Ottawa’s Municipal Election Results : Everything Old is New Again?

Written by Anne Mévellec and Luc Turgeon

In a previous post, we discussed some of the key issues that were likely to play a central role during the municipal election campaign in Ottawa: urban planning, fiscal policy, social development and the mayor’s control over council. Over the past year, the leadership of the mayor Jim Watson on those files had increasingly been questioned. Moreover, at the beginning of the campaign, it was announced that the opening of the LRT would be delayed again. On the other side of the river, in Gatineau, the chaotic rollout of the city rapibus system just before the 2013 election was one of the factors that contributed to the defeat of the former mayor Marc Bureau.

As such, one could have expected a more difficult race for the incumbent mayor than in 2014. In some ways it was. Watson faced some uproar over his decision to skip a number of mayoral debates, including debates that focused on the environment and on gender issues. His record was challenged by some journalists, leading to some testy exchanges on the issues mentioned above.

Ultimately, however, it made little difference. Watson was easily re-elected with 71% of the vote, only 5% less than in 2014. His main opponent, Clive Doucet, received only 22% of the vote. The result can be explained by Watson relatively prudent style of governing and his relentless campaigning. Moreover, the campaign of Doucet, who threw his hat in the ring at the last minute, often appeared largely improvised. Ambitious plans were typically short on details and his campaigned lack a unifying message. In addition, none of the other candidates really scored any points during the campaign. No candidate was able to impose an alternative theme to the campaign.

It would nevertheless be a mistake to think that everything old is new again in Ottawa. Almost a third of council will be composed of new councillors. Besides four new councillors that are replacing outgoing members of council, three candidates managed to defeat the incumbent in their ward. In some cases, those new councillors defeated allies of the mayor at council or candidates that were viewed as associated with the mayor. Another important change to note is the increase representation of women on council. While still significantly under-represented, 7 of the council’s 23 councillors are now women, up from only 4. Council is also younger, but is still far from representing the city’s ethno-cultural diversity.

What to look for in the coming years in Ottawa? First, in light of the changes to the composition of council, will the mayor face a more antagonistic council? It might well be the case. Some new councillors explicitly ran in opposition to Watson or by denouncing how council worked over the previous four years. Will this new blood be enough to bring a new dynamics to council? Second, will fiscal politics become a more prominent object of debate at city council? While the previous council had frozen increase in property tax at 2%, Watson announced during the last weeks of the campaign that he was willing to increase property tax up to 3% during a new mandate in order to confront the city’s infrastructure deficit. While this decision will likely please downtown councillors who had argued in favour of such a rise over the past year, it might lead to some pushback from some of the more conservative allies of the mayor. Third, will Mayor Jim Watson be an asset in relations with other governments, whether municipal or provincial? On the one hand, mayoral stability in Ottawa and Gatineau will possibly ensure better collaboration between the two cities, which share some of the same metropolitan issues. On the other hand, will Jim Watson and the City of Ottawa be listened to by the Conservative provincial government considering the mayor’s previous involvement with the Ontario Liberal Party? Finally, will this be the mayor’s last mandate? On the one hand, Watson clearly loves his job and continues to benefit from an extraordinarily efficient electoral machine that has yet to be significantly tested. On the other hand, the mayor might want to leave before voter fatigue eventually catches up with him. In any case, while the last four years were marked by relatively little debate at Council, the next four will likely be less consensual and more animated.

A Chance for Resurrection in Niagara

Written by: David Siegel 

My previous posts focussed on the major problems in the Region of Niagara. My point was the council needed a new broom, and I’m pleased to report that that happened. Of the 31 members of the council elected on October 22 (including the 12 mayors), eight were returning members plus one member who had served on council previously. Only one member of what was called the ‘Conservative cabal’ was returned. Unfortunately, some good members of the previous council were caught up in the sweep, but that’s what sometimes happens in these situations. This should give the council a new start and will allow to begin to rebuild trust with the people of Niagara.

Another positive result of the elections is that there will be nine women on the new council compared to four previously. My eyeball analysis suggests that there are more women on the councils of the area municipalities as well, but there are so many local councillors that I lost the energy to count.

