Municipal elections in Ontario witness more unanimities and lesser number of candidates

In British Columbia, where Municipal elections are scheduled for October 14, 37 municipalities have elected their mayors without a contest. In Ontario, 139 Municipalities have chosen their mayors or reeves without even a single vote being cast.

Unanimous or acclamations are an integral part of the election process. They are growing more in smaller communities or in towns where an entrenched representative remains popular. The bigger towns, however, continue to witness contests.

These are the apparent inferences of the coming municipal elections in five provinces and territories of Canada scheduled for October and November this year.

In British Columbia, where Municipal elections are scheduled for October 14, 37 municipalities have elected their mayors without a contest. In Ontario, 139 Municipalities have chosen their mayors or reeves without even a single vote being cast.

While in British Columbia, the number of Mayors elected unopposed in 2018 was 36, in Ontario, 118 municipalities had elected their mayors or Reeves unopposed in 2018 and 104 in 2014. The increase in Ontario is significant.

On the other hand, the number of contestants in all 414 municipalities in Ontario has fallen to 6044 against 7196 in 2014 and 6575 in 2018.

This may be a worrisome trend as the number of contestants is decreasing and those elected without a vote being cast are increasing significantly.

There is another trend that has been gaining strength over the years is the aging of the Councillors. The number of new or younger faces coming up in municipal elections is proportionately not very high. There is also an increasing number of those Councillors or even Mayors not seeking office again.

A recent survey reveals that the job of a local politician has become more difficult and less appealing. The councils are aging out with no replacements coming up.

The broad trend, across municipalities, is a drop in the number of people choosing to run, and a rise in unanimous elections. This trend is reiterated by the unanimous election to the entire council in 32 municipalities this time against 23 in 2018 and 18 in 2014.

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Overall, the survey suggests, one in five seats in various municipal councils have been elected unopposed. The total number of unanimous elections in Ontario stands at 546. These include deputy mayors, deputy reeves, and councillors, including regional and county councillors.

Compared to it, in the 2014 municipal elections in Ontario, the number of seats decided without a vote being cast was 403.

Another worrying factor has been the low turnout in municipal polls.

Besides the contestants, a number of voluntary organizations and vigilante groups have been actively trying to convince voters to take a more active part in the municipal elections. In some of the municipalities, the turnout in the 2018 and 2014 elections even failed to touch the 30 percent mark.

The contrasts are amazing. While most of the bigger municipalities will witness direct to multi-corner contests, these civic elections continue to be male dominated. More than 70 percent of those who sit on these Municipal Councils are men. Only two percent of elected Councillors come from visible minorities.

Interestingly, unanimity is a rarity in towns and cities dominated by migrants of South Asian descent.

In Ontario, for example, there is no acclamation or unanimous election in Brampton for 11 seats, Mississauga for 12, or Markham for 13. In Toronto, too, all 26 Council seats will witness contests. These are some of the bigger municipal councils that have a high percentage of migrant populations.

To be truly representative, the municipal councils need people from different walks of life. They need retired people, doctors, lawyers, teachers, businesspeople, women, people from visible minorities and people who come from diverse cultural backgrounds to bring a different perspective to make these bodies truly democratic and effective.

October 24 will decide which way these 414 municipalities in Ontario go.

Prabhjot Singh

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