Candidates for more than a dozen Toronto councilors and school trustees could be formally elected within a week, unless some last-minute challengers come forward.
It’s an unusual phenomenon in a city where municipal elections often have crowded fields and long ballots.
But with the August 19 registration deadline fast approaching after a three-month nomination period, there are still two council races with only one candidate running, as well as 14 school trustee races in which that is the case.
the total number of candidates it also looks poised to be much lower than it was in 2018.
As of Friday afternoon, there were a total of 197 registered candidates, including 17 for mayor, 92 for council and 88 for school trustee.
A total of 501 candidates registered in 2018, including 35 for mayor, 242 for council, and 224 for school trustee.
“I think local democracy is in a pretty sorry state in the city of Toronto,” Myer Siemiatycki, professor emeritus at Metropolitan University of Toronto, told CP24.com this week. “This sets a new standard at the wrong end of the continuum. There is the large number of incumbents who are not running for re-election and don’t want to continue doing the job, the small number of new applicants interested in the positions, and the general kind of disconnect and even disinterest that it would seem many residents are displaying. For the city. This is a totally different kind of constellation of symptoms that come together, but combine to tell us that the patient is getting pretty sick, and unfortunately the patient is local democracy.”
According to the rules for municipal elections in Ontario, if there is only one certified candidate running for a particular office as of 4 p.m. on August 22, that candidate will be declared formally elected by acclamation, meaning that their names they won’t even appear on the ballots.
Siemiatycki said the possibility of numerous candidates being acclaimed on Aug. 22 would be a “dangerous signal to Toronto’s city government.”
While it has happened from time to time on French-speaking school boards, the last time candidates were acclaimed as councilors or trustees with either of the city’s two English-speaking school boards was in 2003.
At that time, two aldermen and five trustees were finally acclaimed.
Speaking to CP24.com, Siemiatycki acknowledged that there are lower levels of political engagement across the country at the moment and that the situation is not unique to Toronto.
But he said the problem of finding candidates willing to run for local office appears to have been further exacerbated at the local level, following Prime Minister Doug Ford’s decision to slash the size of the council in 2018 and create massive districts with more than 100,000 voters. .
Already seven current incumbents on the council have resigned to pursue other opportunities or announced they will not seek re-election in the fall, an incredibly rare occurrence.
“In many ways, the work is much more onerous. You’re taking on twice as much work as a councilmember in terms of how many people you have to represent and how much work you’ll have on your plate and it’s made it a much less enjoyable job and position for some councilors because in the past, what many local politicians What they liked about being municipally elected was that you were really grassroots, you were at street level, you were neighborhood-based,” Siemiatycki said. “Now, with huge constituencies, I think a lot of local politicians don’t feel like they’re connected to neighborhoods and issues the way they have in the past. Add all that up and there are just too many reasons why it makes sense not to run for city office.”
Nearly a third of races in TDSB and TCDSB could result in cheers
Right now, there are two boroughs in the city of Toronto where incumbent councilors are going bankrupt unchallenged: Etobicoke Center (Stephen Holyday) and Don Valley North (Shelley Carroll).
But at the school board level, the situation is tougher.
As of Friday afternoon, roughly one-third of school trustee races in both the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) and the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB) involved candidates who ran unopposed. .
Meanwhile, there were only four candidates combined seeking to fill the five school trustee positions with the French-speaking boards.
Shelley Laskin is one of the unopposed candidates. She is seeking re-election as a TDSB trustee in District 8, after handily defeating six other candidates in the district during the last municipal election.
She told CP24.com that she is still planning to launch a campaign later this month and has a date set for a fundraiser, but will be prepared to continue the conversation about the future of public education in other ways if a challenger do not register
“Just because you don’t have to participate in an election doesn’t mean you stop wanting to spread your messages,” he said. “There are many opportunities to continue to engage parents and part of the role is that engagement with parents and carers at the local level. Obviously, you are one of 22 trustees making decisions at the board level, but local engagement and the involvement of parents and caregivers is critical to the performance and well-being of children.”
Laskin, who has served five terms as a trustee, said she doesn’t recall having opposition so late in the nomination period, but said there have been times when a flurry of candidates signed up at the last minute.
She is hopeful that will be the case this time, but acknowledged there are challenges in getting people to run at the trustee level, where expensive campaigns can be a barrier to entry for some and compensation is such that most of trustees still need to have a full-time job.
Trustees earn $25,507 per year and have a discretionary budget of $11,780.
“Most of us get support from our friends and family. It’s not like there’s a secret pot of money that people can get into and because donations are not tax deductible at the school board level, it’s a bit of a hard sell for someone you don’t know to get your support. . ,” she said. “So the campaign itself is a challenge. And it’s also hard to get people to dedicate themselves fully to a 24/7 occupation that pays little.”
A few dozen additional candidates have registered over the past week.
About 30 additional candidates for city office in Toronto have registered in the past seven days, but there hasn’t been, at least so far, a rush of candidates eager to throw their hats into the ring before the August 19 deadline. .
Education advocate Annie Kidder, who is executive director of the group People for Education, told CP24.com she was “appalled” to learn of the low number of candidates who have registered to run for trustee races so far. moment.
While he hopes the situation could change between now and the nomination deadline, he said the apparent lack of interest is “troubling” because it suggests “not enough people understand what’s going on on school boards in terms of all the elections made by school trustees.”
The boards, he said, make important decisions about school programming, staffing, class sizes and even whether to open new schools or close old, underutilized ones.
“It’s worrying that people don’t necessarily connect the dots between those local levels of government and what’s really happening on the ground,” he said. “In general, the health and strength of public education will suffer without really good candidates running for school principals.”
Torontonians will head to the polls on October 24.