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Campaign Confidential: Registration

Torontoist Environment Editor Chris Tindal is currently engaged in a federal by-election campaign. This weekly column is an attempt to offer a “behind the scenes” glimpse into what it’s like to be that mysterious Other: a politician.
tindal_cc2.jpgRight before Christmas (and just days before the deadline) the prime minister finally called a by-election for the riding of Toronto Centre, left vacant by Bill Graham last summer. He also called by-elections for three other ridings across the country (Willowdale in north Toronto, Vancouver Quadra, and Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River, which political hacks simply refer to as DMCR), all to happen on the same day: March 17th, 2008.
Since this is such a long writ period (according to my quick Googling, it could very well be the longest campaign in the history of Canada, which would also mean that the people of Toronto Centre have gone unrepresented for one of the longest amounts of time in history), prospective candidates have an extra-long amount of time to register. The deadline for candidate registration in any of these four by-elections is not until February 25th.
So, just in case you’re interested in the job (or curious about the process us candidates have to go through), here’s what you need to do to get on the ballot.
First, make sure you’re eligible to run as a candidate in a federal election. Basically, this just necessitates being 18 years or older and a Canadian citizen. There are some exceptions, but they’re not likely to apply to the average person (you can’t be a member of a provincial legislative assembly, you can’t be a sheriff, you can’t be in jail, you can’t have run previously and not filed a return, etc). You do not, however, need to live in a riding in order to run there. (Of the four major candidates in Toronto Centre, two of us live in the riding, a third is in the process of moving into the riding, and the fourth is from Richmond Hill.)
Then, if you want to run as a Candidate for a political party, you’ll need a letter of endorsement from that party’s leader. The four major parties have all already chosen their candidates for Toronto Centre, but there are still lots of other parties you could approach. If that doesn’t work, you can always run as an independent.
Next, you’ll need to collect 100 signatures, using the proper form. These signatures must be from people who live in the riding and are eligible to vote (meaning they’re the age of majority and Canadian citizens). By signing, individuals are not indicating that they support you or will vote for you, just that they consent to your name appearing on the ballot. (So, as long as you’re not running on a “death to all puppies and kittens” platform, you shouldn’t have too much trouble.) Collect these signatures by going door to door or standing on a busy street corner. It’s a good idea to collect a few extra in case some are rejected by the returning officer.
You’re also going to need to find an Official Agent and an Auditor, as both are legally required. An Official Agent is the person who’s responsible for all of the money that passes through the campaign. They open the bank account, issue tax receipts for donations, pay all expenses and check that they’re legal, and file the return to Elections Canada at the end. Your auditor will audit (shocking, I know) your Official Agent’s return before it’s submitted.
Speaking of money, you’ll also need to pony up a $1000 deposit. Assuming you follow all the rules you’ll get this back, but not until after you’ve submitted your return at the end of the campaign and given Elections Canada some time to process it. Practically, that means you probably won’t see this money again for about six months.
Once you’ve assembled all of these items (and filled out some paper work), you’ll meet with the riding’s Returning Officer (her or his contact information is available on the Elections Canada website) to hand everything over and affirm your “consent to candidacy.” Once the RO confirms the validity of what you’ve given them (which mostly involves checking your 100 signatures to make sure they all live in the riding), you’re confirmed! You can open a bank account, start accepting donations and start spending money.
Oh, and one small catch. Since we’re in a minority government situation with a budget expected in February or March of this year, there’s a chance (though I think it’s unlikely) that the government could fall, precipitating a general election before you get a chance to face the voters in the by-election. If that happens, the by-election gets canceled and you’ll have to file a return for the election that never happened and start all over again to register for the general.
As you’ve gathered, these barriers are higher than, say, those required to run for mayor, which is partly why the last Toronto Mayoral election saw 38 candidates, and the last Toronto Centre federal election had only 8. (Interesting side note: 3 of the 8 were communists.)
So, what do you think? Are these requirements too stringent? Not tough enough? And would you ever consider throwing your hat in the ring?

