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Incumbency for the Win

Why it's so difficult for challengers to unseat incumbent councillors, and what we can learn from those who have.

Photo by asianz, from the Torontoist Flickr pool.

If history is any guide, voter talk about being unhappy with city council’s performance will result in few, if any, significant changes after the municipal election on October 27. Council faced an anti-incumbent electorate in 2010, but only five of the 35 incumbents who ran were defeated. And that actually made it a bad election for incumbents—over the past three municipal elections, incumbent politicians have won 95 of 105 races (excluding two acclamations), meaning they have emerged victorious 90.4 per cent of the time.

So why is so difficult to defeat incumbent councillors, and what can we learn from those rare cases in which challengers have done just that?

Since 2003, only 10 candidates have defeated incumbent councillors:

  • Gay Cowbourne (2003, Ron Moeser)
  • Janet Davis (2003, Michael Tziretas)
  • Mike Del Grande (2003, Sherene Shaw)
  • Karen Stintz (2003, Anne Johnston)
  • Anthony Perruzza (2006, Peter Li Preti)
  • Michelle Berardinetti (2010, Adrian Heaps)
  • Vincent Crisanti (2010, Suzan Hall)
  • Sarah Doucette (2010, Bill Saundercook)
  • Mary-Margaret McMahon (2010, Sandra Bussin)
  • Jaye Robinson (2010, Cliff Jenkins)

Of these 10 challengers, six had previously run for elected office in the same area. Del Grande, for example, had been a local school trustee for more than a decade, and Perruzza had been an MPP. Crisanti managed to win on his fourth attempt for the seat, while Davis, Berardinetti, and Robinson overcame narrow previous losses to win on their second attempts.

These successful candidates had a few key factors working in their favour. They had established a level of name recognition through previous electoral efforts. They also had built-in donor networks, campaign infrastructure, and voter information thanks to their previous campaigns. Politicians and strategists frequently refer to candidates’ “lists,” shorthand for the voter database that each candidate develops over the years to identify potential voters and maximize get-out-the vote efforts on election day. This database can make or break an election effort regardless of the candidate’s other qualities.

And, of course, the reputation of the politician being challenged can affect the odds: Cowbourne, Stintz, Doucette, and McMahon each faced unpopular incumbents who were widely seen as entitled, disconnected from local concerns, or out of touch. Anti-incumbent voters in those wards settled on these candidates as the most promising alternatives, in part because they had been involved in these communities before they ran.

But these successful challengers are the exceptions. In the 105 races since 2003 that have featured incumbents, incumbents have averaged 59.1 per cent of the vote, while runners-up have averaged only 26.2 per cent. This 33-per-cent gap indicates that the average council race is nowhere near competitive. In two-thirds of races, the incumbent gets a majority despite fields that can have a good 10 candidates. Only 11 losing challengers managed to come within 5 per cent of the incumbents’ vote totals.

The reasons for the lack of competitiveness are varied but largely structural. It can be difficult for a candidate to establish name recognition, particularly when it comes to municipal politics, which voters don’t tend to follow very closely. Viable candidates sometimes shy away from running against incumbents with similar politics for fear of vote splitting or alienating allies (both issues that have arisen recently in terms of Jane Farrow’s bid for the Ward 30 council seat, currently held by the left-leaning Paula Fletcher). Incumbents also have the advantage of the ongoing publicity they can generate while doing their jobs. Most councillors send out regular newsletters touting accomplishments and giving updates on projects. Others hold contests and hand out prizes—Glenn de Baeremaeker (Ward 38, Scarborough Centre), for example, gives gardening and cutest dog awards. Every constituent tends to go home with some kind of prize, and while the practice is defended as a way of building community goodwill, it also builds a lot of goodwill for the politician at election time.

With their established name recognition and network of contacts, it’s also easier for incumbents to fundraise. New candidates often have to spend time identifying likely donors rather than simply returning to reliable sources—which means time away from canvassing and meeting community groups. And often donors with projects being undertaken in a ward will prefer to go with the existing councillor simply to ensure continuity. So while Toronto’s cap on donations and generous rebates can help level the playing field for candidates, there’s still a significant incumbent edge when it comes to fundraising.

