11/18/2011 12:17 EST | Updated 01/17/2012 05:12 EST

B.C. Voters Can Send City Hall a Message: Less Taxes, Control Spending

Election days are tough on candidates, but it's what comes after that is tough on taxpayers.

Win or lose, anybody brave enough to put their name on a ballot should be commended. It takes guts to make a stand and to offer your service publicly to your community. But, ultimately, those of us who vote on Saturday, Nov. 19, need to send a strong statement to our new mayors and councillors:

We cannot afford to keep going the way we have been going.

As the Canadian Federation of Independent Business reports, municipal spending has grown at four times the rate of population growth over the past decade. This is not sustainable for taxpayers.

That's why the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) has worked so hard to give candidates a solution: the Taxpayer Protection Bylaw. As part of our contract with taxpayers, the CTF challenged candidates to support a bylaw enshrining important principles such as a property tax cap, direct democracy, accountability and perhaps most importantly, a mechanism for mayors and councillors to put their own paycheques on the line.

That's right: communities with a Taxpayer Protection Bylaw would hold tax increases to the rate of inflation. If they didn't, and didn't have a referendum authorizing them to go above that line, the mayor and councillors would take a 15 per cent pay cut.

This is similar to what happens with the premier and cabinet in British Columbia. The Balanced Budget and Ministerial Accountability Act requires 20 per cent of their pay to be held back every year. If they meet their ministry's annual goals, they get half of that holdback returned to them. If the government posts a surplus, they get the other half. With British Columbia in deficit, Premier Christy Clark and her cabinet are all currently taking a 10 per cent pay cut, no matter how their ministries perform.

Enshrining these rules in a bylaw offers clear direction to municipal staff preparing budgets. Instead of coming to council with a long list of spending requests and a tax increase to match, they would be mandated to prepare the budget based on a tax increase held to inflation -- or lower. It puts feet to the campaign rhetoric.

Local residents have taken up the cause -- showing up at all-candidates meetings and writing letters encouraging their community's prospective leaders to sign the CTF pledge. These citizens include Linda Falkener of the Thompson-Nicola Regional District (TNRD), whose elected board wouldn't allow speak at a recent meeting because she wanted to address their tax and spend record. She kept working, challenging candidates to sign, and it paid off: a TNRD candidate endorsed the Taxpayer Protection Bylaw idea.

There is Nanaimo's Janet Irvine, who wrote a letter to the local paper, asking her community's candidates to get on board. Sure enough, a Nanaimo Council candidate signed the CTF's Contract with Taxpayers.

Janet and Linda, along with many others, have kept the pressure on local candidates. It's worked: 90 candidates across British Columbia have promised to support the Taxpayer Protection Bylaw and its commitment to keeping property tax increases under the rate of inflation.

Now it's up to the rest of us. The candidates are on the record, but if we don't come out and vote on Saturday, we have squandered our best chance to make our priorities known.

Municipal elections are notable for their small turnout. In many communities across B.C., a few votes can make a big difference, which is why people concerned about high taxes and bloated spending need to vote to change the culture of their council -- and then hold their new leaders accountable for their decisions. The Taxpayer Protection Bylaw will help, but ultimately the power lies with the people: if enough of us demand a change, we will get it.