Comments

  • Bailey

    During the 2005-06 Federal Election, Gord Perks continued his environmental report/column in Eye Weekly, when some other journalists felt that he should have stopped his column because historically any time previously a journalist ran for office they went on an unpaid leave of absence or quit.
    see http://fence.blogspot.com/2005/12/drop-column-perks.html
    and http://thestar.blogs.com/azerb/2006/01/conflict_resolu.html
    So, I guess I’m wondering why Torontoist is allowing Chris Tindal essentially free advertising to the “150,000 unique readers and 330,000 pageviews” for his “behind the scenes” comments during the by-election. Does Torontoist deem itself above certain previous journalistic standards and ethics because it is new media? Or are they going to actively invite everyone else involved in the by-election to give their own “behind the scenes” weekly column? I’m just curious as to where the ethics lie in cases like this as J. Kelly Nestruck points out in another post about Perks.

  • David E

    Did you notice that the by-election is after the budget. That’s the budget that might launch a new election because of a non-confidence vote.
    If that’s the case, then the by-elections will not happen; the general election will supersede them.
    Cynical isn’t it? Make the taxpayer wait and wait nearly ad infinitum.

  • David Topping

    If you scroll down a tad on the page that you quote our readership numbers from, Bailey, you’ll find a link to this letter concerning editorial policy, which includes this bit:

    Bias is a separate but nonetheless interrelated issue: we are, most often, dealing with personal opinions, not straight-up news….but you, our readers, are all smart enough to judge the merits of [an article's] arguments yourself. Some of our staff are also members of organizations that are active in the city (the Green Party, Newmindspace, and the Toronto Public Space Committee, among other groups, all have someone on our staff), and those members are here as individuals to post about issues that are relevant to them. Unsurprisingly, those issues tend to be ones that they are involved with in our city, and there can be overlap between what they do and what they write. Rest assured, however, that Torontoist is under no-one’s thumb (and, conversely, no-one is under Torontoist’s), and that we will not deceive our readers.

    That Chris is a candidate is the whole point of this column: it’s about the process, about running for office, about all the interesting things that go with that. That’s why it’s here.
    We aren’t above anyone’s ethics, but we do have a set that occasionally twists away from the mainstream media’s: we have no obligation to the public to present an unbiased view of any issue, because––aside from that being impossible, because no human is without bias and nothing any human creates can thus be without it––our readers are smart and well-educated enough to make up their own minds. Torontoist is not some form of top-down indoctrination; it’s communal, collective, participatory, occasionally self-conflicting (see Torontoist vs. Torontoist for the most obvious example of that), and not at all conventional.
    Most importantly, we do not have to follow any conventions that have been deemed ethical not because of their merits but only because of their conventionality. I, frankly, don’t care if a writer runs for public office and continues to write for us, so long as we’re being transparent about it. Do we really have that little faith in the public’s decision-making abilities?
    Hope that clears that up.

  • JonathanC

    I love this: “our readers are smart and well-educated enough to make up their own minds.” Seeing as I’m here, the truth of that statement is, of course, self-evident. Finally, something exists that speaks to me at my level!
    It’s way better than those rags that exist only for the reading pleasure of benighted rubes, like this one:
    http://www.nytco.com/press/ethics.html#voting

  • David Topping

    As you may have noticed, we’re not The New York Times. While there are many clauses in that linked document that I entirely agree with and follow, there are many others that do not, need not, and can not apply to us––not because I’m uninterested in ethics, but because our set, as a blog with no inherent duty to the public, is different from the Times‘.
    See:
    “130. Bloggers may write lively commentary on their preferences in food, music, sports or other avocations, but as journalists they must avoid taking stands on divisive public issues.”
    “95. Journalists should stand apart from institutions that make news.”
    As articulated in the letter I linked to and cited from above, I disagree entirely with both of those philosophies. (And I obviously don’t think they must take stands on divisive public issues, or that they must be part of the institutions that make news, but that it’s an option each staff member has.)
    Now, can we get back to the issue at hand? I’m not interested in engaging in a dialogue about our ethics when I’ve already made my thoughts on that pretty lucid.

