Municipal elections favour incumbents
May 30 - June 20, 2000
Torontonians mowing their lawns and barbecuing in the summer of 2000 are bound to be interrupted by municipal politicians out on the hustings. Local politicians will be canvassing door to door, and members of their campaign teams will be planting lawn signs during the summer months as they gear up for November’s municipal election. Other than occasional media reports about already elected councillors bickering on home turf, there is little mention of the coming fall election. By Thanksgiving, sign wars will have peaked as civic 'candidates' battle it out for voter attention.
Destruction of election signs are almost commonplace in the advent of civic elections. As usual, it will be hard for the victims to prove that opponent team members removed or defaced campaign signs. Campaign managers will keep the telephones dancing off the desks at the local electoral office and some will be pestering local police.
Ward wars will fester in all sections across the megacity. But as far as John Q. Public is concerned, municipal elections remain a big yawn.
While candidates shout each other down at conventional all-candidate's meetings, they are really preaching to the converted, while the majority of qualified constituents remain aloof at home.
From a public perspective, why is there so little interest in all-important municipal elections?
Because it is almost a given that more than any other kind, civic elections are geared toward the re-election of incumbents, some who have reclaimed the same seats up to 20 years.
Not everyone approves of his or her local councillor, nor is amused to see their councillor in action over cable television down at the local council chamber. But through name recognition, most councillors are recognizable.
In the coming election, there will, of course, be many newcomers trying to gain seats on entrenched Toronto City Council. Realistically, their chances of upending an incumbent are next to nil. In any given municipal election, newcomers are up against three solid years of incumbents with strong name recognition, gained through well-funded, taxpayer-paid 'Communication with Constituent' budgets.
Incumbent councillors are more adept than ever at taking advantage of any opportunity to attach their pictures to regular mail-outs to Toronto residents.
The same councillors return to city hall after election day.
Classic case in point is the 1997 civic election when all candidates save one was an incumbent being returned to municipal office. Of 57 elected positions, former school board trustee Sandra Bussin, running in the Beach, was the only non-incumbent elected.
Civic Election 2000 will be even more difficult for newcomers given complications stemming from new ward boundaries. At last word, all-important voter’s lists will not be available until September.
It's a sad prognosis for change when municipal politicians have become increasingly unaccountable, high-handed and arrogant over years of re-election. With the next election only months away, a majority of councillors voted to keep their expensive limousine service.
Although they promise to be more sympathetic to small business when out on the hustings, between elections local politicians turn a deaf ear to the same constituency. Councillors know only too well that it is the homeowner and not the business owner who casts the most votes at the polling booth.
Yet, without major reform to level out the playing field and pave the way for more newcomers, Toronto city council will continue to be 'those clowns down at Toronto City Hall.'