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The View From Here: Update archaic Municipal Act

Column by Alan Pickersgill

Municipal election campaigns in Ontario are absurdly long. A federal campaign takes 36 days. A provincial lasts 28.

A candidate for city council can file nomination papers on Jan. 2 while voting day is not until Oct. 27. The campaign length reveals some archaic rules, at least one of which is honoured more in the breach than the observance.

The Municipal Elections Act has a rule that candidates may not incur campaign expenses, or accept donations, until after they have filed their nomination with the city clerk’s office.

This might have made sense in the days before instant Internet gratification. In those days, a candidate would file the nomination, then start putting the campaign together.Official campaign launches would come a few weeks or months later.

Not anymore.Everything has to be ready to go right away.

In 2003, when Kate Quarrie dropped her nomination papers at city hall, she already had a campaign office set up, signs made, and even an airplane pulling a “Vote for Kate” banner through the skies above Guelph.

After the election dust settled, she got her wrists slapped by an audit of her campaign finances, but no serious penalties were imposed.

This year, Cam Guthrie announced his campaign surrounded by supporters carrying printed signs.

Karen Farbridge announced hers in the foyer of city hall, using leftover brochures from 2010.

I sent Guthrie a tweet asking him when he got his signs printed. He answered that they were printed after filing.That gave him a four-hour window to get them printed and distributed. I said that was good turnaround time, and asked where he got them.

“Locally,” was all he said.

After Farbridge’s announcement, Guthrie said he had wanted to make his announcement in the West End Community Centre. City clerk Blair Labelle said Guthrie could have done so, but didn’t ask.

Labelle said that any candidate could use a city facility such as the rec centre, but would have to pay the standard booking fee.

Part of the city clerk’s job is to be the election officer and make sure it all goes fairly and that everyone follows the rules.

When even Labelle suggests candidates should incur an election expense before filing, it’s time to change the law.

• • •
The initial rush of nominations has slowed to a crawl.

At the time of writing, only two sitting councillors have asked to get their jobs back. Both are in Ward 5, where Cathy Downer has also entered the contest.

She represented the ward from 1994 to 2006, when she stepped down and Leanne Piper stepped up.

Lise Burcher has been a Ward 5 councillor since 2003.

Robert Routledge is also running in the ward.He is a Green Party activist who managed Karolyne Picket’s Ward 1 campaign in 2010.

Four solid candidates, but there’s only room for two at the council table.

The battle for Ward 3 could be epic.Neither of the incumbents, Maggie Laidlaw and June Hofland, have filed their nominations yet.

Several months ago, Laidlaw announced her retirement. Then she changed her mind and said she would seek another term.

She has done a very good job for the people in her ward and for the city as a whole in the 14 years since her first election victory.

She should give her future on council a third think. She can take pride in her record and should stand down while still at the top of her game.

(In the interest of full disclosure, my friend Phil Allt has put his name forward in Ward 3. I was the campaign manager for his first federal election run in 2004.)

One Response to “The View From Here: Update archaic Municipal Act”

  1. robertroutledge says:

    Thank you for the thoughtful article Mr. Pickergill, couple of thoughts and a comment:
    1) I officially resigned all Green Party memberships and involvement about 9 or 10 months ago, although I began withdrawing my activity before that. I’m not sure it’s accurate to call me a current Green Party Activist…maybe more of a community volunteer (Hanlon Creek Neighbourhood Group), University employee, or something? :)
    2) Longer campaigns give the benefit of allowing candidates more facetime with residents. I know not everyone is for this, but I think it’s a positive to allow more face to face time with the people we are hoping to have elect us.
    3) Alternatively, more time for false rumours, malicious attacks, ads voids of information and baseless attacks which occupy a tremendous amount of provincial and federal campaign energy serves nobody.
    -Robert, Candidate for Ward 5

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