Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Why Olivia Chow's shortened election campaign idea is only half the battle

By: Metro Published on Mon Jun 23 2014

Mayoral candidate Olivia Chow has a plan to improve Toronto’s municipal elections. She wants to make them shorter. Instead of allowing candidates to register in January for an October vote, Chow says she’d push the registration date back to July.

It’s an appealing idea. After a bevy of byelections and a full provincial election, I think the Toronto electorate is feeling pretty burnt out. And besides, there’s good precedent for making elections shorter. In Vancouver, they wrap up their local races after about six weeks of campaigning — and they seem to be doing okay.

But as much as I want to end my column here by writing, “Great idea, let’s do it,” and then maybe devote the rest of this space to hilarious pictures of cats, I can’t.

I can’t because Chow’s proposal feels like only half a plan. It fixes something people are frustrated with, but it doesn’t do anything to address the important issue of electoral fairness, where incumbent candidates and candidates with name recognition enjoy a huge advantage over other candidates.

In fact, it’s likely a shorter campaign period would only increase those inherent advantages. As it is, the length of our campaign period at least gives low-profile candidates a chance to establish themselves.

It was the long campaign that helped David Miller go from little-known city councillor to victor in 2003, and this year’s drawn-out election period has helped dark horse candidates like David Soknacki and Ari Goldkind get on the radar.

That doesn’t mean we should just stick with the status quo. But a shorter campaign period needs to come with consideration of further electoral reforms.

Vancouver, for example, gets away with a shorter campaign period because they have political parties at the municipal level. That changes the way elections are run: It’s less about individual name recognition and more about the party brand.

There’s also campaign finance reform. Instead of Toronto’s current system, where people who donate to campaigns get part of that donation back through a rebate, look to a model like New York City, where candidates receive public matching funds for every dollar they raise up to a set limit, making true grassroots candidacies a lot more viable.

And we need to continue to push for voting reforms. I’ll never shut up about the need for ranked ballots until Toronto finally gets them. Eliminating this notion of “strategic voting” would give less-established candidates a chance to earn votes.

With reforms like these, a shorter campaign period becomes possible — maybe even preferable. But without a full debate about making our elections more balanced, simply cutting the length of Toronto’s municipal elections is an idea that shouldn’t fly. Fairness has got to come first.

This post was originally published at on 2014-06-23T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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