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Ten reasons politicians are not cans of spork (Or, why Jim Prentice's 'term limited' idea is terrible)

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Image: Flickr/Kempton

Politicians are not tins of spork. The good ones don't go bad just because they've been sitting around for a while.

Of all of the things that PC party leadership candidate Jim Prentice could have done to restore Albertans' trust in government, imposing term limits on provincial MLAs was not one of them.

Under Mr. Prentice's "term limited" model MLAs will be limited to three terms (12 years) and premiers will be limited to two (eight years). All existing MLAs are exempt.

A wave of despair washes over Ms Soapbox as she struggles to compose herself and prepare a new Top Ten List -- this time setting out Mr. Prentice's rationale for limited terms and the reasons why this is a spectacularly bad idea. (Note: All quotes come from Mr. Prentice)

10.  "It's very democratic and it's done in other democracies"

Just because there are term limits in the U.S. does not make it democratic in Alberta.

Leaving aside the obvious differences -- we're a parliamentary democracy, the U.S. is a republic -- it took centuries for the U.S. to develop the limited term model. It applies to the president, 36 governors and 15 state legislatures. Six states have overturned limited terms or had them invalidated by the courts.

Limited terms evolved through reasoned debate by luminaries such as Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and George Washington. They did not spring from the fevered brow of a desperate campaign strategist trying a Hail Mary pass to save a lackluster leadership campaign.

But if we're going to adopt the American way of governance I'd like to put impeachment on the table.

9. Limited terms will be implemented through legislation and party policy.

One small catch, any legislation that bans an MLA from running for office at the end of his third term would violate Section 3 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.*

(Ms. Soapbox has no issue with Mr. Prentice implementing limited terms through party policy because then it only applies to PC MLAs. Anything that whittles down their numbers is fine by me).

8. Limited terms will cure an "out of touch" government.

Really? Alison Redford was in office for six years (well within the time limit for an MLA or a premier) and the poor dear was the most out of touch politician this province has seen in a very long time.

7. "It ensures that people stay grounded."

Grounded? Assuming that means only "term limited" politicians have the backbone to do what is required in times of stress, look no further than Peter Lougheed who was in his third term when he successfully challenged the federal government over the national energy program.

6. Limited terms create "turnover in the political process".

They certainly do. They also create "lame ducks" who won't do anything courageous in their final term for fear they'll jeopardize their employment prospects in the real world.

5.  "If six years is the appropriate time for people to take on positions of public responsibility, why is it not appropriate for people that elect them to have term limits?"

Umm, because the premier has the right to appoint the six-year appointees but only the people have the right to elect the politicians...?

4. "It's time to channel our anger into positive and lasting change that is going to benefit this province."

Term limits will undermine any positive benefit to the province by gutting all the opposition parties who need at least two terms to demonstrate they can be trusted to govern.

3. "lasting change...to benefit this province."

Does anyone have any idea what Mr. Prentice is talking about? His proposal is utterly devoid of detail. It's not clear whether an MLA who becomes premier can serve 3 MLA terms and then 2 premier terms. If not, a sitting MLA must land the premier's job after his first term in office in order to serve as premier for two terms. Ms. Redford catapulted into the premier's office after one term and we all know how unprepared she was for the promotion.

2. Term limits will bring "new young faces" into the political arena.

Why? Do you really think limited terms will cure the apathy created by the stream of scandals the "new young faces" have witnessed over the last few years?

1. Term limits will not apply to sitting MLAs.

Why not? Eighteen Tory MLAs, including Dave Hancock, Thomas Lucaszuk and Doug Horner, will be well past the three year term limit when the election is called in 2016. Either Mr. Prentice is confident that these 18 MLAs have not fallen "out of touch" with Albertans or his vision clouded by the fact that 17 of the 18 are stumping for him in his leadership campaign.

The test of a good politician

Rival PC leadership candidates Thomas Lukaszuk and Ric McIver are in shock. Mr. Lukaszuk says the proposal is "bizarre" and defies tradition and the law. Mr. McIver says let the voters decide who should stay and who should go. Ms. Soapbox is in shock because she finds herself agreeing with both Mr. Lukaszuk and Mr. McIver.

If Mr. Prentice believes imposing arbitrary term limits on MLAs will regain the trust of Albertans he's sadly mistaken.

Albertans know that the test of a good politician is not how long they serve, but how well they serve.

They also know that they have the constitutional right to decide who will represent them.

No one, not even Diamond Jim Prentice, can take that right away from them.

Image: Flickr/Kempton, licensed under Creative Commons

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