Term limits restrict effective politicians and lifers alike, but political parties might end council deadlock and improve municipal politics.
By Chris Erl
Published March 25, 2009
Hamilton is a city of buzz-words. Depending on the month, the situation and the event, the word on the lips of every Hamiltonian media personality, local politician and engaged citizen is essentially the same. Foyer. Stelco. Marble. Tapegate. Democracy (and its foreshadowed death).
This month, it would seem, we have a buzz word that is not just one word; it's two: Term Limits.
To set the tone for discussing term limits, it is essential to refer back to a quote by a prominent American thinker of the 20th century that addresses the situation.
When discussing politics, he causally quipped, "Term limits ain't going to do any good; you're just going to end up with a brand new bunch of selfish, ignorant [politicians]!"
Of course, by his own admission, George Carlin hated many elements of society.
So what of the issue at hand? Recently, the Chamber of Commerce stated that term limits for municipal politicians may be a way to break the deadlock apparent in council and ensure greater transparency.
The Chamber, it would seem, has brought to light an issue that must be addressed in Hamilton if any real progress is to be made in the area of municipal governance.
Yet if they are considering suggesting term limits as the way to improve the speed with which issues are dealt in the council chamber, they may wish to look at another suggestion.
Term limits do little to improve the problems the plague our council. Yes, it would see politicians like Dave Mitchell and Tom Jackson dismissed after exuberantly lengthy stints in local politics, but there are downsides.It removes the less desirable politicians in our midst after a set number of years, but it also does that to the excellent politicians.
If we do elect a man or woman who serves with vigor and passion, dedicates themselves to their community and gets real results for their constituents, then why should they be removed from office after eight years as opposed to at the will of their constituents?
Democratically speaking, the best way to gauge the efficiency and effectiveness of a politician is by looking at their results come election night.
So what can be done outside the realm of limiting the number of terms a politician is allowed to serve?
One suggestion that makes many Hamiltonians apprehensive is the introduction of party slates. Today, there is deadlock in council, attributable to the fact that we elect 16 independents to city council instead of 16 aligned individuals.
If, for example, we elected a city council along the three major party lines, we would begin to see motions passed and implemented in a faster manner then they are now.
Using a specific example, let's say a motion is tabled calling for an alteration of the Hamiltonian flag. The New Democratic caucus sits down, drafts the motion, and presents it with a forwarder and the seconder coming from their ranks.
The motion is presented, and the Liberal and Conservative caucuses sit down together to decide how they will vote on the motion. The Liberals oppose it, the Conservatives support it, and it passes with the support of two of the party blocs.
Right now, if the same motion is tabled in council, you would get 16 different opinions on the matter, each of which would be tugging and pulling at either side of the debate until the issue is so warped and frayed that it remains only shadow of what it once was.
Under a party system, aligned councillors would huddle in caucus to come up with a collective statement that would address each of their concerns.
A party slate would not, of course, be in the best interests of the Chamber. Given the progressive nature of our city's politics, any unification amongst the left-leaning groups could produce an environment hardly conducive to their business interests.
Conservative groups would vocally oppose this measure as there are more urban wards then suburban wards, and, statistically, urban areas (in Hamilton especially) vote progressive.
Yet in the interests of democracy, Hamiltonians should consider this as an option to improve municipal politics and the way council operates.
The opportunities for a party slate system are abundant. Thanks to the Chamber addressing the democratic strife in City Hall, this issue has been brought to where it needs to be: the forefront.
With any luck, the buzzword on everyone's mind now will be democratic reform.