Author: A. Furtado, Citizen Journalist
Do you know where your municipal councillors live? Naturally, people would assume their councillors live in the same district in which they hold their seat. When asked where they call home, however, the answer is sometimes surprising.
At the last Central Saanich Town Hall meeting held on May 25 2011, residents discovered that Councillor John Garrison had moved to Duncan and Councillor Terry Siklenka had moved to Saanich. When this type of revelation becomes public, more questions may follow: Is it legal to be a non-resident councillor? And why would someone seek office outside their own community? Would you vote for a councillor if you knew the candidate was from outside the municipality?
Central Saanich Mayor Jack Mar explains, “The Local Government Act allows you to run anywhere in BC. You do not have to live in the community; that’s the way The Act reads.” Ironically, ‘The Act’, also states you must be a resident or property owner in order to vote in the municipality, but you do not have to meet either of these requirements to run for council.
Former Central Saanich Mayoral Candidate Sean McNulty weighs in, “I think it is a travesty. I do not think you can do your job properly if you don’t live there. Your number one priority should be fulfilling the obligations of a council person by living with your constituents.”
In contrast, however, non-resident Central Saanich Councillor John Garrison says, “Whether I live down the road or across the street; it doesn’t matter to me… I think I can still represent the people.” Garrison also mentions that this kind of situation is not unusual in places like Victoria.
Is it common for a municipal council member to be a non-resident and the public just doesn’t realize it? The answer is ‘yes’ and ‘no’ and it appears to depend upon where you live. In more urbanized communities it’s slightly more common than in rural communities. In the City of Victoria, Councillors Marianne Alto and Charlayne Thornton-Joe currently live outside the City of Victoria boundary; in Saanich all of the Councillors live in that district; in Sidney, Marilyn Loveless is the only non-resident, and in North Saanich two councillors, Cairine Green and Anny Scoones, recently moved out of the district.
It’s understandable that councillors could move out of their area during their term, but the bigger question is, should they seek re-election as a non-resident? Saanich Councillor Dean Murdock says, “In my experience it is a benefit for a councillor to be familiar with the community he or she represents. Living in the community gives you a good context for the impact that decisions will have on residents.”
Murdock also points out that in the City of Victoria non-resident candidates may be motivated by issues that are relevant to the city, “…In that case, the person has a familiarity with issues that affect the community.”
Victoria Councillor Charlayne Thornton-Joe, who lives in Saanich, explains what motivated her to run. “I just wanted to make a difference on issues that were important to me – I listen to those who I am representing and make decisions based on what is best for the citizens I am representing.”
Non-resident councillors can vote on land issues and spending even though they don’t live and pay taxes in that community. Should this be a relevant consideration when voting for councillors? Staying connected to a constituency takes work and commitment regardless of where you live.
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