Saanich wants province to investigate term limits

Saanich will ask the province and the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) to investigate term limits.

“Let’s have that discussion,” said Coun. Karen Harper. “Let’s see where it goes.”

She made that comment as council meeting as committee-of-the-whole debated 30 recommendations that emerged from the review of a report into ways to improve internal governance, community engagement, and external governance prepared by the Governance Review Citizen Advisory Committee (GRCAC).

“Term limits would resolve concerns we heard that councillors go past their ‘best before’ date, would permit fresh ideas and perspectives more frequently, and prevent what amounts to career politicians in Saanich,” read GRCAC’s final report, which acknowledged that the province would have to institute such a change.

Council received this recommendation in October, and forwarded it to a standing committee consisting of Mayor Richard Atwell as chair, as well as Couns. Judy Brownoff, Karen Harper, Fred Haynes, and Susan Brice. They punted the question back to council’s committee-of-the-whole, whose members voted 8-1 with Coun. Leif Wergeland opposed to send the issue to Victoria and UBCM, the lobby organization representing municipalities in British Columbia.

The motion does not endorse a specific position, a selling point for many supporters. Coun. Dean Murdock said he is not sure whether he opposes or supports term limits. But it would be a “fascinating discussion” to hear UBCM delegates, some with more experience, others with less experience, debate the question, he said.

Coun. Fred Haynes agreed.

Haynes said term limits can serve as a “tool” to revitalize public engagement. On the other hand, term limits can also be limiting, noting that it takes time to acquire experience and become familiar with issues, he said .

Mayor Richard Atwell — who has previously spoken in favour of term limits and tabled the motion — said it is important for Saanich to follow upon on the recommendation of GRCAC. “The sticky point for me is the number of terms,” he said. GRCAC’s final report called for a limit of two terms for members of council.

Council members considered the question of term limits during the early phase of their deliberations on their way to dealing with other procedural and institutional issues, including the issue of amalgamation and regional policing.

Council’s committee-of-the-whole made these decision after reviewing the findings of a council committee that had reviewed the findings of a report from the Governance Review Citizen Advisory Committee (GRCAC). It launched GRCAC after almost out of nine out of 10 Saanich voters supported a “community-based review of the governance structure and policies within Saanich and its partnerships within the Region” during the municipal election of November 2014 against the background of amalgamation, the proposed merger of communities in the Greater Victoria to cut governance costs and improve effectiveness.

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