With a sweep like this, there is a danger that the new council will suffer from inexperience. That will be leavened somewhat in this case by the presence of people with political experience in other realms such as a long-serving MPP who got caught up in the anti-Liberal fervour of the provincial election, one member who had served on regional council in 2006-10, and several who have served on local councils.

However, Niagara is a sprawling, deconcentrated region meaning that many of the neophytes simply don’t know one another. This is a problem because the first task of the new council will be the selection of a regional chair for the next four years. This election would have been the first time that Niagarans would have elected their regional chair, but the provincial government’s last-minute intervention put the kibosh on that. Instead, the council will select a chair at its first meeting. Council can select anyone in Niagara, but there is a long-standing tradition that the chair should be chosen from among elected members.

Support seems to be coalescing around Jim Bradley, the aforementioned Liberal MPP and cabinet minister with over 40 years experience at Queen’s Park. He is a very well-respected, competent, low-key guy. These qualities are exactly what the region needs now.

After selection of the regional chair, the council will then have to take on some very difficult issues. The Provincial Ombudsman is currently investigating allegations that the Chief Administrative Officer was appointed in an irregular manner, and the Provincial Auditor is investigating administrative issues in the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority. There is also an application for a huge development in Niagara Falls that allegedly encroaches on wetlands.

In previous posts, I expressed major concerns about the reputation of the Region of Niagara. This new council opens the door to a major improvement in that reputation. However, this council is facing a significant challenge. Much depends of how these councillors react to that challenge.

London Election Results

Written by: Andrew Sancton

I support ranked ballots.  In London Ontario’s municipal election, I used my three ranked choices for mayor and for my local councillor.  The overall results, however, are not encouraging for people like me. None of the fifteen elections (mayor and 14 councillors from 14 wards) produced results that would have been different had the old first-past-the-post system been used.  In other words, the leader on the first count in every race turned out to be the winner, even when (as in the mayoral election) 14 counts were required to produce a winner.  Turnout was slightly lower than last time: 37% vs. 41% 

Who knew about “exhausted ballots”?  Certainly not me.  As I now understand it, ballots become exhausted in a particular contest when a voter’s choice or choices are all counted before a particular candidate is declared elected.  The most obvious way this can happen is if a voter votes for only one candidate; as soon as that candidate is eliminated, the ballot has no further value and is “exhausted”.  The same can happen to ballots which express two, or even three, choices if all the choices are eliminated before a winner is declared. 

The “exhaustion” problem could presumably be eliminated if voters were allowed (or forced) to rank all the candidates.  But who would do this if there were a dozen or more candidates, as there were in London’s mayoral election?  Prior to the election, I paid insufficient attention to what I considered to be the “nerdy”details of ranked-ballot counting.  I mostly accepted the argument that ranked balloting produced winners who could eventually be shown to have a form of majority support. 

In the mayoral election and in the elections of four councillors, the winner between two remaining candidates after multiple counts did not receive a majority of the legitimate votes cast (i.e. total votes cast minus rejected ballots).  In the mayoral election and two of the council races, the winner was shown to have achieved a majority only after the second-choices of his/her one remaining opponent were allocated.  In the hotly-contested ward in which I live and in another ward in which no incumbent was running, the winner did not even achieve this form of majority.  We have learned the hard way that ranked balloting, as implemented in London, does not necessarily produce winners who can claim majority support.   

Now to the substance of the election.  The new mayor is Ed Holder, a former MP and Harper cabinet minister.  He is opposed to the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) plan approved by the previous council.  The only serious pro-BRT candidate finished third.  But seven pro-BRT councillors (including five incumbents) were elected, suggesting that many voters supported a pro-BRT councillor and an anti-BRT mayor at the same time.  People like me who considered the BRT a vote-structuring issue were probably wrong. 

Nevertheless, two pro-BRT incumbents were defeated by anti-BRT challengers and one pro-BRT councillor who retired was replaced by a BRT opponent.  This leaves a council that appears to be evenly balanced between the two BRT factions (one incumbent has consistently declared a conflict of interest on the issue). 

