Across Ontario’s municipalities, 19% of elected officials were returned to office this year unopposed with no need for an election.
One third of all Mayors have been returned unopposed.
Astonishingly, entire councils have been acclaimed. About 8% of the total (32 municipalities) have no elections. The largest is the Township of Tay whose population is 11,000. (We in Newmarket are linked with Tay through our Hydro company.)
Two thirds of people – probably more – will not vote in this election. The move to (almost exclusively) on-line voting will be a further deterrent. Many people who are not internet savvy simply won’t vote. It is possible to vote in person with a paper ballot but an appointment must be booked to vote at the Municipal Offices. There is no Polling Station around the corner.
Why don’t more people run for election?
For a start, the costs are huge.
In the last election in 2018, my opponent Tom Vegh took out a $27,000 bank loan and it still wasn’t enough. And, as we all now know, he had to be bailed out after the election by benefactors in the development industry to save him from being disqualified from office for overspending.
We are both running for Regional Councillor and we can both spend up to $52,166 on our respective campaigns. Within this total we can spend up to $16,098 of our own money, known as "self-funding". These are huge sums that would deter most people from running.
I am only going to spend a fraction of that sum – probably about $7,000 in total with my personal contribution about $3,500. Unlike my opponent, I refuse to take money from people in the development industry. Vegh says he will self-fund his campaign this time (unlike 2018) and he will not take money from people who do business with the Town but his assurances are worthless. I wait to see his Financial Statement which he has to file with the Town after the election. He is under a legal obligation to report truthfully his campaign expenses.
This must be the most unsatisfying election I have ever run in.
My opponent refuses to engage with me.
Instead of relishing a public debate, he cowers under a table.
I miss the exhilaration and the adrenaline rush of debating with an opponent on a public platform, taking the questions as they come. I am pretty sure I would have eviscerated Tom Vegh, just by focussing of his fabricated record. He claims authorship – at least in part – for all the good things that are happening in Town. But, in reality, he’s just a spectator.
Our MPP, Dawn Gallagher-Murphy, also refused to participate in the debates in the recent Provincial Election and she wasn’t punished by the voters. The Ford Government was returned on the lowest vote ever recorded in Ontario.
Vegh’s strategy is to get his voters out and to ignore me - and the local media.
He has yet to return his candidate questionnaire to Newmarket Today so he calculates that won’t do him any electoral damage.
Running as "independents"
We are all running as “independents” because the system demands it. I’ve got to spend a long time on each doorstep explaining who I am and why I am running for office. No rosette. No Party colours to help me out. But why can’t like-minded people set up their own mini parties, share costs and campaign on the same set of pledges? We could call it, for example, the Newmarket First Party. They could campaign for a new library. You get the idea.
We need to find new ways of engaging with the voters. Capturing their attention without breaking the bank.
A lot of the people I meet are totally disinterested. Some are deeply alienated. The system doesn’t work for them. They are disillusioned.
The simple answer may be to elect politicians who say what they mean and mean what they say.
Otherwise, what is the point of it all?
Gordon Prentice 18 October 2022