Special Report: Candidates locked in for London’s civic race – London Free Press (Blogs) (blog)

The paperwork is filed. Nominations are closed. And now Londoners can survey the choices ahead of them in the Oct. 22 municipal election. Reporter Megan Stacey breaks down burning questions about a race that could bring significantly more diversity to city council.

How will ranked ballots change the election?

London is blazing a trail as the only Canadian municipality to run a ranked ballot election. But what does the 1-2-3 ranking mean for the race?

Moderate candidates come out ahead, that much is clear.

“A lot will depend on how alienating or polarizing a particular candidate is,” said Brian Tanguay, a Wilfrid Laurier University professor who specializes in electoral reform. “There’s at least a theoretical tendency to promote greater moderation or centrism in politics.”

And in London, it’s likely allowed more right-of-centre candidates to enter the race without fear of splitting the vote.

Divisive candidates – a love-’em-or-hate-’em incumbent, for example – may have trouble picking up a majority of votes (the winner must reach 50 per cent in a ranked ballot system) even if they find strong support from a portion of the population, because they won’t rack up as many second-place votes as a more restrained competitor.

And that means the ranked-ballot system could boost non-incumbents, Tanguay said.

“It could make it easier for an underdog candidate, with broad support, to emerge as the victor,” he said.

“The basic rules would benefit candidates who are able to build a broader coalition.”

Ranked-ballot boosters say that effect also could lead to a more civil campaign.

Londoners can rank as many as three candidates, but old-school voters also can treat it like a first-past-the-post ballot and select just one name. Ranking the same person three times won’t get you very far – the vote will only be counted once as a first-place vote. If that candidate is eliminated from the race, that ballot is then “exhausted.”

Where are all the women?

Less than a quarter of the candidates running in the municipal election are women. And all but a few in the mayor’s race are men.

Those numbers fall woefully short of the target set by a local advocacy group, Women and Politics, that launched a campaign called #askher to encourage women to run. The hope was to see an equal balance between male and female candidates in the 2018 election. But the needle hasn’t moved since 2014, when about a quarter of the municipal candidates were women.

So what’s keeping them out of the race?

There are many barriers that throw up roadblocks, said Anne-Marie Sanchez, who chairs Women and Politics.

It could be family responsibilities – women typically carry more of the childcare burden than men – or a lack of access to influential networks that help fund a political campaign. And the negativity that surrounds the political sphere, especially in a social media age, also has an impact, she said.

“People are seeing the pervasiveness of negative feedback that politicians receive, and the extra level of sexism or sexual harassment that women face online. I know very smart, capable women who would be excellent candidates who are just thinking, ‘Why bother?’ ”

Systemic barriers are hitting marginalized women even harder, and keeping Indigenous women and disabled women on the sidelines to an ever greater degree, said Kate Graham, a Liberal candidate in the June provincial election who has studied Canadian mayors as part of her PhD research.

Only 16 per cent of the country’s mayors are women, and in big cities, that number drops to 12 per cent, despite the fact that women win municipal elections at the same rate as men. The problem is recruiting them in the first place, Graham said.

Women often discount their own experiences and believe they are “unqualified” to run, despite having the knowledge and skills needed, she said.

“This is certainly not a London problem,” she said.

“The percentage of female mayors hasn’t moved in any significant way since the 1990s.”

What’s going on with BRT?

The civic race will focus on a burning local issue – bus rapid transit (BRT) – which is something of an anomaly for municipal elections that typically centre on job creation or other broader subjects.

There is no BRT slate, though most wards have at least one candidate railing against the $500-million project. The mayoral race is crowded with those eager to ditch BRT, and political scientist Andrew Sancton said that could be key.

“If an anti-BRT mayoral candidate wins, and wins convincingly, that could change the minds of even some people who have previously voted for the BRT,” he said.

“You can’t underestimate the capacity of a popular mayor to change people’s views.”

But it will take eight votes to kill the project. Based on this field of candidates, that looks like a tough proposition, Sancton said.

“Right now, it looks like it’s going to survive the election.”

Diversity around the horseshoe?

There may not be gender parity, but there could be significantly more diversity around the horseshoe next term. At least five women of colour, many of them new to politics, are seeking seats on council.

Xuemei Jiang is challenging Jesse Helmer in Ward 4, Nour Hamid and Moon Inthavong are running in Ward 8, and Arielle Kayabaga is contesting Ward 13. Rowa Mohamed, who’s vying for Coun. Harold Usher’s former seat in Ward 12, also represents London’s growing Muslim community.