We will likely find out fairly soon if the new mayor will be one vote among fifteen or whether he will forge some new consensus, presumably around a kind of stripped-down modified BRT plan.  Then the challenge will be to extract funding from both federal and provincial governments.  Mayor-Elect Holder touted his political connections during the campaign.  He might need them.  There is some evidence that both the Ford PCs in Toronto and the federal Liberals in Ottawa have been distancing themselves from the BRT plan, so Holder might be successful on that front.  But will he be able to convince pro-BRT councillors – many of whom initially preferred Light Rail Transit (LRT) – to go along with him?  This could be an interesting test of mayoral power.     

 

 

 

Waterloo Region Roundup: Four noteworthy races and other happenings

Written by: Kate Daley

In the dozens of seats up for grabs across Waterloo Region’s eight municipal councils and two school boards, there are four races that are especially worth noting.

1) Regional chair

The most notable race in Waterloo Region this election is the regional chair’s race, addressed in a previous post.

The regional chair race is the first without veteran chair Ken Seiling, who has served uninterrupted since 1985, and who has never been seriously challenged since the chair position first became elected in 1997.

The election for chair is the only region-wide race, requiring its candidates to campaign to more than half a million people in an area twice as large as the City of Toronto. As a result, it is also the race most likely to incentivise paid advertising and other high-cost campaign approaches. While Seiling’s campaigns were notoriously low key, his biggest challenger in the 2014 election reported spending more than $200,000. We can expect money to play a much more significant role in the regional chair’s race from this election forward.

A late-breaking poll with limited sample size suggests former MP and sitting regional councillor Karen Redman is leading by a considerable margin.

2) Cambridge mayor

Long-time mayor Doug Craig is being challenged by Kathryn McGarry, who until the provincial election was Liberal MPP for Cambridge and Minister of Transportation. Also in the race is Ben Tucci, former councillor, and two new entrants.

The three most well known candidates joined Steve Paikin recently on The Agenda.

Cambridge does not have a strong history of ejecting sitting mayors. Craig took over the post in 2000, when Mayor Jane Brewer chose not to run again. Brewer had held the post since 1988, following long-time mayor Claudette Millar. The three of them together have governed the City of Cambridge for all but 3 years of the city’s 45-year history.

3) Kitchener Regional council

While the mayors of the seven local-tier municipalities sit on regional council, eight additional members are directly elected in city-wide contests to represent the residents of those cities. (It’s worth noting that they do not represent the local-tier councils or municipalities.)

Waterloo and Cambridge both have two directly elected seats, and all four of those seats have their incumbents running.

In Kitchener, however, Redman’s run for regional chair leaves at least one seat that will not be filled by an incumbent among Kitchener’s four seats. Notable new contenders include Michael Harris, former MPP for Kitchener Conestoga who was denied his party’s nomination by new leader Doug Ford, and former school board trustee Ted Martin.

Arguably the most interesting candidate, however, is Fauzia Mazhar, a community builder whose impressive resume includes serving as a founder and chair of the Coalition of Muslim Women of KW. While the Women’s Municipal Campaign School, which Mazhar has helped organize, has made some progress in increasing women’s representation on our eight councils, councillors are still overwhelmingly white, despite Waterloo Region’s diverse population. A win for Mazhar would be a crucial accomplishment to address the exclusion of racialized citizens from our dozens of local council positions.

4) A surprising acclamation

In a truly surprising turn of events, one-term Mayor of Woolwich Sandy Shantz is acclaimed. No one stepped forward to challenge her. This is despite a small but vocal group who have been persistent in their pursuit of Shantz, including repeated attempts to have her removed from office.

Other items of note:

  • Premier Doug Ford’s musings that he will make changes to regional government structures have at least one incumbent council candidate advocating for Cambridge’s succession from the upper-tier Region of Waterloo. This call has been made by various Cambridge leaders during various regional reform debates going back decades.
  • The Cambridge Chamber of Commerce, led by former councillor Greg Durocher, initially chose to defend candidate interviews run by the chamber that focused on personal questions like whether candidates believe in a supreme being or were born in Canada. They quietly cut some of the questions from the interviews at release, citing length.
  • The Cambridge clerk is defending the city’s online voting system despite continuing concerns about its reliability. The system is being run by a third party contractor, and the online vote is proceeding despite the city having eliminated telephone voting on security grounds. Despite the clerk’s assertions about online voting being the same as online banking, online banking relies on all parties knowing what transactions customers have made, which cannot be replicated in voting by secret ballot.
  • The Township of North Dumfries has opted to eliminate in-person voting, and will replace polling stations with telephone and internet voting only.
  • While the mayors of Kitchener and Waterloo are both running again, Kitchener and Waterloo councils have 2 and 3 open seats, respectively, guaranteeing at least some turnover on their 11- and 8-member councils.

