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4-year council terms have unintended consequences

The winners of this fall's municipal elections in Alberta will be the first ones to get four year terms of office. Now on one hand that means fewer elections over time, but it could also mean more byelections

Numerous impacts from extending Calgary city council terms

Political experts say extending council terms from three to four years may open the door to more byelections. (CBC)

The winners of this fall's municipal elections in Alberta will be the first ones to get four-year terms of office.

Now on one hand, that means fewer elections over time — for example, three elections every 12 years instead of four votes. Right now in Calgary, a municipal election costs about $2.5 million.

But on the other hand, could it mean more (but less expensive) byelections? The city's returning officer Barbara Clifford says apparently it can.

She has contacts with municipal election overseers elsewhere and she says that is one byproduct of longer terms in other parts of Canada.

Mount Royal University political scientist Lori Williams says that is likely due to the possibility of more things can happen in people's lives over four years versus three years. She points out people move, spouses get new jobs or illness can strike. 

Of course another possibility is it's a longer period in which a mayor, reeve or councillor could vacate their seat if they succeed in running for a provincial or federal position before the end of their municipal term.

There are other consequences to longer terms. Williams feels a longer term could convince some candidates to take the plunge if winning an election means a four-year term instead of just a three-year job. However, she also says a four-year term means it can be tougher for challengers to knock off incumbents.

Once again, follow the money. Anyone winning the election gets their council chair but it also starts the clock on the fundraising for their next election.  With the new longer term, those folks now have four years to build their war chests instead of three. 

This means challengers thinking of running in the next election might want to reach that decision sooner rather than later as they may need even more time to raise the cash to finance their campaign.

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