  • rek

    Why do people keep thinking blogs are newspapers?
    Anyway a decade ago a friend of mine ran in the provincial elections at the age of 19 and with nothing more than a Hotmail address as far as organization was concerned. He didn’t come in last, at least.
    This is all beside the point though. No, the barriers to entry aren’t all that insurmountable but they only get your foot in the door of an archaic system that is flawed from the start.

  • JonathanC

    Ah but David, my point, perhaps not clearly put, was not that the Torontoist is on a par with the Times or that it’s intending to do the same thing, but rather that a statement to the effect that you don’t need to be concerned with bias because your readers are clever is a little silly. I pointed to the Times because its readers are clever too, and inasmuch as the Times is concerned with the appearance of bias, the cleverness and decision-making abilities of readers aren’t the issue.
    The Times obviously has their policy because they desire a veneer of disinterest in their reporting. Thus, even though it is widely known that the Times is a ‘liberal’ (in the American politics meaning) paper, it can report, with as even a hand as possible, some fact based information about Romney winning in Michigan, what he said in his speech, how McCain took defeat, etc. It would be harder to credibly do that if they ran a weekly column from, for example, Huckabee which offered a mix of middle school civics and behind-the-scenes campaign intrigue.
    As someone who regularly reads the Torontoist, I note that these ethics/bias issues crop up in the comments a fair bit. Indeed, it’s often enough that it appears to exasperate you somewhat. The fact that it comes up a lot might be telling. Or maybe not. I don’t particular care either way (this is the first (and will be the last) article I have commented on regarding this issue), because it’s just a blog I read to see what’s going on around town.
    To be clear, it’s simply that I found your “our readers are so clever” thing to be a bit … pretentious. Far better to say the editors (or whomever) like the Green Party and, consequently, you’ve decided to provide Tindal a soapbox in the face of the Rae juggernaut. Now that’s transparency.

  • purecanucks

    Seriously. Why does this argument have to be fought over and over? If you don’t like the policy then send an email to the editors and discuss it. Please stop hijacking the comment thread.
    To answer Chris’ question:
    Yes, I have thought about running but it seems to me that striking the balance between popularity and governance (which is often at odds) would be difficult. Also it involves doing stuff.

  • Bailey

    Thanks for your response, David. I did read over the part about editorial content but I am not entirely sure that it covers this case. Elections Canada has very strict rules regarding advertising and donations during elections, as I’m sure Chris would agree with.
    During the last federal election the Conservative Party of Canada was paying Bourque Newswatch for friendly coverage in headlines and stories. I have no reason to think that the Green Party or Chris is doing the same thing here but it can possibly bring up questions of conflicts (not only of Torontoist but of other blogs in general) and generally bad optics. Furthermore, if Chris is being paid to write these “behind the scenes” articles are they considered donations? They are a source of income during a writ period and if he is using that income to help with his campaign then that seems to be circumventing some election laws. Or maybe he’s not being paid but it’s definitely free advertising for his campaign during a writ period.
    I enjoy ‘behind the scenes’ stories of elections, I’ve read numerous books and magazine articles about elections but I just wonder about the optics of such a story here. Are you in fact endorsing Chris as the candidate by allowing him to write the articles? If not, then why does he have to write them during the writ period and not after when the laws of advertising during an election are not as strict?

  • Chris Tindal

    Hi Bailey,
    Thanks for voicing your concerns. I’ll do my best to respond.

    Elections Canada has very strict rules regarding advertising and donations during elections, as I’m sure Chris would agree with.