Kate Daley is an environmental professional and a graduate of York University’s PhD program in political science, where she studied transit, urban growth management, and regional government in the Waterloo area. She has managed two successful municipal campaigns, and participated in the organization of this year’s Women’s Municipal Campaign School in Waterloo Region. She is currently on parental leave with her family’s new baby.

Disclosure: The author’s spouse is a councillor representing the City of Waterloo’s Ward 6, and is currently running for re-election.

Niagara’s Unpredictable Election

Written by David Siegel

We’re deep into election season and so it is not surprising that many of the contributors to this blog are predicting who the next mayor or head of council in the blogger’s jurisdiction is likely to be. I will not be following that path.

This would have been the first time that Niagara chose its Regional Chair by popular election. However, the Ford government scuttled that, so we are back to a system of allowing councillors to select the Chair at the first meeting of council.

Even under normal circumstances, this would make it somewhat difficult to predict the next Chair, but these are far from normal circumstances. In normal circumstances, incumbents are highly likely to be re-elected as Michael McGregor has rightly pointed out elsewhere in this blog. My previous contribution detailed a serious issue hanging over incumbents that makes the normal pro forma re-election problematic.

I could mention a few other issues that I don’t have time to elaborate in full. The Police Services Board gave the police chief a three-year renewal of his contract and then almost immediately dismissed him without cause resulting in an $870,000 settlement. The Conservation Authority is under investigation by the Provincial Auditor for governance issues and operational practices. It has also been attacked for supporting a major development in an environmentally-sensitive area.

Not surprisingly, the major issue in this campaign can be summarized in one word— integrity. There has been very little discussion of lower taxes which has been a mainstay of previous campaigns. It seems like the current tribulations have attracted some good new people to run for office. Of course, many of them are inexperienced, although some have experience at other levels of government or in other environments.

In this environment, I can’t even predict who the next group of councillors will be, much less who they will pick as their chair.

The phrase about this being a watershed election that will determine how the jurisdiction will develop for future generations is much over-used, but this could be that kind of election for Niagara. The previous leadership of the Region has driven Niagara into the depths. This is a golden opportunity for a new broom to sweep into council and lead it into a new direction.

The extent of the change hinges on how attentive the electorate is. These issues have been much discussed in the print and social media. However, we start out with low voter turnout for local elections anyway, then we confront the fact that voters are generally less interested in regional elections than in the area municipalities that are closer to home. We can always hope that the situation at the Region is so bad that it will attract the attention of voters.

This is an opportunity for Niagara to turn a page. We shall see what happens next Monday.

Strategic Voting in Toronto 2014

Written by: Michael McGregor. Originally posted at CMES

Strategic (or tactical) voting, often a hot topic among voters and pundits during close election campaigns, is also a fertile topic in political science literature.  The three candidate race in the 2014 Toronto Mayoral contest was seemingly an ideal context for strategic voting to occur.  The candidate polling in second place (Doug Ford), was highly polarizing, and there was much discussion in the media about how Chow supporters might abandon her in favour of Tory, in order to prevent a Ford victory. Perhaps surprisingly, Toronto Election Study (TES) data reveal that rates of strategic voting were relatively low in this election, and such behaviour did not have a decisive impact upon the election outcome.  We suggest that the low rate of strategic voting is largely due to the fact that Chow supporters had unrealistic expectations about her chances of victory.

The Theory

A strategic vote is a vote for a party or candidate that is not one’s favourite, cast in the hope of affecting the outcome of an election (Blais et al., 2001).  More specifically, the goal of a strategic voter is to use his/her vote to prevent a party/candidate that is disliked from winning.  Such voters believe that their most preferred party/candidate has little or no chance of victory (so voting sincerely would have no effect on the outcome), and support the party/candidate that has the best chance of defeating their least preferred competitive option.

