Is recall legislation at the civic level needed?

Post by Daniel Fontaine in

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total_recall.jpgGiven all the scandals that appear to be hitting some of our major cities lately, you would think that there might be louder voices calling for the introduction of civic recall legislation.

In 2007, Ottawa police laid criminal charges against the mayor of Ottawa related to his alleged offer to rival candidate Terry Kilrea to drop out of the city's 2006 mayoral race. The charges rocked Ottawa City Council to its core.

In the small Vancouver suburb of Port Coquitlam, citizens were also hopping mad when their former mayor was arrested by the police for beating up his former girlfriend. Rather than stepping aside gracefully, the mayor actually vowed to stay on as the City's top dog. In fact, he even continued to attend council meetings after his arrest. Albeit, a few embarrassed and angry voters did show up to greet him.

So what are citizens to do if their city politicians are caught with their hand in the cookie jar or worse yet, they commit some sort of heinous act? It would appear, nothing.

That’s because I'm aware of no legislation in Canada that provides citizens the right to recall their civic politicians. But should there be? Or should facing the wrath of angry voters at election time be considered the ultimate recall?

Before I answer that question, I think we need to look at how the recall experiment has worked in BC. The legislation was introduced by former NDP Premier Glen Clark in 1996, and by all accounts it looks as though it has been a complete failure. But that all depends on how you measure success.

Although several high-profile attempts were made in the 90’s to recall some MLAs duly elected to the provincial legislature, they all went down to defeat.

The proponents of recall blamed the complicated labyrinth of rules for the failures. They argue that you need too many signatures, there is too little time to mount a campaign, the voters lists are out of date etc.

On the other hand, the opponents of recall say the bar should be set high in order that we are not perpetually in a "mini" election campaign in between elections. I think they are both right.

Do we need civic recall? I don’t think so. If previous recall campaigns are any indication, their civic cousins will also likely be more about partisan politics and media hype than getting rid of corrupt politicians.

I must also ask, what problem would civic recall legislation actually be solving?

That's because when it comes to city government, you simply can’t hide. You see your neighbours at the grocery store and on the soccer field. Electing your mayor is not like electing you MP or MPP. They simply don't head off Toronto or Ottawa for four years without you ever seeing them again.

City politicians must face the music every time they attend a public hearing, council or committee meeting. Not attending these meetings is simply NOT an option. As a city politician, too many bouts of absenteeism and by law you could find yourself out of a job.

I say we we’ve lived this long without needing recall legislation for our city politicians and I think things are best left as is. What do you think?

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