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Minister cautious on suggested changes to local election rules

Local politicians called on the B.C. government to extend recall legislation to municipal halls and regional districts, after more than a decade of avoiding battles over voters trying to fire elected officials before their terms end.

At their recent annual convention, mayors and councillors also passed resolutions to ban corporate and union donations to local election candidates, and asked for legislation to prevent people from running for office in multiple communities.

Communities Minister Peter Fassbender, new to his job but a veteran of local politics, responded cautiously to the suggestions, particularly the idea of extending recall.

“I think very often recall becomes something where it is seen as a weapon as opposed to something that actually makes a contribution,” Fassbender said in an interview. “And I think before we moved on anything we would want to have a fulsome discussion.”

Delegates to the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention rejected the idea of recall in 1998 and again in 2003, but a new generation elected to four-year terms supported the idea.

Rookie Telkwa Mayor Darcy Repen sponsored the motion, arguing that the 2011 referendum to reject the harmonized sales tax “empowered the people,” and recall at the provincial level hasn’t encouraged “rabble rousers advocating for special interests.”

Repen said his friends would have laughed if he had told them he was running for mayor, and if he’s no good at the job, the community shouldn’t have to put up with him for four years.

Vancouver Coun. Heather Deal spoke in favour of the UBCM’s latest call to restrict campaign donations, noting that donations from wealthy developers and unions in the city have now reached into the millions of dollars.

View Royal Mayor David Screech got support for his resolution calling for a ban on running in more than one municipality. He said the same candidate has repeatedly run for mayor all 13 Victoria-area communities, and “the media was more interested in him than the legitimate candidates.”

Central Saanich Mayor Ryan Windsor opposed the motion, noting that the perennial candidate got only 91 votes against him.

“We saw what happened in every jurisdiction here,” agreed Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen. “I think as a practical matter the kinds of people who engage in running in more than one jurisdiction are not candidates that people feel are worthy of support. They run in more than one jurisdiction to make a statement but are otherwise really not candidates running on anything other than a message of protest.”

Fassbender was also reluctant to take action based on one situation. “You really want to give some sober thought to it instead of just reacting to someone who is trying to create some controversy,” Fassbender said.

– with files from Christine van Reeuwyk

 

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