On Thursday municipal leaders at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention voted in support of extending the term for elected local government officials from three years to four.
It has taken six years for local government leaders and the provincial government to get on the same page on this issue.
At the 2007 UBCM convention, delegates voted in favour of extending terms in office to four years. At that time the province rejected the proposal, pending a public consultation process on the issue.
By 2010 the provincial government was onboard to make the change, but local government leaders rejected the idea at the UNBC convention.
Finally on Thursday it seems like both sides are ready to make the change in time for the 2014 municipal elections -unless the province has changed its mind, of course.
It's a change which makes sense, and is long overdue.
Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick and Manitoba all have four-year terms for their municipal leaders. Alberta will be switching from three-year to four-year terms starting in October, and Saskatchewan and P.E.I. have four-year terms for their urban communities.
Reducing the number of municipal elections will save B.C.'s cash-strapped cities, regional districts and school boards money.
Longer terms in office will also give new elected officials longer to settle into their role before they have to start campaigning again. In general it will give city councils, regional district boards and boards of school trustees longer to create and enact their vision for the community they represent.
Unlike provincial and federal politics, where party politics create sides and determine agendas, each member of a local government is a party of one -with their own views and priorities.
It takes time for members of city councils to get to know each other and find enough common ground to move forward. Four-year terms would give each council or board longer to get to business after settling in.
In many cases councillors spend the first year learning the ropes and the third year in pre-campaign mode, so they only spend one year focused on the routine business of local government. Extending terms to four years would double the amount of time new councillors have between figuring out what is going on, and having to start thinking about getting reelected.
Moving to four-year terms will also mean municipal elections will not fall in the same year as scheduled provincial elections, which will prevent voter burnout in election-laden years.
While longer terms will mean running office is a bigger committment for potential city councillors, regional district directors and school trustees, it also provides greater certainty.
Being a city councillor isn't a plush, cushy job like being a senator. The hours are long; the pay is fairly low with no overtime; the work is often dull and unglamourous; the perks are minimal; the expense accounts are small and heavily scrutinized; and they can't run off to Victoria or Ottawa to hide from their constituents like MLAs and MPs.
Extending municipal terms from three years to four years would at least give those brave and dedicated enough to run for local office a little bit more job security.
And besides, only 28.8 per cent of eligible voters cast a ballot in the last municipal election anyway. Since most people don't bother to vote in local elections, for many it won't make the slightest bit of difference.
-- Associate new editor Arthur Williams