraging: we have nowhere to go but up.
Oh, and I should mention this: the notion of 'term limits' is a Provincial matter. And it'll never happen. Why? Because if the Legislative Assembly were to make this so, they'd be the next ones the hue and cry would be targeting. And no MPP is so silly as to do that.
Comment edited by ItJustIs on 2014-08-21 13:25:41
By Okay (anonymous) | Posted September 05, 2014 at 10:43:47 in reply to Comment 104108
The initial reason for term limits is that incumbent representatives have a clearly catalogued advantage over new candidates, with incumbents winning in some juridictions 80%-90% of electoral contests. This fact means that it is hard to be sure that the best candidates actually end up as representatives since new candidates are so severely disadvantaged against sitting representatives.
Where it gets tricky is that since new candidates have it so tough against established councillors, many potential candidates decide against running because the odds are so stacked in favour of the incumbent. The fact that the system discourages new candidates from running further improves the incumbent's odds of winning since they will have less competition. As years go by, these two variables feed off of one another and the quality of government drastically decreases as evidenced by representatives that hold their seats for many many terms.
With term limits at least, there will be a mandatory open race every 2 or 3 terms.
By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted August 19, 2014 at 10:20:36
Honestly, to me the biggest problems with municipal elections is informational, not procedural. I mean obviously I support the usual gamut of electoral reforms like Instant-Runoff or Approval voting... but mostly, the problem is that voters aren't bombarded with information about their candidate. Even the mayoral candidate.
We get the drum-beat of "throw the bums out" from talk radio, but the city councilmen themselves are hardly ever even referred by name.
If you don't follow municipal politics and you don't get that beat-feet-meeting with the candidate? You might miss the municipal election altogether.
That's the big challenge, imho.
By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted August 19, 2014 at 14:24:32 in reply to Comment 104044
I've been reading a lot about efforts to take money out of politics, and one of the common ideas is to implement public campaign funding, so that candidates can't/don't have to be the best fundraiser in order to win (and can't win by promising to serve the interests of a few big donors). I wonder if this would also be an answer to raising the profile of municipal elections - if candidates had access to some form of campaign grant or resources for advertising their platforms. I'm not sure what it would look like or what the pitfalls would be, but it might be an interesting idea.
By Joshua (registered) | Posted August 19, 2014 at 22:48:59 in reply to Comment 104057
I'm grateful for, at the very least, the Hamilton Spectator's coverage of the ward councillors' positions, but I'd like to see the same for the school trustees. Perhaps a town-hall meeting would be best, moderated, and allowing for questions to be asked and positions to be defended. I'm going to try and get something together for Ward 7's school trustees.
By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted August 19, 2014 at 23:15:23 in reply to Comment 104069
This especially! Unlike city councillors, HWDSB incumbents have much less to brag about in terms of track record, but at the same time those positions are so low profile that i bet most voters don't recognise any names on the ballot.
By Tybalt (registered) | Posted August 19, 2014 at 13:27:56
If we had a problem with municipal councillors not doing their jobs, or even with burnout, then I'd support measures to increase turnover. But I don't think we have that problem.
Best of luck in Ward 6!
By Astroturf (anonymous) | Posted August 20, 2014 at 09:11:47 in reply to Comment 104079
This astroturf comment is brought to you by the campaign to re-elect Tom Jackson.
By MichaelHHowes (registered) - website | Posted August 20, 2014 at 11:25:02
The issue of term limits is about what tool to use, to ensure proactive, effective representation by elected officials. Given the overwhelming power that incumbents have in municipal elections with anemic voter turnout, term limits get proposed.
As noted by a number of people, the better solution is to vote poor performers out and promising performers in as required.
But how do we break the current cycle? By increasing voter turnout. How do we do that? By providing leadership, not by pandering to the electorate. The current state of Hamilton politics has been described as 'pothole politics' and the Area Rating funds fuel that rather myopic approach.
In a society that is increasingly isolationist, people feel less inclined to vote because they don't recognize their voice in the candidates, don't believe that they can make a difference with their vote and - for young people - the values of politics as currently played, doesn't resonate.
What to do? Talk less about safe streets and better sidewalks and the like. Those are table stakes and if that is all you propose as a candidate, you have little vision in a city that needs a lot of it. Rather, take a bold position on what Hamilton needs. Jobs, new businesses, less of a ward focus / more of a city focus ... pick your need, but lead with a compelling vision, rather than mining what others have said. I think people are looking for leaders like this.
By Tybalt (registered) | Posted August 20, 2014 at 16:43:05 in reply to Comment 104082
A fleeting familiarity with politics would suggest that elections are in fact won, and not lost, by "pandering to the electorate" which is otherwise known as being responsive to the voters' individual concerns. But, good luck.
By MichaelHHowes (registered) - website | Posted August 20, 2014 at 11:28:50
And if I may share a personal peeve ... people who make anonymous comments. If you can't stand up and say it, I suggest it is instantly devalued as sniping from the safety of the unknown.
By ItJustIs (registered) | Posted August 21, 2014 at 13:03:55 in reply to Comment 104083
In the end, only thing that's important is the merit of the comment being made. Agree, disagree, find it inspirational, find it stultifying, whatever. Which is why I don't have any place in my heart for 'voting' or 'grading' comments. After a while, everything tends to resemble schoolyard goings-on. But then, we have created a world of 'Likes'...
By theNew'other' (registered) | Posted August 20, 2014 at 19:41:15 in reply to Comment 104083
Can't speak for you, sir, but I like to travel. As I type, there is a man holed up in a foreign embassy for two years now for demonstrating that an emperor has no clothes. You continue nursing that pet peeve, it seems to gratify. 'Tybalt' is readily identifiable to enough members of the RTH community. But to your point: "...Jobs..."? This is the sort of bold position you advocate? Now tell me: 'It's the economy, stupid!' I'm not sure term limits is the solution to the electorate's continuing failure to refresh its municipal representation. But they might be worth a try. I understand, though, that Romeo Jackson disagrees. Dude's this close to closing out his pension.
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