Within the 444 municipalities in Ontario, there were 6,645 candidates on the ballot and 9.2 million Ontarians eligible to vote in Monday’s election. While the statistics on how many voters actually turned up at the polling booths are not in, low voter turnout in the advanced polls could indicate that the turnout for this year’s municipal election vote will be much lower than the 43 per cent average turnout in 2014. This, despite new voting initiatives including online, mail in ballots and extended advanced polls.
Sure, municipal is not the sexiest level of government, but every single municipal government is critical to the success of local and regional economies. From garbage and recycling to policing and emergency response, municipalities touch the day-to-day lives of citizens much more than their provincial or federal counterparts.
Municipalities own almost 50 per cent of Ontario’s public infrastructure – more than double of what the province and feds own combined. They are also plagued with responsibilities to adapt to climate change, solve decades of downloading costs from the federal and provincial governments, and respond to increased pressure for affordable housing (many urban centres suggested this was the number one issue at doors during the campaign). On top of it all, municipalities are also responsible for significant policy implementation such as cannabis zoning and licensing for private cannabis retail at the discretion of their municipal peers. All these wants and needs take vision – and longevity.
During election coverage on Monday, October 22 newly-elected politicians from across Ontario declared it was time for the region or municipality to get their “fair share.” It is true. Municipalities rely heavily on the federal and provincial governments for their portion of tax revenue to fund services, and support evolving infrastructure deficits and new build demand. Beyond land transfer taxes and user or development fees, municipalities have limited revenue tools.
To meet the increasingly sophisticated and interconnected needs of municipal and regional government, a strong intergovernmental strategy will need to emerge and this will include funding plans that are adaptable beyond a one-year and even one-term cycle.
Some label former provincial and federal politicians running municipally as opportunists. In reality, they could be exactly what the municipality needs to deliver the money through experience and understanding of how another level of government operates.
Mayor Bonnie Crombie of Mississauga has done an excellent job collaborating with governments, residents and business alike – one reason, perhaps, why she faced no real competition to continue her bold plan for Mississauga. The same could be said for Mayor Frank Scarpitti in Markham and Mayor Jim Watson in Ottawa.
Mayor-elect Patrick Brown of Brampton sung a similar note. The controversial and former PC Party leader says the “people of Brampton” are now his party. He warned leaders, such as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ontario Premier Doug Ford, that when they come to Brampton, do not come for a photo-op. Instead, come with something tangible for the city, as it is time to deliver Brampton’s “fair share.”
With a council of only of 25 and the “left” and “right” now easily identifiable on Toronto council, some observers speculate that this will be the last time Toronto is party (or slate) free. Mayor John Tory endorsed candidates such as Councillor Mark Grimes and Brad Bradford the weekend before Election Day. Was this an exercise in drawing the party line – or an effort set up his legislative agenda for success? Whatever it is, the Mayor received a strong mandate and Council to deliver.
At the end of the day, municipal politics is our opportunity to cast our vote for the best idea in the community in which we actually live. It is not a political party’s dogma that drives results. In the 2018 elections, few high profile municipal mayoral elections were about the issues (Mayor Goldring’s loss to Councillor Marianne Meed Ward in Burlington may be the exemption).
What delivers is a candidate’s commitment to their neighbours and their vision for what their community will grow into.
What will the next four years bring? We’ll see. That’s the fun part. In the meantime, you can reach out to our Public Affairs and Government Relations experts for the latest views on emerging developments.
——— D'arci McFadden is a former Director, Public Affairs at NATIONAL Public Relations
——— Tausha Michaud is a former Director, Public Affairs at NATIONAL Public Relations