Elected Officials: Should there be Term Limits?

With a municipal election coming up in Toronto, the ‘incumbent advantage’ looms large. Incumbents generally get re-elected. It is not obvious to this observer that this is a good thing. Relatives and spouses also generally get re-elected. This isn’t obviously good either.

Here are some of the drawbacks of elections whose results are biassed toward a sitting candidate or a ‘name’ candidate echoing a previous name candidate:

  • Incumbent re-election can make ‘career politicians’. They never go back to their ordinary citizen jobs. My councillor recently became an MPP, and will never look back. I think this creates a cadre with a mind-set of ‘must get elected, it’s my job.’ Does this make for sound decisions, or popular ones?
  • Right-name election can create dynasties. While I think Justin Trudeau is a good guy, the electorate will decide whether he should govern. Municipally we have the brother of the most (in)famous Toronto mayor running in his stead, and a relative who changed his name early this year (a nephew? this from memory) is running for school trustee. Democracy is not about inherited power. Or is it?

I’m too lazy to search out how various governments decide on term limits of politicians. However here you will find a fine Wikipedia article listing petty much all the heads of state of the world, by geographical area, and what their term limits are.

I can’t help but remark here that Canada has ‘fixed election dates’ except when our Prime Minister says they are not. Let me instead point out a few things you can check for yourself on the Wikipedia page.

In the Americas, only three countries out of twenty-two have unlimited state leader terms. Either there is a term count limit, a gap-between-terms rule, or some other obstacle to being elected over and over and over. The three heads of state with no term limits are:

  • President of Venezuela (unlimited six-year terms)
  • President of Nicaragua (unlimited five-year terms)
  • Prime Minister of Canada (no term limits)

In all of Oceania, (ten countries) only Australia has no term limits.

In all of Europe, (36 countries plus the EU) only six have no term limits, and they are: Azerbaijan, Belarus, Germany, Italy, Serbia, and the UK.

I may note sarcastically that Italy, with unlimited seven-year terms, was under Silvio Berlusconi for ages.

So, back to the dumb question: should elected officials have term limits? Should this be the case at the municipal level? At the provincial level? What about at the head-of-state level? Should we have dynasties or kings?

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So, if you think, what do you think about this question?



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