COLUMN: Term limits needed in politics

MORRISBURG — There needs to be term limits placed on how long elected politicians can serve, regardless of the level of government they are elected to. Long-serving politicians who make a career out of being a politician are stagnating the political process and as such, are holding us back. This does not paint all politicians as bad people, many do great work. It is a way to bring in new blood, ideas, and perspectives into government that reflect the composition of our communities.

Look back at Canadian political history, most politicians served as an extension of their business or professional lives. They were elected for a while, then returned to private life. The municipality, province or the country benefited from the experience the politician was able to offer, then they moved on and new politicians put their mark on those systems. Few politicians from the start of “Responsible Government” in Canada until World War One were career politicians; those “lifers” were namely the party leaders. After World War One, being an elected politician was seen as more of a vocation; something to aspire to and hold on to long term. Not just at the federal and provincial levels, but  municipally too. Fast forward to beginning of the 21st century, and you have some elected officials who had served many decades in government. Way too long.

Placing limits on how long a person could serve in elected office would help the politician as much as it would help the system. If someone is elected to a town council and is bound to a term limit of only four years at that position, they would have to work hard to accomplish their goals before time runs out. Elected officials without term limits would have less urgency to do so, possibly stretching it their need to be there. This applies provincially and federally as well.

Having a term limit enables new perspectives to be at the table. A career politician can become disconnected with the population they are elected to represent. A small business owner elected to the House of Commons 15 years ago, would see their practical experience and perspective become stale over the years. That does not make for the best ideas to come forward, nor the best representation.

Municipal term limits could be based on the position with an elected person serving one four-year term as a councillor, one term as a deputy mayor, and one as mayor before they are no longer allowed to run. That is still 12 years of being a municipal politician. With each move up the totem pole comes a natural attrition, but also a discussion of ideas, direction and of policy. There would be less opportunity for those who see being elected as just a pay cheque or a platform to settle scores, and more an opportunity for those who want to serve the public and get things done.

The same applies to the provincial and federal levels. A term limit on each of those levels at eight years would be fair. The parties set the overall provincial or national policy, and eight years of representing the community they are elected to is enough. To do more is to become a fixture or a piece of furniture.

If term limits were brought in on politicians at all levels, a person could still make a career out of being a politician, they would just have to really work hard at it. 12 years municipal service, eight years provincial service and eight years federal service would make a 28 year long career. It is unlikely that many would last that long.

By implementing a system of term limits, the political process at all levels would be under a constant state of being refreshed. New ideas, new perspectives and new ways of doing things. Or at least, there would be a reinforcement that the course a government has taken is the right one. Term limits would make for a healthier, more responsive and representative democracy. One that engages people in the process, rather one that people shy away from because it is the same groups arguing over the same things.

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