The Better Voter Series: Candidacy changes not for the better

Rules and regulations get in the way of civic participation

It is interesting to note that there has been more controversy over mayoral nominations than ever before, at least since the creation of Unicity in 1971. 

When Unicity was created, the mayoralty, city council and school trustee candidates were simply required to receive 25 signatures in order to run for office.

There were no requirements for maintaining financial statements; no auditor, bank account or campaign manager was necessary. A one-page form was all there was. 

It was as good a sign of democracy in Winnipeg as there ever was, for it allowed anyone who wished to run for city council, school trustee or mayor to do so. I remember people on social assistance running for city council in the 1970s.

Running for city council now requires an auditor to assess the candidate’s income and expenditures during the campaign. Candidate Herman Holla was once disqualified from running for city council because he did not have a bank account. 

Running for mayor, however, has become increasingly more difficult. It now requires 250 verified signatures, an audit of the finances of the candidate and other information that was not previously required. This now makes it harder for so-called “fringe” candidates to run for mayor.

While some people would argue that there is no problem with getting 250 signatures to run for mayor, it is strange to have a tenfold discrepancy between running for city council and running for mayor.

It is also significantly more difficult to get 250 signatures from people who are actually on the voters’ list. 

The voters’ list is very out of date and many hopeful mayoral candidates end up having to sign up more than 250 signatures because many of the people who sign their nomination are not on the list.

Who cares who financed fringe candidates that know perfectly well that they will never get elected?

Because of this, there should be a legal requirement to update the voters’ list every year – especially to ensure that new Canadians are registered.

That is not the only obstacle put in place to discourage fringe candidates from running in civic elections. 

For example, you have to provide an audited statement even if you decide not to run after you declare your candidacy. You can be fined and lose your right to run in the next civic election if you fail to do so.

Even more frustrating is the issue of mayoral candidates not filing audited statements after the election. When the audited requirements were first enforced, you were allowed to supply a statement anytime before the next election if you planned to run in it.

This was changed so that if you filed late you were not able to run for office at all in the next election. 

Now, it has become a potentially criminal act, where candidates can be taken to court and fined for not submitting an audited statement – even if one has spent not a penny on their campaign.

Why is this so? Who cares who financed fringe candidates that know perfectly well that they will never get elected?

We should not intentionally limit participation in civic elections to those who have money.

Instead, encouraging all citizens (including all minority groups) to participate in the political process, regardless of their economic status, will help to counteract the movement of the civic process toward more bureaucratic and less democratic aims.

Nick Ternette is a community and political activist, freelance writer and broadcaster who lives with his wife at McFeetors Hall Residence.

Published in Volume 65, Number 5 of The Uniter (September 30, 2010)

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