COLUMN: Reshaping of local politics already underway

Financing and four-year terms will dramatically reshape the political scene, writes columnist Frank Bucholtz

Two of the three local mayors will not be running again in the October civic election, and it is likely that many city councillors are also weighing whether they want to give it another shot.

There are two major factors which have changed some of the thinking of elected officials – a change in how election campaigns are financed, and the four-year terms, introduced in 2014.

Delta Mayor Lois Jackson said even before the last election that this would be her last term, and her pledge was enough to keep any opponents from running. She was elected by acclamation – a rarity in the Metro Vancouver area.

Last week, White Rock Mayor Wayne Baldwin said he would not seek re-election after serving for two.

Numerous other Lower Mainland mayors are not running again – Langley City Mayor Ted Schaffer, Port Coquitlam Mayor Greg Moore and Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson among them.

Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner said in September that she is planning to run again. However, at that time she did not expect all eight of her Surrey First council colleagues – all of whom were elected to give the slate complete control of council – to necessarily run again.

Four-year terms present a significant challenge for elected officials, in particular, mayors. It is a lengthy commitment to a job that requires a tremendous amount of time and energy. In Metro Vancouver, mayors often have many roles beyond their municipal responsibilities as well – notably serving on the Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation and usually being a representative on the Metro Vancouver board.

While councillors and school trustees may not have to make as significant a time commitment, all need to devote many hours a week to their work. It is quite likely that a number of them are contemplating whether they are ready to commit four more years to their civic duties.

At least one group is ready to run again. Surrey First Education, the group which won all six Surrey seats on the Surrey Board of Education in 2014, announced last week that all six trustees are planning to run again. Chair Laurie Larsen, vice-chair Terry Allen, and trustees Shawn Wilson, Bob Holmes, Garry Thind and Gary Tymoschuk are all seeking another term.

The financing of civic campaigns has changed dramatically, thanks to major changes made by the provincial government last fall. No longer will businesses, unions and wealthy individuals be allowed to give massive donations to individuals or civic slates such as Surrey First. Donations will be capped at $1,200 per year, and in the case of slates, the $1,200 will be the total anyone can give to all candidates who are part of that slate.

What is particularly significant about this change is that very few individuals have donated to civic political campaigns in the past, particularly in larger municipalities such as Surrey and Delta. They cannot get an income tax credit, as they can with provincial and federal campaigns. Participation in civic elections is low – usually no more than about 30 per cent of eligible voters bother to cast a ballot. Coming up with funds from a broad range of individuals to run what can be very expensive campaigns will be very challenging.

“It’s been a wild west in political fundraising here and people want change,” Municipal Affairs Minister Selina Robinson said when she announced the changes in the fall. “Deep pockets shouldn’t decide elections, people should.”

These two major factors – financing and four-year terms – will dramatically reshape local politics. The first reshaping is already underway, as incumbent politicians bow out.

Frank Bucholtz writes Wednesdays for Peace Arch News.

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