I had hoped that by this stage of the summer there would be plenty to write about - and debate about - with regard to the upcoming municipal election. So far though, the only thing that can be said about the municipal election is that there is nothing to say.
On June 28th I asked the question "Where are the candidates?" and now with less than a month remaining before the nomination deadline, Meaford has just four declared candidates for the seven seats around the council horseshoe and the question remains the same.
From a writer's perspective this is quite disappointing, but if I put my resident and voter's hat on, it is just plain scary to think of the possibility of not having anyone to vote for on October 25.
I would suggest that the last thing this municipality needs is to have a council consisting of acclaimed members. Our current council has had a tough enough time gaining the respect of the residents in this municipality, imagine if all seven of our council members gained their seats not by being elected but by being acclaimed.
The current council includes two members who were not elected, rather they were appointed after elected members resigned. And though our current Mayor and Deputy Mayor were indeed elected, they were not elected to the positions they currently hold, but were appointed after those same resignations meaning that four of our seven council seats are currently held by appointees.
So where are all of the candidates?
Our municipality has had a tumultuous few years, and our council has found itself constantly on the wrong side of public favour. With so many residents of our community willing to give so freely of their opinions and criticisms, one would think that candidates would be lining up at the municipal office to file their nomination papers and take a crack at getting themselves elected so that they could do a better job.
That hasn't happened though. So what does that mean?
Does it mean that none of those many critics actually thinks they can do a better job? Were all of the complaints about how current councillors have performed just that- complaints void of any solutions?
It is one thing to complain about elected officials if you actually have suggestions for how things could be done better, but complaints without an offer of solutions are frustrating.
Over the last couple of years I have every now and then heard Councillor Cynthia Lemon invite an angry resident to run for council themselves if they have a toolbox full of solutions to offer. Given the passion of many of the frustrated residents in this municipality it is somewhat surprising then that nobody has taken her up on the invitation.
There are 26 days remaining before the nomination deadline. According to the Municipal Elections Act, if on September 10 at 2:00 pm there are not enough candidates to fill the available council seats the nomination deadline can be extended to the following Wednesday (September 15).
If at that time the number of formally declared candidates is equal to, or less than the number of available positions, then those who have filed will be acclaimed.
So what happens if there are empty, uncontested seats? Here is what the Municipal Elections Act says:
If the number of candidates declared elected is insufficient to form a quorum, a by-election shall be held.
If the number of candidates declared elected is sufficient to form a quorum, clause 263 (1) (a) of the Municipal Act, 2001 or clause 208 (1) (a) of the City of Toronto Act, 2006, as the case may be, applies.
What does clause 263 (1) (a) of the Municipal Act say?
“If a vacancy occurs in the office of a member of council, the municipality shall, subject to this section,
(a) fill the vacancy by appointing a person who has consented to accept the office if appointed; or
(b) require a by-election to be held to fill the vacancy in accordance with the Municipal Elections Act, 1996. 2001, c. 25, s. 263 (1).”
Obviously a by-election would be pointless if we already couldn't get enough candidates to run, so we would be faced with having members appointed to council.
Is this what we want? Do we really want to have our seven members of council acclaimed- or even worse appointed, or do we want to have some choice in who to vote for?
I would think it much preferable to have a solid slate of candidates who can put forward platforms and then initiate some discussion and debate therefore allowing the voters to go to the polls and select their preferred representatives on council.
As of today we have one candidate declared as running for Mayor- that being our current Mayor Francis Richardson who was elected in 2006 as Deputy Mayor and then appointed to the Mayor's chair after the resignation of the elected Mayor.
We have one candidate registered to run for the position of Deputy Mayor- Gerald Shortt. Shortt who has had a lengthy career in municipal politics, and was the first Mayor of the amalgamated Municipality of Meaford, is currently a Councillor though he was not elected to this position, he was appointed to fill a vacancy.
For the five council seats we so far have just two candidates that have filed their nomination papers with the Clerk. Both are current members of council. Lynda Stephens- who was elected a councillor in 2006, and Harley Greenfield who was appointed to fill an empty seat after resignations early in this term.
And that is it. Seven council positions available, and four candidates have filed papers to run- all of them incumbents.
Unless we have at least another four to eight candidates file papers to run for council and at least one additional candidate to run for Mayor and another for Deputy Mayor, we aren't going to see an election campaign, we are going to see a bunch of acclamations, and quite possibly some appointments.
That is not a healthy prospect in what is supposed to be a democratic process. And if that is in fact how this all goes down, we will be facing four years of a municipal government that might not necessarily reflect the desires of the population.
I do have to wonder if the lack of candidates might not be a reflection of how elected representatives have been treated in our municipality.
Often times these people who have put themselves forward to serve our community have been treated with such enormous contempt and disrespect, it is perhaps not surprising that potential candidates in this municipality are deciding to take a pass this time around.
Who really wants to be treated in that way when more often than not elected representatives really just want to contribute as best they can to make their community a better place to live.
If it is true that “You get the government you deserve,” then I suppose we only have ourselves to blame.