Prentice term-limit idea is gimmicky and probably unconstitutional

Jim Prentice Stephen Mandel Edmonton Alberta PC leadership
Jim Prentice with former Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel on June 10, 2014 in Edmonton.

You are Jim Prentice. You have the podium and the attention of Alberta’s media. You are the next Premier of Alberta. You can dream big. You could promise to replace all of Alberta’s aging hospitals by 2020, to build a high-speed railway from Calgary to Edmonton, to forge a new relationship with municipalities through Big City Charters, or reinvent the way Alberta is governed. Heck, you could even promise to implement your party’s long-list of unfulfilled promises from the last election.

But what is your big promise? Term-limits for MLAs.

Today, Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Mr. Prentice pledged to limit future Premiers to two-terms and  MLAs to three-terms in office. It was a strange announcement. And it is gimmicky.

As someone who practices the law, Mr. Prentice should understand that term-limits are likely unconstitutional and, unlike a presidential republic like the United States of America, the concept of term limits does not fit in Canada’s system of parliamentary democracy.

While many Albertans will probably support the idea of term-limits for their elected officials, from a practical standpoint it does not appear that a lack of term-limits are a real problem in Alberta politics. By my count, 80% of Alberta’s 86 current MLAs were elected within the last ten years and the last two Premiers – Ed Stelmach and Alison Redford – did not survive two terms in office.

The most recent notable exception was Ken Kowalski, who retired before the last election after 33 years as a PC MLA (and his three decade long political career in provincial politics is very uncommon). The current longest serving MLA is Pearl Calahasen, who has represented Lesser Slave Lake since 1989.

Promises of term-limits are also not a new issue in Alberta politics. Wildrose leader Danielle Smith said in 2012 that, if elected, she would only serve two-terms as Premier (her party constitution had it enshrined until it was removed in 2013). And, in 2011, PC leadership candidate Ted Morton proposed term-limits for Premiers.

Despite Mr. Prentice’s announcement, not long ago, the PC Party mocked and demonized their opponents for proposing term-limits for MLAs and the Premier. In a 2010 newsletter, the party he wants to lead compared MLA term-limits to “the whims of an Ayatollah or a general.”

The timing of this announcement is notable. On August 23, 2014, Alberta’s PC Party will become Canada’s longest-serving governing party ever (beating the record of the Nova Scotia Liberals, who governed that province from 1882 to 1925).  And August 30, 2014 will mark 43 years since the PC Party won its first election in 1971. Perhaps term-limits for parties in government is a more worthwhile idea (but probably just as hard to implement).

It is hard to see Mr. Prentice’s term-limit pledge as anything but an attempt to distract Albertans from lacklustre leadership contest and the ongoing government spending and airplane scandals (and the PC government’s unwillingness to take responsibility for its actions).

Mr. Prentice’s front-runner campaign is appearing less dynamic and more vulnerable each day and rumours continue to circulate that less than 30,000 PC Party memberships have been sold, compared to more than 100,000 that were sold in that party’s 2011 contest.

With two weeks left before PC members vote to chose their next leader, Mr. Prentice’s campaign is desperately trying to spark some excitement in the minds of its supporters. With today’s term-limit announcement, they appear to have missed the mark, by a long-shot.

16 thoughts on “Prentice term-limit idea is gimmicky and probably unconstitutional”

  1. “August 30, 2014 will mark 44 years since the PC Party won its first election in 1971.”

    43 years.

  2. Actually Dave, your usually great analysis completely misses the mark. It’s time for new blood in Alberta politics and this is a good start.

  3. It doesn’t matter what Mr. Prentice promises. We are going to institute term limits for the MLAs all by ourselves. We don’t need him to do this job.

  4. How about limiting corporate donations to a maximum of $5000 rather than the allowable $30,000 or $40,000? and making lump some collected donations like that last $430,000 illegal from hereon in? Only in AB…its one of the few places corporations are able to buy a gov’t into office. This must stop…new topic Dave Berta? Ban or greatly limit corporate donations. Electoral law too are easily circumvented.

  5. Corproate donations should be completely unrestricted. Same with union and personal donations.

  6. Brian J, completely unrestricted donations? If you are joking, your sarcasm is noted, otherwise its troubling to see you promoting fascist neocon values. Your suggestion favors the status quo.

  7. Well, if there were term limits for parties in government, I suppose they would just change their names every 8 or 12 years…unless there was some kind of rule against that, in which case Alberta might end up with a Wildrose government by default! which hardly seems like a good idea. I don’t think term limits for MLAs are necessarily unconstitutional but I am not sure we need them; some politicians (admittedly, a small minority) do an outstanding job and deserve to be re-elected for several terms.

  8. There’s a good chance Brian Janz is being sarcastic. That said, Justin Time clearly has no idea what either “fascist” or “neocon” means…

  9. Firstly, as has been pointed out by a number of observers, term limits would not have avoided the Redford debacle; she was only in her first full term as Premier.

    Secondly, the issue with the staleness of the PC gov’t is not the political longevity of the individual MLAs, both in and out of Cabinet; it’s the PC Party dynasty itself, whose shelf life has long expired and yet the voters keep on buying it (for reasons passing understanding). Term limits can have no impact on this factor.

    This is simply a hare-brained idea.

  10. Nope, not being saracastic. No place for donation limits for union, corporate, or individual donors.

  11. Term limits will not apply to sitting MLAs.

    Susan-on-the-soapbox:
    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.

    (Yes)

  12. Where to begin? Oh yeah. Desperate to change the channel on giveaway memberships and their fear of a televised debate (which the Prentice lapdogs in the party conveniently removed as an issue by saying they were too busy implementing their “state-of-the-art” electronic voting system to facilitate – question, why does the Party need to be involved rather than letting one of the networks do it?) the policy geniuses in the Prentice campaign (yes, The Invisible Hand, that WAS sarcasm) decided to throw a neocon Hail Mary with term limits and property rights. Is there anything more embarrassing than being told your flagship idea is not only stupid, it’s unconstitutional as well? That’s what happens when you make policy on the fly.

    Justin Time, just look left or right for two jurisdictions where there are no contribution limits. Saskatchewan, at least, only allows Canadians to contribute, but BC is wide-open to foreign money. Alberta is actually well ahead of our neighbouring provinces, not that things couldn’t be improved. Personally, I think public funding based on votes is fair, though that means your (and I’m making an assumption here) preferred parties would get bupkes.

    Alex, you’re aware that there are limits? Multiplying by four doesn’t work. Most contributors don’t have their contributions deducted from their paycheques…

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