Strategic voting has been studied extensively at the federal and provincial levels in Canada and elsewhere.  One setting in which strategic voting has gone more or less unconsidered, however, is municipal elections, specifically those not contested by parties.  This is despite the large number of municipalities in Canada, the United States, and elsewhere in which political parties do not officially participate in elections. One might expect rates of strategic voting to be different in a setting where voters are not weighed down by the anchors of party loyalty and the knowledge of previous contests between parties.

The 2014 Toronto mayoral election furnishes an excellent opportunity to study this phenomenon. The performance of Toronto’s controversial and deeply-polarizing incumbent mayor, Rob Ford, may have prompted anti-Ford voters to consider carefully the prospect of voting strategically for the candidate that has the best chance of defeat his brother, Doug.

In this post, we calculate the rate of strategic voting in the 2014 Toronto mayoral contest. In line with the classic approach to identifying strategic voters, we use what Blais et al. (2005) refer to as the “direct” method of measurement, which employs measures of candidate rankings, perceived competitiveness, and vote choice. Voters are categorized as strategic if they meet two criteria. First, their most preferred candidate must be seen as least competitive of the three major candidates. Second, these individuals must vote for their second preferred candidate.

We then consider whether the rate of strategic voting was sufficient to overcome John Tory’s margin of victory. Tory won 40.3% of the popular vote, Doug Ford received the support of 33.7% of voters, while Olivia Chow came in third, with 23.2% support. Tory’s margin of victory was therefore 6.6%, meaning that at least that much strategic voting must have occurred in order for it to have impacted the outcome of the election.

The Data

Most polls in the days and weeks leading up to election showed Tory and Ford as the clear front-runners, and much of the discussion in the media was about how Chow supporters might abandon her in favour of Tory, to prevent a Ford victory.  TES data suggest that this discussion may have been warranted. In the pre-election wave of the TES, respondents were asked to estimate the chances of each candidate winning the election, as well as to rate each candidate (both on a scale from 0 to 100).  The following figure shows the average values for responses to these questions for each candidate, among voters.

 Candidate Ratings and Evaluations of Competitiveness

competitiveness.png

On the whole, voters saw Chow as the least competitive of the three major candidates, giving her a 34.8% chance of winning the election. Tory was seen as the most competitive, with a 69.1% chance of victory, while Ford was in the middle, at 42.1%. Not surprisingly, the candidate seen as most competitive also received the highest rating from voters; Tory had an average rating of 60.4. However, though Chow was seen as the least likely to win the election, she did not receive the lowest rating (47.2). This distinction belongs to Ford, who received a an average score of only 35.5. TES data therefore confirm media speculation that this election was a case where one might expect to see strategic voting, particularly among Chow supporters. Though Chow was the second most popular, she was also seen as the least competitive. If voters did indeed see Tory as the best option for defeating Ford, Chow supporters might reasonably have decided to opt to support him, instead of their most preferred candidate.

Despite the fact that this election seems ripe for strategic voting, the estimated rate of such behaviour, according to the procedure outlined above, is a mere 1.3%.  This value is considerably lower than estimates calculated for federal and provincial elections (according to Blais (2002, 445), rates of strategic voting in such settings are “typically around 5 percent”). Nonetheless, John Tory was, as expected, the largest beneficiary of strategic voting, receiving 81.1% of such votes. Ford and Chow received some support from strategic voters, but captured only 15.9% and 3.2% of strategic votes, respectively.

The 1.3% of ballots cast strategically were obviously not enough to overcome Tory’s 6.6 point margin of victory. Strategic voting therefore did not have an effect upon the outcome of the election.

So why was strategic voting so uncommon? The reason appears to stem from the fact that many survey respondents had a poor understanding of how competitive their most preferred candidates were.  A mere 5.2% of voters saw their preferred candidate as the least competitive. Blais (2002) has identified a misunderstanding of competitive circumstances as an important reason why rates of strategic voting are not higher in national elections, and we find the same pattern in Toronto 2014. The following table shows how competitive each candidate was perceived to be by those voters who ranked them as first, second or third preferences.

