Municipal Politics Notes – Party time?

Maclean’s runs through Canada’s lousy mayors – with Ottawa’s Larry O’Brien taking up a big chunk of the article – and makes the suggestion that political parties might help address the problem of the overwhelming number of candidates in municipal elections.

Torontoist looks at Toronto’s brief experience with municipal political parties in 1969. A good idea can be butchered in practice. The interesting element in the Toronto failure was candidates not wanting to alienate supporters from other parties by formally affiliating themselves with a party.

Municipal political parties has also been an issue in the Ottawa election. Jim Watson’s camp has been suggesting that O’Brien favours bringing parties to municipal government – even leading to O’Brien filing a privacy complaint over releasing an email exchange. O’Brien has said he wants the public to vote for “like-minded” candidates in ward races.

The debate has been pretty limited. In my reading, Doucet hasn’t weighed in on allowing political parties in city government. In fact, the way the issue was raised – O’Brien was painted as ridiculous for suggesting the idea and being inconsistent in public and private. Watson denounced political parties in municipal politics. I don’t think any council candidates raised the issue. So, is the debate going to get going?

In Toronto, there is little doubt that party campaign machines are often tapped into by municipal candidates. Smitherman’s camp has certainly drawn on some provincial Liberal infrastructure. This definitely presents a barrier for “dark horse” candidates, though it’s not surprising that people involved in political parties would want to participate in municipal politics – and that their political tastes might match up when they decide to volunteer or work for candidates.

The issue of municipal parties didn’t really come up in the Toronto election. Better Ballots, a campaign examining options for municipal electoral reforms, did have municipal political parties on their list of options.

Is it okay for this informal party involvement to persist? Are questions of vote-splitting and strategic voting that troublesome? Are parties really a solution to all those problems?

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