With the July 27th nomination deadline for municipal office in Ontario rapidly approaching, attention has been drawn to the observation that the number of candidates seeking municipal office in Thunder Bay seems to have dropped. The accompanying figure plots the number of candidates seeking a position on Thunder Bay City council as of July 6th. With the exception of the race for Mayor which has seen a healthy increase in both the quantity and quality of candidates, there has been a drop in most of the other ward races with McKellar Ward being an exception.
Current River had four candidates last election while at present there is only one. McIntyre and Neebing also only have one candidate whereas they had four and three respectively last time. Northwood and Red River are down to two each from four each last time and Westfort only has three compared to four last time. The drop is most noticeable in the At-Large Race which had 19 candidates in 2014 and only 5 to date. The total number of candidates for the City of Thunder Bay was 51 in 2014 and currently sits at 28 – a drop of 45 percent.
Of course, the decline in the At-Large race is partly a function of the fact that a number of At-Large councillors have opted to run for Mayor. Given that the number of candidates running for Mayor has grown while the councillor candidates have declined, it suggests that being the top dog in Thunder Bay is perhaps a more attractive job than being a councillor. Another possibility is that there is a general lack of interest in running for municipal office in Thunder Bay this time given that the same faces have had the positions locked up for years barring the entry of fresh faces and repeated defeats have reduced the candidate pool in the long run. Even though there are now some openings, there may also be a feeling of why bother given the headaches of holding office in a city with so many economic and social challenges.
Yet, there may be other explanations. Explaining this decline, the Thunder Bay City Clerk has suggested that the earlier deadline compared to other years may be a factor. In the past, candidates had from January 1st to mid-September to decide to run but a change in the Ontario Municipal Act shortened the period to May 1 to July 27. This could indeed be the case given that Greater Sudbury, which is a larger city than Thunder Bay at present (July 7th) also only has 28 municipal candidates seeking office down from 70 last time and they have 12 wards plus a mayoral race. There were ten candidates for Mayor in Sudbury in 2014 and currently there are only 4. Of the twelve ward races, ten are down from 2014 (See Figure).
If this drop in the number of candidates is replicating itself across Ontario it means that the changes to the Ontario Municipal Act that have shortened the nomination period may actually serve to reduce the quality of our local democracy by having the unanticipated effect of reducing the candidate pool. Deciding to run for office is not something that one takes on lightly and a longer period to decide may be beneficial. Certainly, having the deadline in the middle of summer when minds are preoccupied with vacations may also not be a help. On the other hand, if you are going to run why should a shorter decision period matter? Perhaps there are other changes that have occurred that have made filing more onerous? Has the volume of paperwork or the fee required gone up? There are still about three weeks left to go before the nominations close. We will have to see if a surge in candidates declaring occurs.