No Need to Limit Good Work

By Jason Menard

The old adage states that it’s hard to find good help these days. So why should we set limits in politics if voters deem that someone is doing a good job?

As part of the run-up to London’s municipal elections, candidate Joe Fontana has suggested that he’ll only sit for one term as mayor, if elected. Council, as a whole, continues to debate the merit of setting term limits.

We see this at all levels of politics in Canada. The Prime Minister can sit in perpetuity (and sometimes it feels that way), but that hasn’t prevented Stephen Harper from pushing for term limits when it comes to his Senate reform, and the Governor General can only serve as the Queen’s representative for five years, which can be extended to seven — of course, only if the Prime Minister loves you.

Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez saw his referendum proposal to eliminate term limits rejected by the thinnest of margins — 51/49 per cent. And even though Vladimir Putin couldn’t circumvent Russia’s constitution in terms of term limits, he did manage to defeat the spirit of it by becoming Prime Minister following his Presidential reign. South of the border, the president gets two terms at most.

But why set limits. In the end, shouldn’t we be able to vote for the best candidate, regardless of how long he or she has been in office?

It’s true that, generally, incumbents are more likely to get elected. Part of it is name recognition, part of it is a “don’t fix what isn’t broken” mentality. But the largest part of that is voter apathy.

Our voter turnout is passable at best, embarrassing at worst. And voter turnout for municipal elections are abysmal. That said, why should we try to fix that problem with a solution that may be causing other greater problems.

If you have a company and you hire someone that’s really good at their job, would you not try to ride that person’s talents for as long as they were benefiting the bottom line? Or would you say, “Listen, Sally. You do a great job. Our profits are way up, employee satisfaction is at an all-time high. Angels actually sing outside of the office now. But you’ve been here for, what, eight years now? Time to go.”

No, that’d be crazy. And we need to start treating our government offices more like an actual office. A greater business-minded approach to talent management would be a greater benefit than setting up arbitrary expiration dates for employees.

Fontana’s comment makes for a great soundbite and may resonate with those who think that there’s too much of a sense of entitlement in government. But what if Fontana’s elected and becomes the greatest mayor in the history of municipal politics? What if the City of London flourishes under his leadership and becomes a shining beacon of Canadian city management? Should he quit his job after three or four years? Or should he continue on doing the job he’s proven so talented at doing.

Listen, this isn’t an endorsement for Fontana. Nor do I suggest that he’ll do a poor job. I don’t know and the voters of London will have to decide. When we vote, we’re electing our representatives. What people forget is that we’re the bosses in this scenario.

And as the bosses, we need to retain those high-performing employees for as long as we can.

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