We need recall for city hall

British Columbians should have the power to fire misbehaving city politicians between elections.

To make that happen we’ll need recall legislation for local governments and a beefed-up auditor general for city halls.

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We wouldn’t have to start from scratch as we already have recall legislation at the provincial level. We also have an office of the Auditor General for Local Government, if in name only. That office has always lacked teeth and Premier John Horgan’s government is shuttering it.

As we recover from the COVID-19 mess and the economic hardships that it has caused, taxpayers need to know that every nickel of their money is being spent wisely and that if their local elected officials behave badly, they can recall them and hold a by election.

Alberta is a good example showing why recall legislation is important.

On the other side of the Rockies, Albertans are incensed that some of their provincial politicians jetted to vacations overseas during the holidays while telling their constituents to stay home.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney had promised to deliver recall legislation during the last election and Albertans are now demanding that he make good and give voters the tools to turf MLAs. 

When it comes to government, voters are the bosses and politicians are the employees. If we really are all in this together, then politicians should be subject to dismissal. 

While British Columbians can be glad that we’ve had this tool of grassroots democracy since 1991, recall shouldn’t be limited to the provincial level of government. We need it expanded so that councillors at town halls from Vancouver to Vanderhoof know they could be called to the carpet.

City halls in B.C. have had several recent incidents where taxpayers’ money has been wasted, and they could use the scrutiny of recall legislation. 

In Prince George, city council says it was unaware that the price tag for a taxpayer-funded construction project had ballooned from $12.6 million to more than $34 million. Vancouver city council blew more than $316,000 on designer office furniture after saying they needed money just to keep the lights on. Kelowna city council just got a pay hike while many in the private sector have seen their salaries cut or their businesses scaled back. 
That approach stands in contrast to Burnaby city council, which reduced its own pay by 10 per cent and then donated that amount to a seniors charity.

The power of recall is that it can go both ways. It can make a politician think twice about making bad decisions and it can also signal to them that they’re doing the right thing when the people back them up.

As more money and powers flow through city halls, voters need tougher tools to keep local governments in check. We also need a stronger office of the Municipal Auditor General so whistle-blowers have a place to call when they discover misspending.

As we recover from the economic damage caused by the pandemic, British Columbians need the tool of recall and a strong auditor general watchdog to keep an eye on their city halls and how they spend their tax dollars.

- Kris Sims is the B.C. director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

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