Recall legislation for local governments needed to hold politicians accountable

Picture this: a business is going broke and everyone on the team knows it, but an employee goes out and buys luxury office furniture on the company credit card.

There would be questions and consequences as soon as management saw the receipt. A call to the boss’ office would come even quicker for employees who give themselves raises.

But one class of employee is exempt in this scenario: city hall politicians in British Columbia. Politicians work for the people. The people should have the right to hold their leaders accountable between elections.

To make that happen, we’ll need recall legislation for local governments.

We wouldn’t have to start from scratch as we already have recall legislation at the provincial level.

Here’s how it works. If voters want to remove a member of the Legislative Assembly, they can start the recall process. At least 40% of registered voters in the constituency need to sign the petition to trigger a byelection. Then it’s up to voters to decide if the MLA stays or goes.

As we recover from the COVID-19 mess and the economic hardships that it has caused, taxpayers need to know that every nickel of their money is being spent wisely. If local elected officials behave badly, voters deserve the right to hold them accountable.

On the other side of the Rockies, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney had promised to deliver recall legislation during the last election and Albertans are now demanding its implementation in the wake of revelations that politicians ignored health warnings to go on beach vacations.

When it comes to government, voters are the bosses and politicians are the employees. If we really are all in this together, voters should be able to hold politicians accountable between elections.

British Columbians can be glad that we’ve had this tool of grassroots democracy since 1991. But recall shouldn’t be limited to the provincial level of government. We need it expanded so that councillors at town halls from Vancouver to Vanderhoof know they could be called to the carpet.

Voters might like to have their say on a few recent municipal decisions.

Vancouver city hall blew more than $316,000 on designer office furniture after saying it needed money just to keep the lights on.

Kelowna city council just got a pay hike while many in the private sector have seen their salaries cut or their businesses scaled back.

Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran, who’s paid about $110,000 per year, didn’t bat an eyelash.

“While I appreciate the pandemic has negatively impacted a lot of people, there’s also a lot of people who have seen either their pay increase or their business has been very lucrative as a result of the pandemic,” Basran told Global News. “And there’s been a big swath of people who haven’t been impacted at all.”

That approach stands in contrast to Burnaby city councillors who reduced their own pay by 10% and then donated that amount to a seniors’ charity.

Maybe the people of Kelowna agree with their mayor and council and think their local politicians deserve a raise right now.

The power of recall is that it can go both ways. It can make a politician think twice about making bad decisions and it can also signal to them that they’re doing the right thing when the people back them up. If politicians really think this is a good time to buy luxury office furniture and pad their own pay cheques, they should have the guts face their bosses: the people.

As we recover from the economic damage caused by the pandemic, British Columbians need the tool of recall to strengthen accountability at city hall.

Kris Sims is the B.C. Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.