Top Ten Reasons Why Jim Prentice’s “Term Limited” Government is a Bad Idea

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 (8 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)

The Top Ten List

10.  “It’s very democratic and it’s done in other democracies…”

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

George Washington

Leaving aside the obvious differences—we’re a parliamentary democracy, the US is a republic—it took centuries for the US 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.

  1. 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).

  1. 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.

  1. “It ensures that people stay grounded.”

Mr Lougheed

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 fourth term when he successfully challenged the federal government over the national energy program.

  1.  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 6-year appointees but only the people have the right to elect the politicians…?

  1. “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.

  1. 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.

Mr Prentice

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 he serves, but how well he serves.

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.


Corrected Aug 25, 2014 to reflect that Premier Lougheed was in his fourth term, not his third, when he tackled the federal government on NEP. Thank you Don Braid.


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16 Responses to Top Ten Reasons Why Jim Prentice’s “Term Limited” Government is a Bad Idea

  1. A masterpiece list. Great work, Ms Soapbox!

  2. GoinFawr says:

    Hahahahahahahahaha! Perfect!

  3. Midge says:

    Awesome again Susan!
    Redford “was the most out of touch politician this province has seen in a very long time” but I think that title appears to be lost to Mr. Prentice, who seems to absolutely NO idea of where he is or what he’s doing here.

    • Midge, Mr Prentice has a very serious credibility problem. Four law professors (two from the University of Alberta, one from the University of Calgary and one from Boston College Law School) say you can’t tell someone they don’t have the right to run for public office without creating a serious constitutional issue. How serious? The U of C prof says it may require a constitutional amendment with seven provinces representing more than 50% of the population to be on board.

      So far Mr Prentice refuses to back down so far. He told the Calgary Herald (Aug 25, 2014) he disagrees with those who suggest his plan is unconstitutional and says the term limit is not vulnerable to a Charter challenge. In other words, the four law profs are all wet.

      Given that Mr Prentice is running for the highest political office in Alberta, this is a serious faux pas. How he handles it over the next few days will tell us a lot about the measure of the man.

  4. Elaine Fleming says:

    Interesting essay on the topic of fixed terms! Where did the notion originate from, why, and why did the Wildrose embrace it earlier in their ideological “evolution”? Then, my mind goes to, why did they abandon it? For all the legal/constitutional reasons you state, Susan, or does it suit their purposes better?
    I thought Obama might be able to do more with the goal of universal health care in the U.S. if he had another term. Mind you, he has aged A LOT. Perhaps his wife would just say, “Enough already!” anyway.

    • Elaine, I don’t know much about term limits other than what I’ve discovered on the internet. The ancient Greeks and Romans used term limits as a way to curb corruption. The American founding fathers were well educated in the classics and consequently considered the concept when they created the American Constitution from a blank piece of paper (wouldn’t that be daunting!). Interestingly the two term limit on presidents didn’t make it into the Constitution until 1951 although it had been observed in practice for quite some time. All of which gets back to my point that a decision to introduce term limits in Alberta isn’t something you dream up over a weekend.

      As to why the Wildrose abandoned the idea, I suspect that their lawyers told them exactly what the four law profs are saying about the Prentice proposal—it’s unconstitutional.

      I can’t believe that the Prentice camp would make such a gaffe.

  5. ABCanuck says:

    Once again, Ms. Soapbox has shredded Jim “Care Bear” Prentice like a lioness on a young impala. Her “Top Ten” lists are so devastating there ought to be a “mercy” rule!

  6. Don Braid says:

    Great analysis of a very bad idea, Susan. I would make just one point; Peter Lougheed was actually in his fourth term, not his third, when the National Energy Program came down. He was first elected to the legislature in 1967.
    Don Braid, Calgary Herald

  7. Carlos Beca says:

    Just because term limits in the US, does not mean it is good for anyone on any system. Imagine an engineer being told that he can only work in Fort McMurray for 8 years and then he has to become an accountant.
    I only heard of term limits when I first read about the US president. It is a silly idea and it is not democratic at all. I can choose to be a politician for life and it is up to me and the voters to decide when it is time to change.
    The only reason Mr. Prentice decided to get this message out, is because this is the ‘in’ thing in the right wing politics of the Tea party and others. I would be way more interesting if Mr. Prentice talked about oil royalties or taxation or health care or education. Those are the issues we are interested in knowing what his ideas are. The problem is that these people like him are managers and they get their ideas from their masters somewhere else. Mr. Prentice does not have anything to offer of his own brain other then what we already know – cut taxes to the big corporations, then we go into deficit and so we have to cut social programs again to balance the budget and on and on ad nauseum.

    • Absolutely bang on Carlos. At first I was puzzled by the support many Albertans expressed for term limits but when I started digging into why they liked term limits a strange picture emerged. People interviewed by the St Albert paper and others I’ve talked to said this:
      1. Why do you have to stay with one person/politician all the time?
      2. If a person stays in office too long he becomes stale.
      3. Term limits will fix the politician “shortage”.
      4. Term limits will attract people who are “in it” for the people, not for the money or the power.
      5. It’s the only way to get rid of bad politicians.

      It didn’t seem to occur to these people that imposing a 3 term (12 year) limit on service would make absolutely no difference. But what’s really scary is that people have forgotten that they have the ability to vote these guys out in the next election. Bizarre.

      • Carlos Beca says:

        Susan you are correct. I think the issue is that we live in a Twitter world where more than ever before people accept twitter ideas. Prentice’s term limits is just that. Something that quickly sounds great. Furthermore our ingrained complex of inferiority towards the US just takes over and we accept it as if it has to be good. After all the US has it. Who cares what the US uses? We can develop our own home made politics and we will be fine. All it takes really is for politicians to be treated like regular citizens and all these abuses will stop. With Lukaszuk, for example, just send the 20 thousand dollar bill to him. Pay it or go to court with the phone company.

  8. Jim Lees says:

    Is this what a Prentice administration will focus on as a priority? Can you imagine the debate in caucus, and in the Legislature, over term limit legislation? Or is this another red herring to drag the focus of the dialogue away from real issues because no one has anything to offer in the way of new ideas or solutions to deal with the real issues? There seems to me to be a lack of leadership in what is supposed to be a leadership race.

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