By Collin Gallant on May 8, 2018.
An emergent debate on possible term limits for city council members in Alberta turned into a heated discussion between Medicine Hat’s newest and most veteran councillors on Monday night.
In the end, council voted 5-4 against forwarding the proposal to the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association asking it to petition the province.
That was a notice of motion from first-term councillor Kris Samraj, who said a debate needs to occur, but it’s little use talking at the local level about a change that would require Alberta government action to change legislation.
Sending it to AUMA, which regularly petitions the government for updates to local level legislation, could begin study of the issue, said Samraj.
“It was a procedural motion (tonight) where I hoped the real debate would happen at AUMA,” he said after the meeting. “I don’t know if the (term limit) rule would work in Medicine Hat, where there seems to be natural turnover, but I like options and right now, we don’t have the option.”
Other councillors however, said asking the province to limit who could or couldn’t stand for re-election takes options away from voters.
Coun. Robert Dumanowski, who topped the polls while winning a sixth term last October, said he couldn’t support the motion.
“It’s asking another level of government to interfere at the local level, and I’m fundamentally opposed,” he said.
Later, he cited multi-term mayors Harry Veiner and Ted Grimm, concluding “it’s an attack on the people who serve this community, and I’m disappointed to see it here.”
The wide debate involved every council member, except Mayor Ted Clugston, who cast the deciding vote.
“The public can limit my term at any time when I go for re-election,” said Clugston afterward. “I respect him as a new councillor for bringing it up — it’s a hard issue — but ultimately we have democratic process that works.”
Coun. Phil Turnbull seconded Samraj’s motion, saying he likes to see turnover, and felt limits would get more people involved in municipal politics.
“I’ve always supported term limits,” he said.
Eight-term council member Julie Friesen voted against.
“I don’t see this as being about me, but democracy is the right of local electors to make use of their freedom of choice — this robs them of that right,” she said.
She added discussions about who can and can’t run for office is not healthy.
“Maybe only the people you want to elect should be able to run?”
Coun. Jim Turner said limits may be useful at higher levels of government where politicians can make a “career” on salaries well beyond the about $20,000 part-time councillors collect in Medicine Hat.
“I don’t think it’s happening at the municipal level,” he said.
Coun. Jamie McIntosh said the city limits the number of consecutive terms public members can serve on local boards, such as the police or planning commissions, so why not council members?
“I think it would be great to talk about this,” he said.
Coun. Brian Varga supported the motion, but said some rural areas have enough trouble attracting candidates.
Coun. Darren Hirsch noted that in the 2013 election he was a founding member of the “Move On Medicine Hat” political action committee that called for change at the polls.
He said democracy worked at the polls, and now he worried about the logistics of term limits.
“If you had five step off, that’s a vacuum of knowledge that’s walking out the door,” he said.
Calgary city council in December voted down discussing term limits, though some have called it a ploy to prevent Mayor Naheed Nenshi from seeing a fourth term.