Incumbents also enjoy other structural advantages. They have a job that allows them to campaign on a regular basis while collecting a salary, a luxury not enjoyed by many other candidates, who often have to negotiate time off work or use savings to subsidize a reduced workload as they campaign. For these reasons, and because of other organizational challenges, non-incumbents often delay their entry into the race, which only increases their disadvantage. In the 11 council races in 2010 for which information was available for the incumbent and the runner-up, the incumbent entered the race an average of 14 weeks earlier than the runner-up.

The difficulty of defeating incumbents and the lack of term limits mean that some councillors stay in their positions for decades. For instance, Maria Augimeri (Ward 9, York Centre), Frances Nunziata (Ward 11, York South-Weston), and Gloria Lindsay Luby (Ward 4, Etobicoke Centre) have represented their communities at the municipal level since the 1980s. Council has not approved the implementation of term limits when the issue has come up in the past, but the effort to implement ranked ballots to avoid vote splitting was gaining momentum before a snap election was called earlier this month.

Although challengers are currently running competitive campaigns in, for example, Wards 12, 17, 18, and 30, the 2014 election will doubtless see many incumbents returned to City Hall. If the past three elections are any guide, something like 35 incumbents will end up running for re-election in one of Toronto’s 44 wards—and only around three of them will face defeat.

The 28 who have already registered to run for re-election are:

Vincent Crisanti (Ward 1, Etobicoke North), Giorgio Mammoliti (Ward 7, York West), Maria Augimeri (Ward 9, York Centre), James Pasternak (Ward 10, York Centre), Frances Nunziata (Ward 11, York South-Weston), Frank Di Giorgio (Ward 12, York South-Weston), Sarah Doucette (Ward 13, Parkdale-High Park), Gord Perks (Ward 14, Parkdale-High Park), Josh Colle (Ward 15, Eglinton-Lawrence), Cesar Palacio (Ward 17, Davenport), Ana Bailao (Ward 18, Davenport), Joe Mihevc (Ward 21, St. Paul’s), Josh Matlow (Ward 22, St. Paul’s), John Filion (Ward 23, Willowdale), Jaye Robinson (Ward 25, Don Valley West), Kristyn Wong-Tam (Ward 27, Toronto Centre-Rosedale), Pam McConnell (Ward 28, Toronto Centre-Rosedale), Mary Fragedakis (Ward 29, Toronto-Danforth), Janet Davis (Ward 31, Beaches-East York), Mary Margaret-McMahon (Ward 32, Beaches-East York), Shelley Carroll (Ward 33, Don Valley East), Denzil Minnan-Wong (Ward 34, Don Valley East), Michelle Berardinetti (Ward 35, Scarborough Southwest), Gary Crawford (Ward 36, Scarborough Southwest), Michael Thompson (Ward 37, Scarborough Centre), Norm Kelly (Ward 40, Scarborough Agincourt), Chin Lee (Ward 41, Scarborough-Rouge River), and Paul Ainslie (Ward 43, Scarborough East).

Councillors Peter Milczyn (Ward 5, Etobicoke Lakeshore) and Raymond Cho (Ward 42, Scarborough-Rouge River) could run for council again depending on the outcomes of their Queen’s Park candidacies. Other councillors who haven’t signed yet up but are likely to do so include Gloria Lindsay Luby (Ward 4, Etobicoke Centre), Mark Grimes (Ward 6, Etobicoke-Lakeshore), Anthony Perruzza (Ward 8, York Centre), Mike Layton (Ward 19, Trinity-Spadina), David Shiner (Ward 24, Willowdale), John Parker (Ward 26, Don Valley West), Paula Fletcher (Ward 30, Toronto-Danforth), and Glenn de Baeremaeker (Ward 38, Scarborough Centre). Peter Leon (Ward 3, Etobicoke Centre) has not ruled out a council bid despite pledging during the council appointment process that he would not run. Ron Moeser (Ward 44, Scarborough East) has not indicated either way, but he has had numerous health problems over the past term.


  • scottld

    Term limits. 12 years is enough to leave your mark as a councillor.

    • Canadianskeezix

      Term limits are a knee-jerk reaction, a lazy “solution” and fundamentally anti-democratic. Unclear how democracy benefits when we tell people that they can’t always vote for whom they wish (especially when it is based on an arbitrary number). Term limits are basically a declaration that voters are too stupid to make wise choices and cannot themselves judge when a councillor’s time is up. We need to change the system, but that’s not a good change.

