Home / World / English News / Why Toronto city council is getting a rare chance at renewal in the upcoming election

Why Toronto city council is getting a rare chance at renewal in the upcoming election

As Toronto’s civic elections go, the 2022 vote will be a rare opportunity for dozens of candidates.

The most incumbents in recent memory — seven of 25 councillors — are calling it quits. 

That means Toronto is guaranteed seven new faces in the council chambers this fall. It’s been made possible because these candidates will not face the profound disadvantage of squaring off against an incumbent.

Even some former councillors who have unseated incumbents themselves say the odds were not with them as new challengers.

“It’s a tremendous advantage,” Coun. Joe Mihevc said of being the local councillor running for re-election. “And I’ll confess that, yes, I’ve benefited from that advantage, except, of course, for the very first time I ran.”

The council veteran was first elected in 1991 when he bested a large field of candidates, including a scandal-plagued incumbent, to capture his seat on the pre-amalgamation City of York council. 

It’s a tremendous advantage.– Coun. Joe Mihevc on the power of incumbency in municipal elections.

Mihevc went on to serve as a Toronto councillor until 2018 and recently re-joined council after he was temporarily appointed to fill a vacancy.

At the municipal level, where there is no party system to influence voters, a candidate’s name recognition is key. Councillors have budgets to send out newsletters and are in constant communication with residents, he said.

“They know every corner of the ward,” Mihevc said. “They have responded to dozens of emails over each and every day. And when you do the multiplier there, those are pretty big numbers.”

Those same councillors also have a handful of employees who have an incentive to see their bosses win..

“When you have six to eight staff who are basically going to be rehired in the new administration, that is one heck of an inspiration to get out there and knock on doors with the incumbent,” Mihevc said.

Difficult to break through for new candidates

Kristyn Wong-Tam, a former Toronto city councillor who now serves as an MPP at Queen’s Park, said often the only way to break through is to run when an incumbent finally quits. Wong-Tam ran in an open race in 2010 when the long-time councillor in her downtown ward retired. 

“Because you had 15 candidates at that time,” she said. “It was a close race. There were 460 votes between me and the second runner up.”

Kristyn Wong-Tam, a former Toronto city councillor who’s now an MPP, says a package of democratic reforms could help level the playing field for new challengers in a municipal election. (Paul Borkwood/CBC)

To unseat an incumbent requires a head start years before an election, something most people simply can’t afford to spend the time or money on, she said.

“You need to be a shadow councillor, almost running next to the [incumbent] councillor for the four years beforehand,” Wong-Tam said. 

Power of incumbency linked to poor turnout

Myer Siemiatycki, a professor emeritus of political science at Toronto Metropolitan University, said the advantages that tip the scales towards veteran councillors have an impact on local democracy.

It discourages good candidates from running and sends a message to voters that their ballots don’t matter. That can mean people don’t turn up to vote, weakening the mandate of incumbents, he said.

“There is a connection between the power of incumbency and lower voter turnout,” Siemiatycki said.

“It means that the same ‘old guard’ keeps getting re-elected and we don’t get an injection of new perspectives, new ideas and new energy.”

Siemiatycki said it might be time for city council to level the playing field, but said it doesn’t seem likely.

“You’d have to get [incumbents] to believe that they should put the interest of the democratic process, and an equal shot for all, above their own re-election interest,” he said.

“That’s a hard thing to ask any human to do.”

Thorny debate around term limits

Former city councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon thinks term limits could help.

Now an MPP at Queen’s Park, she ran and unseated a controversial incumbent in 2010 and vowed to impose a term limit on herself. In the end, she served two terms and didn’t seek re-election to city council in 2018.

“I felt that that was a fair thing to do because if you look at the council chamber, it does not reflect Toronto,” she said. 

“I think we had 15 women councillors when I was there, out of 45 …. Very few youth and not much diversity,” she said.

McMahon tried twice to ask city staff to examine the implications of imposing term limits and it was voted down by council. 

Incumbency has historically been a huge advantage at the ballot box for Toronto city councillors. That’s partly because there are no political parties to influence voters or to help new candidates organize. Name recognition also plays a big role in getting councillors re-elected. Incumbents have it; their challengers generally don’t. (Oliver Walters/CBC)

Mihevc said he’s not a proponent of term limits. Learning how to navigate the city’s bureaucracy, and represent a ward takes a councillor time, he said.

“We don’t have term limits on senior staff at city hall. We don’t have term limits on lawyers and doctors,” he said. “We find other ways to manage.”

Wong-Tam said broader democratic reforms like proportional representation, extending the vote to all people in the city regardless of citizenship status, or lowering the voting age could encourage greater participation.

“There are a whole suite of other democratic renewal tools that I think are there that we can pull from and it doesn’t have to be just term limits,” she said.

Siemiatyki said a simple first step could be ensuring voters have improved access to candidate information, not just from incumbents who can afford to advertise.

“It would help if municipalities had a section of their website where any candidate who has declared could actually put online a profile of themselves.” 

News Source link

Check Also

Nylander’s contract, position a focus at camp

TORONTO – William Nylander was in the middle of it all. The Maple Leafs forward …