And there are two serious challengers who would bring LGBTQ representation to council. Matt Reid, chair of the Thames Valley District school board, became London’s first openly gay elected official in 2014. He’s running in Ward 8, a race without an incumbent as deputy mayor Paul Hubert steps down. Ward 2 challenger Shawn Lewis, who’s taking a run at unseating London’s longest-serving politician, Bill Armstrong, is also a part of city’s LGBTQ community.

Right now, city council includes just two black politicians and four female councillors. Interest from members of minority communities in London is welcome news, Sanchez said.

“Research shows that more diversity around decision-$making tables leads to more innovation, and we need more of that at all levels of government,” she said.

“The more diversity we have, the more differing perspectives and lived experiences we have, and (that means) people are better represented.”

What’s the deal with campaign signs?

Campaign signs were allowed to go up as soon as nominations closed Friday at 2 p.m., as long as they’re not too large, too close to the road, or too close together – the result of new rules in London intended to keep “sign pollution” to a minimum.

A sampling of rules under the revised election sign bylaw:

Signs must be three metres back from the roadway.
Signs for the same candidate must be at least 10 metres apart.
Height is capped at 1.8 m when signs are planted between three and eight metres from the road. Those farther away can be as tall as four metres.
Signs can’t be placed outside the ward where the candidate is running, though there’s a 50-m buffer from the ward boundary.
Signs are barred from trees, fences, gates or utility poles on public property.

Candidate signs

A Shawn Lewis election sign was up on the southeast corner of Dundas and Saskatoon streets in London on Friday as the nomination period closed. (Derek Ruttan/The London Free Press)  Derek Ruttan/Derek Ruttan/London Free Press

Municipal election signs sprout immediately after the deadline for nominations passes on the southeast corner of Wonderland Road and Springbank Drive in London on Friday (Derek Ruttan/The London Free Press)  Derek Ruttan/Derek Ruttan/London Free Press

Tanya Park had her election sign up on the northeast corner of Wonderland and Commissioners roads in London on Friday, the first day that the signs were allowed. (Derek Ruttan/The London Free Press)  Derek Ruttan/Derek Ruttan/London Free Press

How much can you donate?

If you’ve got a thousand bucks or more to bolster your favourite candidate, you’re in luck. Individual donations were boosted from $750 to $1,200 when the rulebook for municipal elections was rewritten after the 2014 race.

But contributions from a candidate and their spouse are tightly capped at $25,000 (or less, depending on the number of eligible voters in a ward). That means mayoral and council hopefuls can no longer count on their own deep pockets to finance a campaign as Paul Cheng did in 2014, building his war chest with more than $125,000 of his own money.

Who’s out the door, and what’s going with them?

Only three council incumbents are bowing out, plus Coun. Tanya Park, who’s running for mayor.

Last election, six ward seats were left open by departing incumbents, and another five with ties to mayor Joe Fontana were ousted, ushering in a largely rookie council. The turnover this time could be much lower.

But no matter which incumbents claim victory on Oct. 22, council will be losing much of its veteran knowledge and political experience around the horseshoe. Two retiring politicians, Coun. Harold Usher and deputy mayor Paul Hubert, are some of the longest-serving city councillors. Their 18- and 12-year runs are eclipsed only by Bill Armstrong’s 24 years on council.

What’s the Doug Ford effect?

The newly minted premier shocked politicians and residents with a last-minute shakeup of Toronto council the morning of the nomination deadline, announcing a plan to slash the number of city councillors from 47 to 25.

Doug Ford has also promoted the “strong mayor” system, popular in the United States, where the head of council is afforded more than just symbolic power, often including a veto over council decisions.

Nelson Wiseman, a University of Toronto professor who studies provincial politics, said he doesn’t see Ford implementing an American-style system for at least the first year of his term. He’s trying to avoid Donald Trump-style leadership, Wiseman suspects. “Based on his performance at the First Ministers’ conference (earlier this month in New Brunswick), he came across trying to be co-operative, supportive and smiling, very much unlike Trump.”

Ford is still “finding his feet,” Wiseman said, but said his tenure could still prove challenging for municipalities.

“(The PC government) is going to look very aggressively for efficiencies,” he said.

“They want to signal that they’re cutting, cutting, cutting. They might talk nicely to municipalities, but don’t expect them to be liberal with the purse strings.”

Who’s bankrolling these campaigns?

Corporate and union donations are now forbidden. That change could hurt candidates such as Mo Salih, John Fyfe-Millar, Stephen Orser and Bud Polhill, each of whom brought in about $8,000 from business and union cheques in the 2014 election. But those prohibited donors still can support a particular campaign – or several – by registering as a third-party advertiser and promoting the candidate. That will also be a relevant requirement for groups such as Downshift, the anti-BRT group led by Richmond Row merchants, if it plans to advocate for particular candidates who oppose the city’s bus rapid transit plan.

