Two Terms Bad Four Terms Good

Here’s an interesting little story from CBC’s Joanne Chianello. Four local councillors are facing a tough choice: break their promise or be unemployed.

Chianello writes about four councillors who, running for the first time in 2010, promised to only serve two terms. Each councillor won re-election in 2014, so if they’re keep their trousers from immolating, they’d best be polishing their resumes. The four councillors are Bay Ward’s Mark Taylor, Kanata South’s Allan Hubley, Beacon Hill-Cyrville’s Tim Tierney and Cumberland’s Stephen Blais.

(This follows similar pledges made by Steve Desroches and Bob Monette in 2006. Desroches kept his word, Monette is serving his third term as I type.)

Taylor has said he’s sticking to his word. Hubley was mum. Tierney expressed regret about the pledge (but hasn’t decided on his 2018 plans). Blais, too, is equivocating.

Personally, I never put too much stock in these promises, nor their shattered remnants when the third election rolls around. I mean, I get it. Things change. It’s easy to make that promise eight years in advance, but things change. A councillor can still feel driven to help his community. He might feel there’s unfinished business. He might think that his constituents want him to stick around (and he might actually be right).

(Note, I’m saying “he” because every councillor mentioned in the story is a man.)

So, no, it’s not a horrible transgression to go back on a two-term pledge. In the end, it is for the voters to decide.

But…

It’s still a broken promise, and that’s not nothing. A voter really should take this into account. There has to be a reason the politician made that promise in the first place, and there has to a reason he’s breaking it now. Odds are, the reasons are pretty self-serving.

Was he a dreamy-eyed populist railing against career politicians? Did he think he had to make that pledge to be elected in the first place? Was he just really naive about politics? Or was it a thoughtful and earnest promise that he is compelled to renege upon due to changing circumstances?

I really can’t tell you what the situation is for these three candidates, and I wouldn’t suggest that this broken promise alone would be reason enough to vote against any them in 2018 (though there may be other valid reasons). But I do have sympathy for the kick-the-bums-out mentality of voting, and I can see how this would reinforce such an inclination.

And let’s be clear, none of these men are irreplaceable. If you followed the 2014 election, you might remember how many good candidates were out there. Kitchississippi, Rideau-Rockliffe, Rideau-Vanier, Somerset and Osgoode all had multiple quality candidates. River and Capital each had a green candidate who looked like they might have potential. There are people out there capable of serving. We can lose some of our current councillors without weakening council too much.

If these councillors decide to run again, they should be held to account. They’ll owe their constituents an explanation and an apology, and residents will be right to press them on it. Residents would also be wise to balance this against whatever merits they might possess.

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