Candidate Ranking and Perceived Competitiveness

Most preferred candidate
Ford Chow Tory
Chances of winning Ford 71.5% 32.1% 32.4%
Chow 26.7% 53.5% 31.9%
Tory 57.1% 60.7% 78.6%
N 344 300 747

These data provide compelling evidence that candidate preference was strongly related to perceived competitiveness. While Chow supporters did not see her as having the best chance of winning, on average, they did believe that she was more likely to win than Ford (despite the fact that polls had indicated as much for the last several months of the election campaign). Similarly, Ford supporters believed that he was the most competitive of the three candidates. Voters cannot be expected to abandon their first preference for strategic reasons if they do not believe that candidate is uncompetitive, and the failure of Chow supporters to recognize this, in particular, seems to have contributed to a very low rate of strategic voting in the 2014 Toronto mayoral election.

Municipal Election Update: London

Written by: Andrew Sancton

A recent (October 10) letter to The London Free Press summed up the most interesting features of the local municipal election.

“London needs a mayor who will shut down the BRT [Bus Rapid Transit] plan that will be out of date before it is finished. If Londoners rank BRT opponents Paul Cheng, Ed Holder, and Paul Paolatto in any order as their top three, we will be certain to have a mayor who is against it. I did not think I would be thankful for ranked balloting, but I am.”

The letter is so informative because the writer

1. Assumes a mayor can unilaterally “shut down” a project that the council has already agreed to. Many voters seem implicitly to hold this view. The reality, of course, is that only the council as a whole can reverse the decision. If incumbent councillors are reelected, the BRT will probably survive, regardless of who is mayor, although it is important to remember that Rob Ford’s election in Toronto in 2010 seemed magically to change incumbent councillors’ minds about the relative merits of Light Rail Transit and heavy-rail subways.

2. Reflects a common view that the BRT is the major electoral issue. There is considerable controversy, however, about the possible existence of pro and con “slates”. Pro-BRT council candidates, especially incumbents, seem to hope that the BRT issue will simply go away because its fate has apparently already been decided by the current council. Most challengers are anti-BRT. They seem to think they can use federal and provincial funds dedicated to major transit infrastructure for just about anything they fancy. There is no overt sign of anti-BRT co-ordination but there is a group (or groups) that have paid for generic anti-BRT signage.

3. Correctly notes that the new ranked balloting system should aid anti-BRT forces, especially in the mayoral race. If voters understand the respective positions of the various candidates (admittedly a big “if”), they can use their ballots as the writer suggests: load up their choices with candidates who support their own BRT position. The mayoral race is particularly affected by ranked balloting because the only serious pro-BRT candidate is Tanya Park, who is also the only one to have ever served on municipal council. What will her supporters do with their second- and third-choice votes? A recent (October 12) Free Press poll suggests that all four major mayoral candidates have roughly equal support, providing a truly remarkable test for London’s first ranked ballot election.

4. Acknowledges that it is the BRT issue that has converted the letter-writer to the virtues of ranked balloting. Generally speaking, people who don’t like the BRT don’t like change– and ranked balloting is certainly a change. Many candidates and voters seem flummoxed by ranked balloting. At a recent all-candidates meeting a candidate was asked whom he would support as a second-choice to himself. His response was that he wanted voters to choose him as their first, second, and third choices. Fortunately, the city clerk has weighed in by stating that voters who follow such advice will only have their vote counted once: for their first-choice candidate.

We can only hope that in the ten days remaining in the election, we shall learn a bit more about what is actually going on in voters’ minds. Local media coverage is limited by the ongoing media cuts with which we are all familiar. Even informed local blogging seems to have disappeared. Instead, we get fake websites designed to confuse voters about what certain council candidates (namely two incumbent women councillors) really stand for. It is not a happy situation for those of us concerned with the health of local democracy.

Ranked balloting will probably mean that election results will be slow to emerge on the evening of October 22. The bad news is that the drama of election night will likely be reduced. The good news is that analysts of local voting behaviour will have a new treasure trove of data. How many voters will make use of all of their three choices? Will voters make more use of ranking on their mayoral ballots than on councillor ones? The Free Press letter-writer suggests that BRT preferences of candidates will be the dominant factor affecting ranking. Will he be right?

Pro-BRT incumbent councillors are generally the same people who supported the introduction of ranked balloting. How ironic it will be if their support of ranked balloting helps defeat the BRT.