2016 Municipal Election Watch

Canadian municipal election followers are finally coming to the end of what has felt like a very long dry spell.

2015 was an unusual year in that there were no municipal elections held in any major Canadian city. This phenomena won’t occur again for several decades.

(Yes, I know there were several municipal by-elections in 2015. And there were municipal elections in the territories, and some rural communities in Saskatchewan. Good luck finding a mainstream national media source covering any of these events. Thankfully, there were a few other rather epic elections in 2015 to follow!)

2016 will bring municipal elections to New Brunswick (May 9), Nova Scotia (October 15) and Saskatchewan (October 26). Alberta, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Quebec will hold municipal elections in 2017, and Ontario, Manitoba and British Columbia will hold municipal elections in 2018. And on it goes.

Dry patch: over!

With municipal elections in New Brunswick just three weeks away, it’s time to start tuning in. A few of them are shaping up to be rather interesting. Naturally, my interest leans towards the mayoral races.

Here’s quick snapshot: Across more than 100 municipal elections to occur in New Brunswick on May 9, there are 183 candidates seeking the position of mayor. 20% of theses candidates are women. Approximately half (48.5%) of the mayoral races are acclaimed, and in the vast majority of these cases (88%), the acclaimed candidate is an incumbent. In the municipalities where there is a mayoral race, in most cases there are only 2 candidates running, and never more than 5 (a stark contrast in scale from the more than 60 candidates who ran for mayor in the last Toronto election!).

Although New Brunswick has eight cities, there are only three with populations above 50,000: Fredericton, Moncton and Saint John. All three have a mayoral race. In two cases – Moncton and Saint John – the incumbent is not running (or “re-offer”, as seems to be the language most often used in the East Coast). All three are campaigns to follow and elections to watch.

The reason I find mayoral elections so interesting is because they offer an unparalleled opportunity to listen to the pulse of a community. Mayoral races, particularly hotly contested ones, showcase the key issues facing a community at a certain point in time. It is not unusual for mayoral campaigns to center around a short list of hot topics that can hold the attention of the public. It is these races which most powerfully express what our cities are worried about, thinking about, hoping for, and aspiring towards.

Mayoral candidates do not campaign based on the colour of their signs; instead, they must build an individual brand. Politically, they live and die based on how attuned they are to the agenda and ambitions of their community, and the extent to which they can demonstrate that they personally represent the most appealing path forward for their city. This is no small feat.

Mayoral campaigns are unlike any other political race in the country, in several respects. People who are interested in understanding Canada’s cities are wise to pay close attention, as they offer a rare chance to put your ear to the chest and hear a few heartbeats of our cities.