Lack of choice for 2022 municipal election is bad for Toronto

Big number: 84, the total number of people registered to run for the 25 seats of the city council of Toronto this fall, as of Monday afternoon. With less than two weeks to go until the August 19 application deadline, the number of applicants is far behind the 242 who applied in 2018.

The great number

84

the total number of people registered to run for the 25 seats on Toronto City Council this fall, Monday afternoon. With less than two weeks to go until the August 19 application deadline, the number of applicants is far behind the 242 who applied in 2018.

With less than two weeks to go until the August 19 deadline to register to run for a seat on city council, the number of people who put their names on the ballot for council races in the city race this fall is lower than any recent election.

Call it a candidate shortage. There is something wrong with the political supply chain. It’s bad enough that incumbents in certain districts can win by default.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the exit rush at Toronto City Hall as councilors began to resign. The work has become much more demanding, while the remuneration has not really changed. Burnout seems endemic. So far, seven councilors have resigned or signaled their intention not to run again this fall, more than 25% of the council.

An exodus of politicians is not necessarily a bad thing. Turnover can bring new ideas and new perspectives. But to achieve this requires a group of candidates to put their names on the ballot as potential replacements. And that’s just not the case.

At the town hall, the rush of the holders towards the exits is not accompanied by a rush towards the entrances.

Let’s look at these numbers. As of Monday afternoon, a total of 84 people were registered to run for the 25 council seats up for grabs. Even if a few dozen more sign up before the deadline, there will still be a huge reduction in the number of people interested in serving their city on the council. By comparison, 242 people ran for office in 2018, 358 registered on a ballot in 2014 and 279 made a bid in 2010.

It would be one thing if the reduction in the number of candidates could be linked to organized efforts to avoid splitting the vote, but there is no evidence of this.

Of course, the political landscape is different now. Just before the 2018 election, Premier Doug Ford reduced the number of councilors from 44 to 25. But that doesn’t quite explain why the average number of candidates per ward dropped. This year’s average – so far – of 3.4 registered candidates per ward is about a third of 2018’s 9.7. It’s also far behind the 2014 election’s 8.1 and 6.3 average. for 2010 and 2014.

To find a number even in the same ballpark, I had to go all the way back to 2003. In that election, an average of 4.5 candidates ran for office in each ward.

This 2003 election was also the last time a municipal candidate in Toronto was acclaimed – incumbents David Shiner and Giorgio Mammoliti faced no opposition. In every election since, someone has stepped in to at least force the incumbents off the couch.

This year, however, there is a good chance that several candidates will end up winners by default. Outgoing councilors in three wards still have no registered challengers so far.

It’s a sad situation. No candidate’s file is perfect enough to justify not having to defend it.

For example, one of those potentially sailing to undisputed victory is Coun. Stephen Holyday of Etobicoke Centre, one of the more conservative board members. At the July council meeting, during a debate on rent controls, he complained that governments are putting “more and more controls” on landlords.

“Who would still want to be an owner?” he wondered aloud, as if owning a property in one of the most expensive rental markets in the world was an unmanageable burden.

Holyday also regularly votes against the installation of new pedestrian crossings, new cycle paths and other road safety infrastructure. He argued that “clear, uncongested streets” are an important part of the character of the neighborhoods he depicts.

And shit, maybe that’s popular with voters in his neighborhood. But it’s hard to accept that there is no one in Etobicoke Center willing to offer an alternative.

The same goes for the other two holders who are heading for victory. Shelley Carroll of Don Valley North has held this position for 19 years. Paul Ainslie, of Scarborough-Guildwood, has served for 16 years. At least get them out there and explain why they deserve four more.

For the challengers, the goal is not necessarily to win. Defeating a starter is still absurdly difficult. But in past municipal elections, many people wanted to channel their passion for local issues and the dream of a better city into a long-running bid for a seat in city hall. This year, with a few notable exceptions, much of that passion seems to be missing.

The numbers suggest that civic engagement is on the decline. It’s hard not to worry about what this means for Toronto’s future.

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