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.
Right 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?