      • Better_Canada

        “Term limits are basically a declaration that voters are too stupid to
        make wise choices and cannot themselves judge when a councillor’s time
        is up.”

        Agreed, and that is EXACTLY why Term-Limits ARE needed in Toronto – not sure if all voters are “too stupid”, but I guarantee a majority are too lazy in their choices.

        Term Limits are needed to “rotate the crops” or “cull the herd” at the Rotunda. 12 yrs Council + optional 12 yrs Mayor = 24 Years that someone has to make a direct political impact on Council.

        • Sally Huffnagle

          Any electoral reform that is dependent on assuming voters are too stupid and lazy is, undoubtedly, itself a stupid and lazy reform. We should aim higher than telling people how to vote.

          • dsmithhfx

            But this isn’t telling people “how” to vote, it’s providing more/better representation than the usual suspects who, with rare exception, stage a pantomime of representation, designed solely to ensure they won’t be defeated in the next election.

          • Canadianskeezix

            dsmithhfx, it precisely would be telling people how to vote. You yourself say it would provide “more/better” representation – voters should get to decide who is better, not some arbitrary rule. And your subsequent comments apply to all politicians, so unclear how term limits would help even one iota.

          • dsmithhfx

            People should (ideally) be voting for policies, ideas and records, not personalities who carpet-bomb their wards with taxpayer-funded leaflets decade after decade.

            One way to get voters engaged is to present new faces for them to choose from, at reasonable intervals. I think 8 years is enough time for someone to leave their mark on the city and move on to other pursuits.

            What we don’t need are careerists who put their political survival above the good of all, and who learn how to game the system.

            I just have to ask why you think it good and necessary to cling to the demonstrable failure we are currently stuck with. “Voter choice” is a red herring.

          • Canadianskeezix

            “I think 8 years is enough”

            There’s the rub. This is a democracy. If you think 8 years is enough, vote accordingly. It’s unclear why you think you should be able to make that choice for others.

            “I just have to ask why you think it good and necessary to cling to the demonstrable failure we are currently stuck with.”

            In my posts here, I have said precisely the opposite. I want to see substantial reform. Term limits, however, would be a change for the worse.

          • dsmithhfx

            You misunderstand. I don’t think 8 years is enough because I say so. This is something that should be put to voters. It’s an idea that is past due.

            Don’t think of it as a ‘voter limit’, think of it as a ‘politician limit’.

          • Canadianskeezix

            If it restricts a voter from voting for someone they could otherwise have voted for, then it’s a voter limit.

            You misunderstand my point. I wasn’t presuming that you had authority to impose an 8 year limit. I’m saying that voters should be free to make their own decisions as to when “enough” has occurred. You don’t improve democracy by restricting it.

          • dsmithhfx

            Cult of personality? No thanks!

          • Canadianskeezix

            Nice non-sequitur.

          • dsmithhfx

            Nope, you think it crucial that voters get to “choose” the same smiling idiot decade after half-century because: cult of personality.

            But if an elected representative’s ideas and policies are so damned great, others will carry them on. The elected official’s personality is immaterial. If they want to come into office and carry on like ignoramuses, kooks and frat boys, as we have seen all too often, all the more reason for term limits.

            Ward residents need to learn that councillors’ hand-holding through city staff mediated transactions may improve their individual lot case-by-case (basically by queue-jumping and band-aids, rather than addressing the underlying issue), but it interferes with the real role of city government, and is not a valid reason to keep voting like pavlov’s dogs.

          • Canadianskeezix

            Again, you’re substituting your views for everyone else’s. It’s great if you think the issues, not the (wo)man, is key, but every voter is entitled to make that choice. For some, trust, reputation and past performance are key. Democracy is about letting voters make that choice.

          • dsmithhfx

            “reputation and past performance are key”

            Evidently not.

          • Canadianskeezix

            Evidently not to you. Again , fundamental principle of democracy is that you do not get to make that decision for everyone.

          • dsmithhfx

            “you do not get to make that decision for everyone”

            When I voice my opinion, I am not attempting to enforce it on anyone, nor do I suffer from delusions of grandeur as you apparently wish to insinuate. Your statement is not merely gratuitous, it is patently ridiculous.

            Democracy is a framework devised by people which evolves over time, not a law of nature.

