Veteran city politicians will be asked to consider pulling the trigger on their own careers at the next council meeting, as two rookie councillors bring forward a notice of motion asking for a report on a three-term limit for all city politicians.
The motion, by Beaches-East York Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon and Don Valley West Councillor Jaye Robinson, came forward earlier this month as the city’s executive committee looked at creating term limits for councillors serving on city agencies, boards and commissions.
The executive committee stopped short of absolute term limits. But Robinson — who sits on the executive committee — and McMahon argue term limits might just be the cure for what ails an increasingly angry and dysfunctional council.
“I’ve only been around two years but along with a lot of the newbies, what we have observed is a very divisive and polarized council,” said Robinson.
“We have been able to get a few things done in two years, but imagine how council could be.”
Robinson said she believed councillors who have made a career of politics have brought old feuds and stale approaches to the floor of council — and in so doing, gummed up the works.
“There are trenches that are deep — deep trenches at city hall,” she said. “We had a fairly healthy turnover this last election and I think that’s had a positive impact on council. The hope would be that (a term limit) might inspire higher voter turnout and more engagement if there was more opportunity to participate in the process for more people.”
Robinson said three four-year terms should be enough for anyone with ambitions to reform city government or mark achievements for their community.
“There are too many councillors who stay here for a long time,” she said. “This is a calling — not a career. I think city hall could benefit from fresh faces and more diversity on council.”
Robinson admitted that with more than half of councillors already having served three terms, the policy change could be a tough sell at council.
Councillors from both sides of the political spectrum bore that out.
Don Valley East Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, who sits on the executive committee alongside Robinson, called the idea simplistic.
“I don’t think you can use that broad a brush,” said Minnan-Wong, who has been on council since the early 1990s. “I think there are a number of veteran councillors who still have a significant contribution to make. And in the last election we had a 25 per cent turnover at council — so the public and the voter is surprisingly adept at identifying a councillor’s best-before date.”
Don Valley East Councillor Shelley Carroll said term limits for councillors would do nothing so much as create a pressure to bring political parties into municipal government.
“If you put in place term limits, a party system follows close behind because party-aligned people start thinking, if you’re leaving after every second term how do we maintain the work that we’re doing in a certain way?” said Carroll. “Pretty soon you have a grass roots movement saying, ‘Let’s have political parties.’”