EDMONTON - Term limits on politicians are a needed part of an overall package of reforms to improve transparency and accountability in government, says Alberta Tory leadership hopeful Jim Prentice.
"It should involve turnover in our political system, bringing new people, renewal into our political system. Things like term limits, these will all form part of an accountability act," Prentice said at one of the last all-candidate debates in the campaign Thursday night.
Speaking to reporters after the debate, Prentice said two terms for premiers and three for legislature members — limits that would be a first in Canada — would ensure a steady stream of fresh faces in government.
"We want see more new young faces brought into politics. I hear a great deal of support for it."
Prentice pointed out that appointees to provincial boards are currently limited to six years.
"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?"
Because voters might still like them, said his opponents.
"Term limits? Really?" said fellow candidate Ric McIver. "I believe in democracy — Albertans should decide who sits in the legislature. We shouldn't tell them who they can elect and who they can't."
Candidate Thomas Lukaszuk called the idea an "American-style" solution that wouldn't work in the Canadian context.
"Either you have integrity or you don't," he said. "If you don't know it intuitively, you surely will find a loophole. Term limits are not the answer."
The debate before more than 100 people often grew testy as the candidates sought to paint each other as insiders who can't be trusted to change an atmosphere in the government that the province's auditor general has described as a "culture of entitlement."
Prentice repeatedly asked Lukaszuk why, when he was deputy premier, he did nothing to stop excesses such as the inappropriate use of government planes. He pointed out McIver sat around the cabinet table when those decisions were being made.
His opponents claimed they did speak out at the time. Both said Prentice wasn't living up to his own rhetoric by allowing his campaign to give away free party memberships.
Earlier Thursday, Prentice said the first bill a government under his leadership would introduce would protect the property rights of citizens, an issue that the Wildrose opposition has made political hay with against the Progressive Conservatives, especially in rural areas.
Card-carrying members of the PC party vote for a new leader Sept. 6.
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