When do voters head to the polls?

The big day is Monday, Oct. 22. Advance polls start Oct. 4 and continue Oct. 6, and Oct. 9 – 13, all from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Ranked-ballot voting could take extra time – there’s more to do than just mark an “X” – and city hall already has laid the groundwork to help prevent backlogs at the polls. Thanks to the new voting style, and a general population increase, there will be 30 more polling stations around the city, about 170 in total. The city will also rent 80 more tabulators to help read the ballots. City hall is in the midst of hiring a whopping 2,000 workers to staff positions on voting days.




(Incumbent in bold)

Mayor: Vahide Bahramporian, Paul Cheng, Ali Hamadi, Ed Holder, Dan Lenart, Nina McCutcheon, David Millie, Jordan Minter, Mohamed Moussa, Carlos Murray, Sean O’Connell, Paul Paolatto, Tanya Park, Jonas White

Ward 1: Melanie O’Brien, Bud Polhill, Michael van Holst

Ward 2: Bill Armstrong, Alan Jackson, Shawn Lewis

Ward 3: Harry Prince, Mo Salih

Ward 4: Connor Garrett, Jesse Helmer, Xuemei Jiang, Tricia Lystar, Stephen Orser

Ward 5: Maureen Cassidy, Shiv Chokhani, Shane Clarke, Charles Knott, Stephanie Marentette Di Battista, Randy Warden

Ward 6: Mike Bloxam, Phil Squire

Ward 7: Joe Kolenko, Josh Morgan

Ward 8: Osam Ali, Bill Downie, Matthew Greer, Nour Hamid, Morena Hernandez, Moon Inthavong, Steve Lehman, Matt Reid

Ward 9: Ben Charlebois, Anna Hopkins, Matt Millar, Kyle Thompson, Veronica Marie Warner

Ward 10: Gary Manley, Kevin May, Virginia Ridley, Thomas Risley, Paul Van Meerbergen

Ward 11: Paul-Michael Anderson, Eric Deleeuw, Menno Meijer, Rachel Powell, Stephen Turner, Menno Meijer, Vicki Van Linden

Ward 12: Gordon Evans, Jesse Haidar, Faisal Mahmood, Rowa Mohamed, Elizabeth Peloza, Eric Weniger

Ward 13: Ben Benedict, John Fyfe-Millar, Jonathan Hughes, Arielle Kayabaga, David Lundquist, Rod Morley, Gil Warren, Kevin Wilbee

Ward 14: Steven Hillier, Annette Swalwell, Allan Tipping, Jared Zaifman

Thames Valley District school board: Joyce Bennett, Peter Cuddy, Brian Gibson, Maryna Greer, Adam Khimji, Linda Ludwar, Sherri Moore, Christine Morgan, Leroy Osbourne, Lori-Ann Pizzolato, Sheri Polhill, Corrine Rahman, Jake Skinner, David Smith, Eric Southern, Amanda Stratton

London District Catholic school board: Pedro Almeida, Jamie Burton, Sandra Cruz, Nando Favaro, John Jevnikar, Arthur Patrick Macleod, Stephen Paul, Gabe Pizzuti, Elyse Scheid, Linda Steel

Conseil scolaire catholique Providence: George Le Mac, Philippe Morin

Conseil scolaire Viamonde: Pascale Thibodeau, Denis Trudel


Activist takes on incumbent:Chatham’s build-the-barrier champion turned political challenger, Alysson Storey, is taking on Randy Hope, a third-term mayor. Storey garnered a profile thanks to her crusade to build concrete median barriers along Highway 401 between London and Tilbury, where a crossover collision killed a friend and her daughter. Also in the race is Harold Atkinson, a small business owner convicted of beating an OPP officer after a 1993 break-in.

Scrappy mayor seeks 10th term: Outspoken Mike Bradley, who’s been at the helm of Sarnia council for three decades, came under fire in 2016 after a workplace investigation suggested he bullied and harassed senior city staff. His top competition is the very councillor named as liaison between Bradley and staff after the internal turmoil was reported. Anne Marie Gillis has been on council since 2003, after an unsuccessful bid to unseat Bradley in 2000. She took aim at Bradley’s “toxic leadership” when she filed her nomination papers last month.

Former MP joins race: An interesting race is shaping up in St. Thomas, where two-term incumbent Heather Jackson faces a former Conservative MP. Joe Preston, who represented Elgin-Middlesex-London for 11 years until 2015, vowed to create job opportunities and housing options, and said he can capitalize on the newly elected Ontario PC government. Seven-year council veteran Coun. Steve Wookey also is vying for the mayor’s chair. Jackson, mayor since 2010, trumpets the city’s first strategic plan as a chief accomplishment.