City File: Time to Vote

Everything you need to know about the upcoming municipal election.

By Ryan McGreal

Posted July 01, 2018 in Essays (Last Updated 00, 0000)

After a whirlwind campaign, the provincial election is finally over. Meanwhile, the municipal election also taking place in Ontario this year will just be heating up. On October 22, 2018, Hamilton voters will have the opportunity to elect a mayor and fifteen ward councillors, plus school board trustees depending on which board you support: eleven English public trustees, nine English Catholic trustees, one French public trustee, or one French Catholic trustee.

This election comes with important changes that the Ontario government implemented through recent revisions to the Municipal Elections Act. For candidates, the limit for personal campaign contributions has been raised from $750 to $1,200. At the same time, corporate and union donations are no longer allowed. Citizens, corporations and unions are still allowed to buy third-party advertising that supports or opposes a candidate or ballot question, but they need to register with the City Clerk and follow the same financial and reporting rules as candidates, and their advertising needs to be clearly identified as such.

And for candidates who like to throw huge "appreciation parties" with the surplus contributions they mopped up, there are strict new limits on how much they can spend this way.

Municipalities now have the option to vote using a ranked ballot rather than the current first-past-the-post system. Under a ranked ballot, voters rank the candidates by preference. If no candidate receives a majority among voters' first choice, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and the second choice of those voters is distributed to the remaining candidates. This process continues through subsequent rounds until a candidate emerges with a majority.

This system is widely regarded as more democratic than first-past-the-post, where a candidate can win despite receiving much fewer than half the total votes cast. Unfortunately, the Province made ranked balloting optional and allowed City Councils to decide whether to adopt it. Not surprisingly, the people who won under the current system are reluctant to change it. So far, only London has decided to switch.

Another big change, this one specific to Hamilton, is the ward boundary restructuring that the Ontario Municipal Board imposed after City Councillors rejected the expert consultants they hired and tried to write their own boundaries (see City File, HM Holiday 2017). Council sought to retain the wildly unbalance ward populations that were put in place during amalgamation, but spirited appeals by concerned citizens Mark Richardson and Rob Dobrucki, plus expert testimony by Rachel Barnett and Karen Bird of McMaster University convinced the OMB that Council's ward map was so skewed that it violated residents Charter right to fair representation.

Instead, the OMB imposed one of the redistricting options that Council had rejected earlier. Among several changes, the current Ward 14 (rural Flamborough) is eliminated, a new Ward 14 is established on the west mountain, and the boundaries of the other three mountain wards are shifted to balance their populations. This might shake up incumbency in some mountain and suburban wards, especially Ward 8.

It's not yet clear what the big policy issues will be, but we can safely expect Hamilton's long-suffering Light Rail Transit (LRT) file to take its usual beating. Council developed the plan over several years and submitted it in 2013, the Province confirmed $1 billion in funding in 2015, and Metrolinx has already spent over $100 million implementing it, so it should be a non-issue.

But then Progressive Conservative leader Doug Ford poked the hornet’s nest by claiming that if his party forms the next Provincial government, Hamilton would be allowed to keep the $1 billion for other projects. Now that the PC Party has won a majority, LRT could become a big municipal issue again, after already surviving the 2010 and 2014 municipal elections. (Yes, it has been that long.) But before anyone decides the project is DOA, let me remind readers that four out of the five MPPs Hamilton just sent to Queen's Park are staunchly pro-LRT.

Ultimately, in local politics we get what we vote for. Or more precisely, we get what we don't bother to vote for. Municipal government arguably has the biggest direct impact on our day-to-day lives, but municipal elections have the lowest voter turnout. In 2014, only 34 percent of eligible voters exercised their franchise, down from 40 percent in 2010. We often demand more accountability of our City Councillors, but to whom? Low turnout just makes it easier for them to pander to the few constituencies that actually vote in significant numbers.

So start paying attention to the issues and plan to vote! You are eligible to vote if you are a Canadian citizen aged 18 or older and live in Hamilton (resident-elector), own or rent property in Hamilton (non-resident elector), or have a spouse who owns or rents property in Hamilton. Students living in Hamilton while attending college or university are also allowed to vote.

Find out whether you are on the municipal voting list by visiting or calling 1-866-296-6722 or TTY 1-877-889-6722. This also allows you to get your name on the voting list if it’s missing, and to specify which school board you support. The voting list is finalized on September 1 and you will need to apply to the City Clerk for any changes after that date.

For anyone planning to run as a candidate, nominations opened on May 1 and will close on Friday, July 27 at 2:00 PM. When you file your nomination, you must include at least 25 endorsement signatures from registered voters. (It's best to get more signatures than you need in case some are not on the voter list.)

First published in Hamilton Magazine, summer 2018 issue.