It was the week after the Toronto municipal elections.
Paddy greeted me and then remarked, “Knowing how much you disliked the Toronto city council, you must be really teed off that only one incumbent lost his seat.”
“Indeed I am,” I assured him. “If ever there was proof that term limits are needed in politics, re-electing nearly all of what is likely the most dysfunctional elected body in the history of democracy is it.”
“But wasn’t Rob Ford the main problem,” Paddy suggested.
“It’s easy to blame Rob Ford,” I countered, “and I admit he was an unmitigated disaster; but far too many council members were no less distracting, obnoxious, and ineffective.”
“So you think that municipal politicians should have term limits,” Paddy posited.
“I think that all politicians -- municipal, provincial and federal -- should be limited to two terms,” I said.
“Make your case,” Paddy challenged.
“The reason that incumbents on municipal governing bodies are almost impossible to unseat is the overwhelming advantage of name recognition that they enjoy. A two-term limit would solve that,” I told him.
“OK,” I buy that,” Paddy said. “But make your case for provincial and federal limits.”
“At the provincial and federal levels, incumbents’ name recognition is not such a major advantage,” I conceded. “But it’s still an advantage, particularly after two terms.”
I took another sip, and when Paddy remained silent I went on, “The main problem with virtually all politicians is that they care more about getting re-elected than they do about governing effectively.”
“But would term limits solve that?” Paddy reasonably asked.
“Even with a two-term limit, too many politicians would, in their first term, probably still care more about getting re-elected than anything else,” I agreed. “But if they were limited to two terms, there would at least be a chance that, in their second term, they might actually spend all their time governing rather than spending most of it electioneering.”
“Any other advantages?” Paddy asked.
“A two-term limit would also reduce the sense of entitlement that permeates the political scene at all levels,” I answered, “the longer they’re in the greater the sense of entitlement.”
“You’ve got that look in your eye that tells me there’s more. Go on,” Paddy urged.
“Term limits would also reduce the opportunities for corruption at all levels of government” I said.
“How so?” Paddy queried.
“Vested interests rarely try to influence first-termers because most first termers aren’t yet very influential,” I told him. “And second-termers would be somewhat insulated. They’re not going to be running again, so they wouldn’t feel as compelled to bow to pressure”
While Paddy pondered that I added, “Term limits would also get rid of career politicians.”
“And what have you got against career politicians?” Paddy asked.
“Career politicians,” I said, “tend to become out of touch. They think that the partisan bubble in which they live is reality; and it isn’t. And their feeling of entitlement knows no bounds. Career politicians also clog up the entry of younger people with fresh, new, and likely more relevant, ideas.”
“Is that the end of your sermon for today,” Paddy sarcastically asked, “or is there more.”
“Two more things,” I said.
“Which are what?” Paddy prodded.
I paused to drain my coffee cup and then said, “First, election campaigns are far too long, especially in municipal politics. I think all political campaigns should be limited to thirty days.”
“And...” Paddy interrupted.
“There should be optional online voting for all elections at all levels of government.”
“But, would it be secure?” Paddy challenged.
“If online banking and investing can be made secure,” I said, “I don’t see why online voting couldn’t be.”
As Paddy got up to leave he said, “I thought you were going to say if scientists can catch up to a comet and land a little space thing on it after tracking it for over ten years, then we should be able to safely vote on line.”
“That, too,” I agreed.