News / Toronto

Should city councillors have term limits?

Tired of watching municipal incumbents hold power for years, even decades, Vass Bednar is leading a push for term limits on city councils.

"Isn't it undemocratic to elect the same people over and over again?" asked Bednar, who works as a researcher at the Martin Prosperity Institute in Toronto.

In October, Toronto voters endorsed 37 of the 38 councillors who stood for re-election. It was a similar story last week in Vancouver, where nine of the city's 10 incumbent councillors held on to their seats.

Bednar wants to see municipal politicians limited to two terms. She believes the change will help "invigorate" city halls that too often lean towards the status quo.

"If you can't execute your agenda as a powerful person with a vote on council in eight years... then I think it's time to make space for other people," Bednar said.

She's not alone. In Toronto, Coun. Mary-Margaret McMahon has vowed to step down after her second term. On her website, McMahon writes "city politics is a public service, not a career."

York University professor Dennis Pilon agrees incumbents hold too much power, but doesn't believe term limits are the answer.

"It's a bad solution to a real problem," he said. "If you want a reform that would genuinely advance Toronto politics, then get rid of the ban on political parties."

Pilon says parties or slates give aspiring councillors a leg up by associating them with a well-known brand.

"The problem is that no one wants to invest money in an opposition campaign," he said. "Without parties to organize these things, the only people who can run at the municipal level have name recognition or existing business connections."

Bednar admits that "asking councillors to fire themselves," is a tall order, but she's confident it can happen. She cites Toronto's Ranked Ballot Initiative as an example of a successful grassroots campaign for democratic reform.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has vowed to give cities the choice to use ranked ballots in the 2018 election.

"It can really change the outcome of an election," Bednar said. "If the incumbent is second choice for a lot of people it can help them come back and that's a fair compromise. It's a much more articulate reflection of the electorate's desires."

More on