Life-long labourers?

Worth A Look, Role of Government, Frontier Centre

None of us are guaranteed a paying job for a lifetime. So, what is it about politicians who seem to think that their jobs should be secure indefinitely? By a vote of 14 to 2, city councillors decided not to trust the citizens of Winnipeg in determining whether they wanted term limits placed on city councillors. Had it been approved, this question would have been put to a referendum in the October 2007 civic election.

One would have hoped that the debate on term limits would have been between those who believe in direct democracy (as I do) and those who believe in representative democracy. Direct democracy includes believing in term limits, money by-laws and referendums, and recall of politicians. Those of us who believe in direct democracy believe that citizens should be involved in politics on a day to day basis, that we have a right to participate in the political process because we care and because we can serve as “watchdogs” over a political process that belongs to us. We, not the politicians, are the conscience of the people. Those, like Councillor Bill Clement, who believe in representative democracy believe that those who don’t like their councillor can vote them out every four years – period – otherwise leave politics to the politicians.

Under representative democracy there is less and less citizen participation in the political process and more disillusionment with politicians (a recent poll suggested that of all professions politicians were trusted the least – 14%). Councillor Lorenc stated in 1992, that once elected, politicians are more concerned about being re-elected than serving the people. Do we want politicians who have offered themselves to serve the public and be responsive to their needs, or have no ambitions other than to hold public office (that is what I would define as the professionalisation of politics)?

In a democracy, everyone has a right, nay the duty, to seek public office. In my opinion,everyone should run for some form of office at least once in their lives. That right is essential and must be protected. Term limits does that. It ensures turnover at City Hall. The incumbency factor is real in any election, especially civic elections where name recognition, not money, plays a major role in getting re-elected.

It was clear beforehand that the majority of city council would oppose term limits (who would want to vote themselves out of office?). But, quite bluntly, this was about whether city council should submit a referendum question to the citizens of Winnipeg in the civic election of October of 2006 asking whether or not they would like to impose term limits on councillors and the mayor. Then, only if the majority support term limits would the Province be asked to look at amending the City of Winnipeg Act.

It might interesting for readers to know that during the October election of 1983 two referendum questions were put on the ballot – one referring to nuclear disarmament (a motion made by Councillor Reese and seconded by Councillor Neville in July of 1982) and one on French language services (a motion made by Councillor Mitchelson and seconded by Councillor Yanovsky in September of 1982). So, even if the majority of council at that time opposed one or both of these questions, they were willing to put them to the public to decide.

By voting down the notion of a referendum on term limits, city council has shown how elitist and undemocratic they are by undermining the citizens in determining who they want to govern their city and for how long.

Nick Ternette is a community and political activist, freelance writer and broadcaster.