            If you’re really such an uncompromising advocate for “democracy”, why not argue for direct democracy, where everyone votes on everything all the time without the intercession of phony ‘representatives’, or economic democracy, which seeks to prevent individuals from enriching themselves at everyone else’s expense?

            Anything less would be undemocratic, wouldn’t it?

            Oh wait, our current council system, which has served us so well, is your gold standard.

            Not matter what system we manage to come up with, each has its flaws. Some were built into the system to provide unfair advantage to entrenched interests. Hmmm?

          • Canadianskeezix

            Maybe we should have more direct democracy. But that’s not the point. Opposing new and unnecessary voter restrictions does not mean one needs to support referenda on all matters. Your straw man and ignoratio elenchi arguments aside, there are numerous other ways to eliminate unfair advantage in the system without resorting to measures that are fundamentally undemocratic,

          • tyrannosaurus_rek

            The pantomime would still play out with term limits, it is an inherent problem with representative democracy.

          • dsmithhfx

            Yes it could, but I think you’d see a whole lot less of it.

          • tyrannosaurus_rek

            Unless the term limit is one term, all incumbent candidates will engage in it whenever election time or a big wedge issue comes up. I think you’d also see more crossover pantomime by councillors looking to translate their municipal position into provincial or federal candidacy when they’ve reached whatever the limit is.

            If term limits were to be imposed I’d much rather they be in the form of consecutive term limits. Eight years on, four years off, that sort of thing.

          • Canadianskeezix

            Not sure how consecutive term limits would help. As you say, term limits will not correct behaviour. And such controls, whether they are consecutive or not, are still a significant limit on local democracy (with no proven upside).

          • tyrannosaurus_rek

            They won’t correct behaviour but they create windows of opportunity for worthy candidates who otherwise would be brushed away by the incumbent’s momentum, and force unthinking voters (“I recognize his name from the front page of the Sun, so he must be doing a good job, so I’ll vote for him”) to pay attention or stay home. Calcification is just as bad for democracy as anything else.

          • Canadianskeezix

            Voters should decide on whether something, or someone, is calcified, not some arbitrary threshold. And as tempting as it is, we don’t get to separate voters into “thinking” and “unthinking” camps and to restrict choice so as to respond to those we’ve deemed to be unthinking. When there are so many potential avenues of electoral reform, resorting to voting controls seems lazy and is just as likely to further depress voter engagement as it is to create “windows of opportunity”. Imposing significant restrictions on voter choice should require much more than speculation as on electoral momentum.

          • tyrannosaurus_rek

            All the arbitrary limits and thresholds already imposed are based on speculation and trial-and-error with the hope it all works out for the best. If discouraging voters who only want to vote for a familiar name is the price we pay for the chance at fresh blood, a more engaged electorate, or other good things, so be it.

            There will always be people who don’t care about politics or who will vote for their own ridiculous, detrimental, malformed reasons, but we shouldn’t build our democracy around catering to them. Better term limits than mandatory voting.

          • Canadianskeezix

            You’re inappropriately comparing some pretty minor restrictions (can’t elect children to office, etc.) to a pretty significant one. And this isn’t about voters wanting to only vote for a familiar face – this is about voters in a democracy getting to vote for whom they wish to vote for. How do you get to determine what the fair “price” is for others? That’s what terms limits are – substituting someone else’s judgment for that of the voter. There are so many potential avenues of electoral reform, unclear how voter controls, which are on their face anti-democratic, should even be on a short list. Term limits necessarily assume, by their very nature, that voters who want to vote for an incumbent are wrong or stupid, or both. That’s not democratic, and it certainly isn’t “building democracy”. It is, in fact, limiting choice for ridiculous, detrimental and malformed reasons – namely that voters can’t be trusted. And if that’s the case, why have municipal elections at all?

            Your sentence “better term limits than mandatory voting” is just baffling. It’s hardly an endorsement of term limits to compare it something you think is worse. Better term limits than forcing voters to each pay $10000 to vote – also true.

          • tyrannosaurus_rek

            Term limits necessarily assume, by their very nature, that there will be incumbents who will hold that office for a very long time if they’re allowed. There’s a reason more countries than not – by a huge margin – have term limits of some sort for the highest office(s). It’s to stop a politician from becoming the default, the president for life, a monopoly on authority.

