The Long And Winding Campaign Trail

Settling uneasily into a seder dinner last week after embarrassingly picking the wrong seat and then wondering aloud who this Elijah fella was and marveling at his nerve at being late to this rather important festivity, the conversation moved to more comfortable terrain for me. Or, more likely, because of me. Alerted to my interest in municipal politics, the question was posed why election campaigns were so interminably long at the local level. It was a good question I had no answer to.

It is a slog by any measure. The better part of 10 months, second only to the presidential campaign in the U.S. at some 293 days this year as opposed to the relative sprint of a 36+ day schedule during a federal or provincial election. There is an enthusiastic start just after the new year when candidates step forward and officially register to run for office. And then… a long, slow, at times almost imperceptible march toward the fourth Monday in October. What, that’s still going on? many ask as we head back to work after Labour Day. I thought for sure I’d missed it.

Yet I’ve discovered no answer as to why the campaigns are as long as they are. It could have something to do with the fact that political parties are not allowed to overtly operate at the municipal level. So instead of having 4 or 5 candidates to choose from, many positions will be contested by countless numbers of office seekers. As of this writing, the city of Toronto has 25 candidates running for the mayor’s job. In theory, I guess the elongated campaign gives the lesser known contenders an opportunity to raise their profiles through a grassroots, door-to-door campaign.

But as was made clear with the first mayoral “debate” last Monday where only the 6 highest profile candidates (purely through media anointing) were invited to participate, this one positive aspect of a long campaign has already been short-circuited. Just into April, we already have a two tier system firmly established, with those deemed to have a snowball’s chance in winning granted a spot front and centre while everyone else is designated as little more than “fringe” candidates. So the long and winding campaign is little more than a futile dance for those who aren’t loaded onto the gravy train early on.

So why don’t we use the huge amount of time given more productively? From January through to September let’s organize a round robin series of community meetings and debates between all the candidates, keeping the numbers at each event to a manageable number but have enough of them city wide in order to give everyone an equal shot at being seen by the most amount of people. A candidates’ $200 fee to register their run for mayor would guarantee them a minimum of 4 debates in the first 8 months of the campaign with every level of opponent from the hopeless causes to the high flying frontrunners. No favourtism should be shown. Just a wide open free-for-all.

Otherwise, the duration merely helps the incumbents and other well-funded, well-connected candidates. They can spend their oodles of cash at strategically designated times throughout the campaign to maintain their profiles in a highly public manner. Or like Mssrs. Mammoliti, Pantalone and Ford, sitting councillors all, they can use the early part of the race to raise their name recognition values at the citywide platform of mayor before scurrying back to run for re-election in their wards before the September entry deadline.

As it stands now, democracy is not well served by a lengthy campaign. Voter interest waxes and wanes before fatigue sets in and familiar names ultimately win out through sheer inattention due to attrition. The time should either be used wisely to promote a wider, fuller contribution to the process or we should simply shorten the period between the official starting date and voting day in order to acutely focus the public on the business of selecting our elected officials.

suggestively submitted by Urban Sophisticat