It’s the voters of course, or the 30% who do vote, who play the king-makers in civic politics. The path to voters in a civic election, free from party politics, is individual name recognition at the ballot. It’s evidenced in the near overwhelming deference given to incumbent civic candidates in Edmonton, and to those challengers whose past professional lives put their names out in the public domain on a regular basis.
Signs, small and large on lawns and public property, Canada Post mailouts, closets and trunks filled with printed materials, pens, pencils, re-usable bags and other swag – These are marketing tools of a campaign that drive recognition of a candidate. They cost thousands to produce and to get into the hands of voters.
Even those who have established name recognition on their side will spend $50,000 or more before October’s election.
The Journal’s Elise Stolte has done some great work (links below) breaking down the numbers from 2010, and some the early outreach efforts to campaigns by Edmonton’s development community.
Fund raising at the civic level isn’t easy, I know, I’ve tried it. Municipal contributions, in large numbers, come from the development industry. Which in Edmonton is well represented by power-houses like the Urban Development Institute and the Edmonton Home Builders Association. As well as large-scale players such as Stantec, Qualico, Rohit and so on.
They build homes, multi-units, business spaces and towers and take a large part of the time and efforts of Council and Civic Adminsitration. From individual zoning bylaws, to land-use plans, visionary planning documents, municipal development plans and so on.
These are groups and industry representatives that have regular access and key stakeholder status with Council and Administration. That often outnumber other groups or community reps in a city boardroom. That are regular, and large dollar contributors to some municipal campaigns, and that can easily tilt a Council race in one direction through campaign contributions.
To candidates out there, I won’t say not to take a contribution if it’s offered. . It takes money to get elected, to advance a good platform, and that’s a personal decision that some individual campaigns and candidates will have to make.
I will say however, that those contributions do nothing to drive public debate or discussion. Nor do they help to create an equal field for each of a Ward’s candidates to put their materials and ideas in the hands of voters.
To voters, I’ll say that it really shouldn’t matter. The fact that a candidate can’t or won’t spend $50,000 or $100,000 isn’t at all a sign of their ability in or inabilities to serve in office. The fact that candidates trip over themselves to blitz the boulevard with signs coming into your neighbourhood, and your mailbox with the glossiest paper when you get home, isn’t terribly healthy for anyone; you, me, democracy or the environment.
To the Province and the Minister of Municipal Affairs, the maximum allowable individual contribution should have been reduced. And the pre-nomination day registration and reporting requirments should have been applied to this election. It’s the 21st century, municipalities could have been ready in time.
To candidates; game on, good luck, and may the best ideas and the candidates willing to implement them, win in October.