            Yes it means you can’t vote for the same person decade after decade, but more importantly it guarantees you can’t be stuck with the same politician forever, that someone else will get a chance to hold that office sometime soon, and that if you really, genuinely supported the incumbent you’ll find a comparable new candidate to support rather than sleepwalk through the next election. The few genuinely great incumbents with broad appeal who would be barred, and the sleepwalkers who would fail to engage once their familiar preference is removed, are a small price to pay for insuring fresh blood, an involved electorate, and a limit to how long a lifer can game the system to stay in power.

            You’ve yet to present a convincing argument that term limits of some sort are any more “significant” an imposition on democracy than any other arbitrary variable we accept.

          • Canadianskeezix

            Not sure where you get your data, but lots of countries, more than not, also have serious to significant democratic deficits. And there is a big difference between a Latin American president for life and Toronto City Council. If you are looking to the former as a good precedent to improve local democracy, I think you are barking up the wrong tree.

            You and your compatriot dsmithhfx seem to missing the essential point. You don’t enhance democracy by restricting it. The fact that you refer to voters who might want to re-elect an effective incumbent as sleepwalkers suggests that you’ve wholly adopted dsmithhfx’s reasoning, which is that voters are stupid. There are so many potential avenues to increase voter choice and participation, so one would have to think voters are stupid to latch onto the one (albeit technically not a reform) that presupposes that they are sleepwalkers.

            As for your last comment, you’re not seriously still suggesting that the existing restrictions, like not being able to elect a child, are even remotely comparable to the voter restrictionss that you are advocating? Seriously?

          • tyrannosaurus_rek

            Many countries with strong traditions of democracy have term limits too, so let’s not pretend it only exists because some parts of the world can’t figure out how to get rid of dictators; it wouldn’t make us look like a corrupt banana republic if we adopted the idea.

            Of course there are people who vote for the incumbent primarily because it’s a familiar name, but I certainly didn’t say everyone who votes for the incumbent is a sleepwalker. You don’t enhance democracy by leaving loopholes intact or gaps unfilled, by letting certain voter behaviours lower the bar for candidates, letting incumbents coast instead of earning their win afresh, or letting an intransigent and stagnant administration’s longevity discourage voters from participating. Some restrictions can enhance.

            My last comment was not about restrictions but about the arbitrary nature of our democracy. Why a four year term instead of two or five? Why 44 wards and councillors instead of 60 or 92? Why not two councillors per ward? Why shouldn’t the winner need more than 50% support? These are all “arbitrary rules” and “arbitrary thresholds”, despite your earlier claims that such things have no place in the democratic process.

      • tyrannosaurus_rek

        There are other limits on who you can vote for because there are rules determining who qualifies as a candidate and who can hold office. I agree we need the electorate more aware and involved, but changes at the ballot box are far too late in the process.

        • Canadianskeezix

          The only limits are effectively that you are at least 18 years old, a Canadian citizen, not incarcerated, and not a judge/MP/MPP/municipal employee. Even some of those restrictions have been challenged in the past few years. In any event, they are a far cry from telling the residents of a ward that they can no longer vote for the person they elected in the last election. Like his/her work? Too bad.

          I never said electoral reform would only be at the ballot box (quite the opposite, actually). But the whole point of the ranked ballot initiative has been to positively influence *both* the front end and final stage of the process. Combined with other reforms, unclear how imposing voter controls helps anyone.

        • Sally Huffnagle

          The fact that we can’t elect a teenager is apples and oranges compared to term limits. And I have always believed that electoral reform would actually encourage more candidates from the start — all too often great potential local candidates are turned off by a system where they can be defeated by someone receiving far less than 50% of the vote and not even being the second or third choice of most voters. Last election in the Beach, the only way Bussin was defeated was to have all the serious candidates (except one) withdraw from the race to throw their support behind McMahon. Otherwise, Bussin could have carried the day, notwithstanding a lot of dissatisfaction among ward residents. Term limits would have simply silenced debate and effectively disenfranchised the 26% of the electorate that still chose to vote for her. Ranked ballots, however, would have allowed all those candidates to remain the race, encouraging a much more interesting and compelling campaign, and energizing voters who backed those other candidates. A wider debate and more choice are what we should aim for. Term limits give us neither, and actually run counter to those objectives.

