Northern Economist 2.0

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Explaining Thunder Bay's Municipal Election Candidate Growth

With over 101 individuals seeking municipal office for October's municipal and school board elections this October, the question that now comes to mind is why are there so many candidates seeking office?  More importantly, why has this number been growing over time?  After all, in 2000 only 76 candidates sought office.  While there have been some ebbs and flows in numbers since then - there was another surge in candidates in 2003 - it remains that particularly since 2006, the numbers seeking the Mayor's job as well as an At-Large Council position have grown steadily.  Yet the overall population of the City is flat.

One could take this growing level of civic engagement as evidence of a connected community with a high degree of commitment to public service.  That is certainly one possibility driving the growing per capita participation rates.  Or it could be that the appetite for change is so great that many are taking it upon themselves to drive that change - something that could backfire given that having a large number of candidates tends to favor incumbents.  

At the same time, there could be other economic or demographic factors driving greater numbers of individuals to seek elected office.  Figure 1 shows employment in Thunder Bay since 2000 and the overall trend is down.  One might conclude that reduced economic opportunities and more precarious employment is driving more individuals to seek elected office as a supplement to their economic position.  I would have to think that is unlikely as given that the size of the stipends paid to school board trustees or even the greater compensation for Councillors, it is really a poor incentive given the abuse elected officials often take. It is also at odds with what seems to be growing entrepreneurship in the community as new businesses are formed.

Figure 2 presents a more interesting story.  It is the proportion of the population aged 15 years of age and older that is 55 years and older.  This demographic has a wealth of life experience, is more likely to be retired and with reduced family responsibilities as their children have left the nest, has more time on their hands and therefore may be more interested in holding public office.  What is indeed remarkable is that while Thunder Bay's population has remained flat since 2000, the proportion of the population aged 15 years and over that is 55 years of age or older has grown from 26 percent to reach 41 percent in 2017.  Of course, a fuller analysis of this explanation would require knowing something about the age distribution of the current crop of candidates.  Still, it would appear that the over 55 demographic in Thunder Bay will be quite important in the election.

In any event, a larger number of candidates is certainly news whatever the explanation might be.