Elected Official Commitment Act would ensure accountability

Post by Daniel Fontaine in

1 comment

window dressing
New legislation might prevent some politicians from regularly window shopping for a new political job

Last year, Vancouver-Fairview’s NDP MLA Gregor Robertson bailed from his post and announced he wanted to become the Mayor of Vancouver. His decision ended up costing provincial taxpayers about half a million dollars to hold a by-election on the eve of the May 12th provincial election.

A few months ago, NDP MP Dawn Black then decided that after only a few months of being re-elected as the Member of Parliament for New Westminster-Coquitlam, she wanted to become an MLA.  She subsequently quit her MP post and is now heading off to Victoria as the MLA for New Westminster. Her decision also triggered a very costly by-election.

Word is now circulating in New Westminster that up to three city councillors (who were just re-elected to public office last November) now feel that Ottawa is calling. Two are of them are from Coquitlam, while the other resides in New Westminster. If one of them wins Dawn Black’s old seat, it will result in yet another costly civic by-election.

Here is what councillor Laurie Williams told the Royal City Record paper about her run for the federal NDP nomination:

"I love council...I do not have to resign to run. That is important to me. If I don't win I am still on council. That's good. I would miss being involved."

What on earth is going on here? When did it become so acceptable to run for office at one level of government, only to bail months later when the prospect of a better offer comes along?

Perhaps the time has come to save taxpayers a few dollars with the introduction of the Elected Officials Commitment Act. This new act would discourage elected officials from “public office shopping” by holding them accountable for part or all of the costs related to the by-election they have triggered. Here is how it might work.

Unless you have completed 90% of your term of office, the following rules would apply.

  • You would be financially responsible for covering part of the cost of any by-elections triggered by you vacating your seat to run for another level of government.
  • If you are appointed by another level of government to perform other duties such as a Senate post or a patronage appointment, the appointing body would assume responsibility for picking up 100% of the tab for the by-election.
  • The percentage you will be responsible for decreases the longer you stay in office and complete your term.

Here is an example of how the Elected Official Commitment Act might work:

Dawn Black decides to quit less than 6 months after she is re-elected as a Member of Parliament for New Westminster-Coquitlam. The cost to the federal government of her by-election is in the neighbourhood of half a million dollars. Black completed 12% of her term in office, with 88% of her term remaining.

Calculation:

$500,000 X 88% of remaining term = $440000  X 25% = $110,000 (portion she would owe to local taxpayers)

FORMULA: Cost of by-election multiplied by percentage remaining in term multiplied by 25% = payment owed to taxpayers

Black would then be responsible for paying 25% of the cost back to the federal government to offset the costs. This would amount to approximately $110,000. Of course, an easy-to-enroll monthly payroll deduction plan will be introduced to help ease the financial burden for any politician that decides they want to bail early.

The same formula would apply to all elected officials who decide they want to quit their jobs and shift over to another political body.  If you’ve completed at least 90% of your term in office, there would be no levy involved as you will likely not trigger a by-election.

My suspicion is beginning to charge politicians for the privilege of shopping around for a different elected office would all but eliminate this practice. That is, unless they can find deep pocketed donors who are willing to foot the bill. If that’s the case, then all the power to you...so to speak.

Call me old fashioned, but when Williams put her name on the ballot and told voters she wanted to be a city councillor for three years, I believed her.  Announcing she's jumping ship only months after a civic election does nothing to help improve the public’s wrongly held perception of politicians running for office simply to advance their own cause.

Have your say by voting on our daily online web poll on this topic.

1 Comment

Talk about a solution in search of a problem. First of all, the practice is not all that common. Secondly, in a free society, citizens are free to seek public office and are equally free to step down from such offices for any number of reasons: ill health, party considerations (e.g., a backbencher resigning to allow a seatless party leader to enter the legislature), personal ambition, etc. Imposing a financial penalty on elected officials who relinquish office before the end of their term is punitive and anti-democratic. Besides, in a parliamentary democracy, it is the electors who must decide the appropriateness of such conduct. The voters of Vancouver Fairview evidently ratified Gregor Robertson's choice, by voting NDP in the ensuing byelection and by contributing to Robertson's election as Mayor. In other cases, voters may show their disapproval, as in the case of Lorne Mayencourt. His party failed to hold Vancouver Burrard in the 2008 byelection and Mayencourt was soundly defeated in his bid for Federal office.
Money and fines are not the solution to every problem, especially not an non-issue like this one.

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