Over the recent long weekend, the newly elected 39-year-old French president Emmanuel Macron made a compelling speech at the palace of Versailles, describing the need for political renewal in France and in the EU.
Macron promised a “profound transformation” and called for an end of the defeatism and cynicism he says has gripped the continent.
“The building of Europe has been weakened by the spread of bureaucracy and by the growing skepticism that comes from that,” said the French president.
Macron’s speech got me thinking about political renewal back home. Specifically, how long is too long for a government or public official to hold office? That question comes up continually as election season approaches.
For example, how many times did the B.C. Liberals’ critics point out the Liberals had governed for 16 years? There were the repeated references to the “dismal decade” aimed at the B.C. NDP, too, suggesting they held government for too-bleeping-long as well.
There is no hard science as to when an elected official reaches his or her expiry date but, particularly in local government, we see mayors and councillors who get very comfortable in their jobs. The reason they ran for office in the first place is often a distant memory.
Ninety-something Hazel McCallion gets the endurance prize. She was a Mississauga, Ont., mayor for 36 years before retiring in 2014. Though she was an immensely popular civic leader, I observe that she oversaw the development of a sprawling, car-oriented community.
In Metro Vancouver, we have a few mayors looking to give McCallion a run for her money. The Corporation of Delta has had Lois Jackson as mayor since 1999. Jackson, who was first elected in 1972, has said this will be her last term in office.
In the City of North Vancouver, Darrell Mussatto has been on city council nearly 25 years. He was first elected in 1993, and has been mayor for the past 12 years. Richard Walton in the neighbouring District of North Vancouver was elected to council in 2002, sitting as mayor since 2005.
In the Tri-Cities, we have Coquitlam’s Richard Stewart in city hall since 2005, and mayor since 2008. PoCo’s Greg Moore was first elected in 2002 and has been mayor since 2008 also.
In Richmond, there is a range of controversial issues that have faced council during the tenure of Malcolm Brodie. The latest is the enormous, castle-sized homes that have been built on farm land for years, only recently making headlines. Brodie has served on council since 1996 and as mayor since 2001.
Mayors who have only served one or two terms – such as Surrey’s Linda Hepner, Port Moody’s Mike Clay or West Vancouver’s Michael Smith – rightly deserve more time to put their stamp on the office.
Derek Corrigan was first elected to council in 1987 and has been mayor since 2002. You can say that he has long since put his stamp on the City of Burnaby. However, his floundering explanation for why he continues to allow low-income apartments to be razed while 45-storey high-end condo buildings replace them should be a flag to voters it is time for change.
In Vancouver, Gregor Robertson is nearing the longest term in office of any mayor in our city’s history. He was first elected in 2008 with a platform that focused on big changes and sweeping promises to eradicate homelessness and make housing affordable.
From a pure numbers standpoint – with the homelessness count at an all-time high, and with housing prices breaking records – Robertson’s change mandate has heralded little benefit to those struggling to keep a roof over their heads.
Without a serious reboot in their approach, it is hard to see what if any fresh ideas Robertson and Vision can bring after a decade running city hall.
As provincial voters seemed to want last May, it is possible that the Metro Vancouver elections in 2018 will bring a “new generation of leaders” like the ones Macron is calling for in the EU.
It is my sense that many of the mayors will be announcing they will not run again, lest they be given a time out by voters looking for a fresh approach. It cannot come soon enough.