Candidates in more than a quarter of Toronto’s municipal wards hoping to land a city council seat don’t have any challengers in the upcoming election, with two weeks left to submit a nomination.
After a three-month nomination period, more than a dozen people have signed up to run for mayor, but seven of the city’s 25 wards have only one candidate so far.
According to the Ontario Municipal Elections Act, anyone running in a ward without a challenger is immediately declared the winner on the Monday after nominations close, nixing the need for an election—and the chance for residents to participate in choosing who represents them.
Toronto’s state of nominations has political scientists and even some councillor hopefuls concerned.
“I think it’s a sorry state of affairs for Toronto,” said Myer Siemiatycki, professor emeritus at Toronto Metropolitan University.
“Democracy doesn’t work well when the people don’t participate, where there isn’t an accountability loop. And that’s what we’re looking at now,” he said.
He said the lack of challengers shouldn’t be considered an indication that incumbents have residents’ full enthusiastic support, but instead may point to the job as undesirable.
Registration for candidates opened on May 2 and closes Aug. 19 at 2 p.m.
Lone candidates welcome competition
Longtime Scarborough Centre councillor Michael Thompson said he has never found himself running unopposed this late.
He told CBC Toronto he has encouraged many people to run for council, but in his ward, there were no real bites.
The prospect of an easier ride isn’t leaving him salivating.
“I’m happy to have competition,” he said. “I’m happy to roll the team out because it means that, you know, people are out working and they’re energized and ready to go.”
Thompson said he paused accepting campaign donations given the uncertainty of if there would be a race, but will kick things into high gear if a challenger signs up.
“It’s ready to go. All I need to do is press a button.”
Etobicoke Centre incumbent Stephen Holyday has been the only candidate registered in his ward for more than two months, but he doesn’t think it will stay that way.
“In a city of three million people with 25 council seats, it’s unrealistic to think that they would be uncontested,” said Holyday. He said he “fully expects to be engaged in a competitive campaign” and looks forward to the conversations brought out by that process.
Meanwhile, Don Mills Residents Inc. president Stephen Ksiazek is hoping to fill the Don Valley East seat. Longtime councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong announced three weeks ago he won’t be seeking re-election in the ward.
So far, nobody else is chomping at the bit to challenge Ksiazek, who said in a ward with no incumbent, he doesn’t expect that to last.
“There’ll be some people that think it’s a little bit easier to go against a non incumbent,” he says.
“And I think you’ll see people jump in…but that doesn’t make a difference to me— I am just going to continue to work.”
Incumbent councillors Paula Fletcher, Shelley Carroll, Brad Bradford and Paul Ainslie are also running unchallenged thus far in Toronto-Danforth, Don Valley North, Beaches-East York and Scarborough-Guildwood, respectively.
Late for serious campaign
Candidates have until August 19 to register.
Alex Burke, a spokesperson for the city, told CBC Toronto candidate registration has been slower than in previous elections, but has been picking up as the deadline hurtles closer.
More nominations are expected over the next two weeks, Burke said.
John Bebee, director of the Democratic Engagement Exchange at Toronto Metropolitan University, said if candidates enter at this late stage, it may suggest they aren’t serious.
“They should be organizing their campaign teams, they should be getting out talking to people, raising money— all the things they need to do to mount a credible campaign,” he said.
The perception that any competition that does exist isn’t serious is not good for anyone, he said.
“If you’re a candidate that feels like you don’t have any serious challengers, you’re naturally not going to run the same kind of campaign,” Bebee said.
“And campaigns aren’t just about winning elections, they are a chance for people to talk to their representatives, a chance to advocate on the issues.”