          • tyrannosaurus_rek

            Ranked ballot can only reach so far to elevate a random candidate from also-ran to dark horse. At some point the polls and media coverage will eliminate candidates just as they do now. I’m not convinced getting people to sign up as candidates or getting supporters to throw-in with candidates is a significant problem. There are 54 candidates for mayor of Toronto at the moment even with our crappy FPTP system. Voter turn-out is a big problem. Engagement and awareness two years before the election is a problem. Media/debate hosts arbitrarily excluding candidates is a problem.

          • Canadianskeezix

            Agreed that those are all problems. Ranked ballots are not the only reform necessary (as I have now said repeatedly). Voter turn-out (turn-off) is a massive issue with no easy solutions (interesting article in yesterday’s Star about voter engagement is typically higher in wealthier neighbourhoods, but for a variety of reasons is higher in Thorncliffe Park). There are a variety of approaches we should be adopting. Path forward will undoubtedly be a multi-approach solution.

          • Canadianskeezix

            Just to add, I am not sure that the fact we have 54 candidates for mayor is any indication that the current system is not discouraging good candidates. Flies being attracted to flame is not the same as encouraging a field of good candidates. Regardless of whatever form electoral reform takes, there will never be a substitute for working in the community, getting to know the people and issues, building one’s profile, and working one’s way up the electoral ladder. Right now it’s these people who are often discouraged from running, or who need to drop out if they want to see change.

            Having said that, some of those 54 candidates (the ones most of us have never heard of) are serious, committed people with interesting ideas – for most of them, though, it’s unfortunate that they chose to jump into municipal politics by running for the top job. A lot of the wards are gasping to have a range of decent candidates, and it would be great if we had a system where these people felt like they could make an impact at election time.

      • scottld

        “Term limits are basically a declaration that voters are too stupid to make wise choices and cannot themselves judge when a councillor’s time is up.” Yes that is exactly what I am saying and we have more than enough lifers to prove it and we suffer from a council that is decades behind what other cities are doing.

        I prefer Dave Meslin/Rabbits solutions but so far that same stupid electorate doesnt seem to understand how this would help democracy so until then (and that could be next election) term limits are the only way to create turnover and get rid of people being on council for 30 plus years.

        Having been involved in politics for a long time I would also offer that there is a % of the population who dont care and never will and no solution is going to get them interested or engaged. I also think that we may find that grassroots engagement like Park People or Rabbit may eventually supersede council.

        Notice that I did not attribute any descriptors to your ideas such as lazy and knee jerk? You are welcome.

        • Canadianskeezix

          No, but you were super condescending.

          Term limits are not the only way to create turnover. Giving voters real choice would create turnover, without requiring voter controls like term limits.

    • dsmithhfx

      No, I think 8 years are more than enough. Professional politicians are the problem.

  • Canadianskeezix

    IIRC, 2010 was the first municipal election where incumbents could not use excess contributions from past elections in subsequent elections. In the past, this was a huge advantage to incumbents because they often started election campaign with large stockpiles of cash. The prohibition of the practice (all excess contributions now revert to the municipality, I believe) will hopefully continue to positively impact local democracy.

    “Incumbents also have the advantage of the ongoing publicity they can generate while doing their jobs”

    No kidding. We need to stop letting Councillors from using city events as promotional tools (why, for example, were there signs all through my ward earlier this year promoting “Councillor Fletcher’s Environment Day” – did she pay for this City event out of her own pocket?). Under current rules, Councillors can use tax dollars for advertising, newsletters, flyers, community expenses and community events until August 1 of an election year (i.e. the first seven months of the 10 month campaign period) — we need to stop Councillors from using public funds to send out promotional householders during campaign years. We also need a third party review of some of the more self-serving rules Council has enacted controlling municipal elections (i.e. the restriction on lawn signs for most of the campaign period is blatantly designed to benefit incumbents).

    • tyrannosaurus_rek

      Until there are blanket campaign spending limits (there aren’t), all that bylaw will achieve is encouraging candidates to spend everything they have on their campaigns and maybe get creative with their accounting by moving things that have a spending cap to categories that do not.

      • Canadianskeezix

        What by-law?