    Yes, though based on my knowledge of the Canada Elections Act, writing this column does not constitute an advertisement or a donation.

    During the last federal election the Conservative Party of Canada was paying Bourque Newswatch for friendly coverage in headlines and stories.

    They still are, I believe.

    I have no reason to think that the Green Party or Chris is doing the same thing here but it can possibly bring up questions of conflicts (not only of Torontoist but of other blogs in general) and generally bad optics.

    No one is paying Torontoist to let me write anything for them or to give me favourable coverage. If my campaign were doing that, we’d have to disclose it by law. Also, we wouldn’t be getting our money’s worth.

    Furthermore, if Chris is being paid to write these “behind the scenes” articles are they considered donations? They are a source of income during a writ period and if he is using that income to help with his campaign then that seems to be circumventing some election laws.

    No, under the Canada Elections Act, a candidate’s income is not considered a donation to that candidate’s campaign. The Act also allows for a candidate to continue to be paid by their employer during the campaign.

    Or maybe he’s not being paid but it’s definitely free advertising for his campaign during a writ period.

    Again, this column is not considered advertising under the Act. I’m also surprised you think that any of the above could be construed to be promoting or advertising my candidacy or my party (which, in this post, I didn’t even mention).
    Some other things that are worth noting:

      1. News publications and broadcasters often invite candidates to use their media to promote their views during an election campaign. (This is critical to a functioning democracy, so that people understand what they’re voting for). Those publications are under no legal obligation to offer equal time or space to all candidates, and they often do not.
      2. That being said, I’m not even using this column to promote my party’s positions or my vision for Toronto Centre and Canada, even though I would be within my right to do so.
      3. The organizational structure of Torontoist is such that it would be nearly impossible to impose an overarching editorial opinion even if we wanted to. Many writers for this site have associations with (or preferences for) other political parties, and it shows.
      4. On the other hand (and just for some context) Peter Kent, a past and future Conservative candidate, is still in a senior position at Global (where he remained before and during the last election). Unlike myself, he does have the ability to change the editorial direction of his news outlet to suit his own political preferences, should he be so moved.

    Are you in fact endorsing Chris as the candidate by allowing him to write the articles?

    I think David and the Torontoist editorial policy have been quite clear on this point…

    If not, then why does he have to write them during the writ period and not after when the laws of advertising during an election are not as strict?

    …and I think I’ve been quite clear on this one. I’ll just suggest, however, that you want to be very careful of accusing people of breaking the law. If you don’t accept my explanations and interpretations of the Canada Elections Act, you can always contact Elections Canada yourself to get a ruling. If they come back with concerns, we should revisit. If not, then you need to be clear that your criticisms are simply your own opinion, not a matter of legality.

  • Damon Kemp

    Wow Chris, because you started talking about the behind the scenes of an election, I feel compelled to vote for you. Pfft!!!
    I have always thought of running for political office. Unfortunately, since I’m not a Canadian citizen I guess I’m SOL from running. I only have one issue and that is people who do not reside from that riding running for a position in that riding. How is a guy who resides in RIchmond Hill suppose to really know what’s going on with the people of Toronto Centre? As a voter that would turn me off to that candidate.
    Anyways I say keep it up. I’ve always wondered what it would be like.

  • David Topping

    I just thought I’d step in for what is, I hope, one last time in this comment thread.
    First, everything that Chris said above is correct.
    Second, I should clarify that when I said that we are “a blog with no inherent duty to the public,” I don’t mean that we don’t take what we do seriously, or that anything or everything (hate speech! false reporting! etc.!) goes––I am saying that certain duties are not inherent to what we do, compared to, say, what The Star does.
    I do appreciate all the feedback, though; whether I agree with it or not, it helps me develop my positions, refine them, and, in some cases, change them (I’ve been swayed in the past). A debate over ethics is a serious one and I’m not interested in dismissing anyone’s reasoned thoughts on it. Torontoist is growing, and we intend to grow up right.