        And I think you missed the point of my post. It isn’t so much about spending limits, but rather than incumbents were amassing massive warchests for future elections that were discouraging other potential candidates from even signing up. An incumbent could antagonize key fundraisers and contributors, and yet not take any meaningful financial hit. *Much better* they be forced to spend it during the election in which it was raised and try to move it to activities not covered by spending limits (the effectiveness of which is highly debatable).

        • tyrannosaurus_rek

          I assumed “where incumbents could not use excess contributions from past elections in subsequent elections” took the form of a new bylaw, but that’s beside the point.

          An incumbent will always have an advantage at fund raising over a newcomer.

          • Canadianskeezix

            Sorry. Wasn’t sure what you were referring to. The Province made the change across Ontario, so it wasn’t a by-law.

            Not sure that it is always true that an incumbent will always have an advantage at fund raising over a newcomer. Even if it is true most of the time, though, that’s not the point. The point is that incumbents literally did not have to raise a cent to spend as much $ as possible to win an election. This wasn’t a case of incumbents outfundraising the competition, but rather not even having to jump through that hoop. While potential competitors were faced with the daunting task of cobbling together a budget, incumbents had the huge advantage of devoting all of their time to campaigning (versus fundraising) and not having to hit up potential supporters for money. Incumbents who had burned bridges in the community, so to speak, could still campaign with as much $ as when their support was higher. The province actually stepped in because it was repeatedly identified as the one massive benefit which gave incumbents and unfair advantage over other candidates (even compared to all the other advantages).

  • Jeriko Krasavić

    Term limits is WRONG. Sandra Bussin met her term limit by the people kicking her out.

    The people should be setting limits, not legislation.

    Why would the incumbent bother to do anything during the last 6-12 months if they won’t get re-elected?

    • scottld

      History shows that those not running again tend to be more politically courageous.

      • Canadianskeezix

        That hasn’t necessarily been the case for Toronto City Council.

  • andrew97

    Not saying this is a good idea, but you know what also comes with “built-in donor networks, campaign infrastructure, and voter information”? Political parties.

    • Christopher Paul Dart

      Why is that not a good idea? Why does a system that, admittedly needs something like ranked ballot reform, but is otherwise solid, for every other level of government bad for the city?

      • andrew97

        I’m not saying it’s a bad idea either. Vancouver and Montreal have party politics and they haven’t imploded yet.

        • Canadianskeezix

          I’m not sure Montreal is a great model of municipal governance. In Montreal, what’s coming out of the Charbonneau Commission in terms of the role the local party system played in the corruption scandal is eye-opening. Vancouver is a more interesting comparison, although there has been debate over the years to what degree the party system there works because Councillors are elected at large.

          • andrew97

            Good points. I don’t know enough about it to have a serious opinion either way.

      • tyrannosaurus_rek

        You’re begging the question. Party-based politics impose all sorts of restrictions, both formal and conventional, on democracy, artificially limiting our choices on election day. We don’t even get to vote for prime minister directly.

  • Matt Patterson

    Before everyone begins freaking out over the lack of democracy in our city, perhaps it’s best to reflect on the fact that the average Toronto city councilor has an approval rating of 74% (see ). Could it be that incumbents are hard to unseat because they’re popular?

    • dsmithhfx

      It seems odd that they can make vile and demented public acts and statements with impunity. I think that tells us “the public” is not paying attention.

      • Matt Patterson

        Which “they” are you talking about? There are 44 councilors.

        • dsmithhfx

          Any they. “Can” means they are able to, not they have or will. I think you’ll find the majority of voters are completely uninformed and disinterested in politics, and they vote for names they recognize, and generally that means incumbents.

          Then they “approve” of them when asked in some nebulous “survey”, without having the slightest clue what they’ve done or failed to do, provided their taxes didn’t go up more than some token amount well below the rate of inflation, or they weren’t horribly inconvenienced by some labor disruption.

          • Matt Patterson

            I don’t think you can jump to the conclusion that a high approval rating necessarily reflects ignorance rather than satisfaction.

          • dsmithhfx

            Oh yes I can.

          • TheSotSays

            Nobody as well informed and on top of things as you though, is there Fecky?

  • jms

    Setting a term limit is not uncommon practice. New ideas, New blood and allows for a fair playing field. I’m not happy to read that our tax dollars are funding councillors time to run while someone new is using personal time. Councillors should be using their vacation time or days without pay to run like everyone else.