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Local and Urban Politics

E01 - Municipal Electoral Participation

Date: Jun 4 | Time: 08:45am to 10:15am | Location: SWING 405

Chair/Président/Présidente : Martin Horak (University of Western Ontario)

Discussant/Commentateur/Commentatrice : Jack Lucas (University of Calgary)

Incumbency and Competitiveness in City Council Elections: How Accurate Are Voter Perceptions?: Cameron Anderson (Western University), Michael McGregor (Ryerson University), Scott Pruysers (Ryerson University)
Abstract: Incumbent city councillors have an almost insurmountable advantage in Canadian municipal elections. In this paper, we consider why such a sizable advantage exists. In particular, we ask how well voters are able to identify the most likely challenger to an incumbent councillor. When provided with lengthy lists of candidates, are electors able to correctly identify the most competitive candidates in ward races? What factors are associated with the ability to do so (e.g., knowledge, campaign attention, etc.)? Using survey data from the Canadian Municipal Election Study, we consider the cases of the 2018 elections in Toronto and Mississauga (in 2014, 97.8% of incumbents who ran for reelection in these cities were victorious). Survey respondents were asked to identify the two most competitive candidates in their local ward races, and we determine the accuracy of responses by comparing answers to actual election outcomes. We examine those wards with an incumbent councillor, those without one, but also those with two (given the redistricting that occurred in Toronto immediately prior to the 2018 election, there are several wards of this type). The findings of this paper will speak to the paramountcy of name recognition in Canadian municipal politics and shed light on how voters navigate the nonpartisan low information environments of these elections.


Information and Voter Turnout at the Municipal Level: How Do They Relate?: Sandra Breux (Institut national de la recherche scientifique-UCS), Jérôme Couture (Université Laval), François Gélineau (Université Laval)
Abstract: At the municipal level, voter turnout is generally much lower than at other levels of government. This weak mobilization is often attributed to a weaker circulation and lower quality of political information. However, to our knowledge this oft-postulated assessment has never been empirically verified. The purpose of this article is to address this gap and to measure the impact which information has on municipal electoral political participation. Starting with a survey of 3,200 people in Quebec conducted in the fall of 2017, we show that political information influences individual electoral participation. More specifically, the feeling of being sufficiently informed and knowledge about the program of the candidate for mayor as well as of the candidate for the position of advisor are all variables that influence the decision to go to the polls.


Technological Representation: Exploring E-Voting as a Factor in Increasing Diversity on Municipal Councils: Lori Turnbull (Dalhousie University), Tari Ajadi (Dalhousie University)
Abstract: In October of 2018, many Ontario municipalities took steps toward innovation in their electoral processes. A substantial number (194 out of 444) allowed for remote voting and, for most of them (80%), electronic voting was the only mechanism available. E-voting makes a lot of sense. It’s cost effective, easy to implement, and widely accessible. It enhances accessibility for voters who are traveling, living in remote communities, or living with physical disabilities. That said, the risks involved with e-voting are serious: merely the potential of hacking and software glitches can undermine public confidence in the system and the results it produces. In a democracy like Canada’s, public trust in the integrity of the electoral process is non-negotiable. Though e-voting is often championed as a mechanism for enhancing diversity and inclusion in democratic processes, we know that the increased use of e-voting in Ontario municipal elections did not yield diverse memberships among city councils. Our paper seeks to answer the general question: why not? We know that incumbency and low voter turnout are important explanatory factors. Other potentially relevant issues include the lack of political parties in municipal contests and the low profile of many candidates. Our paper seeks to establish whether e-voting could be a factor in facilitating more diverse elected representation and, if so, under what circumstances? Other research questions include: What democratic reforms would best facilitate municipal representation to reflect the demographic realities of Canada’s largest cities? What are the impediments to greater ethnocultural representation in Canadian municipal councils?


The New Urbanism: Transformation of Vancouver Municipal Politics in the 2018 Election: Stewart Prest (Simon Fraser University), Ian Bushfield (The Cambie Report)
Abstract: The 2018 BC municipal election cycle was remarkable in numerous respects. Among the most notable developments, we argue, was the rise of a new urbanist-conservationist axis along which parties and candidates sorted themselves. Voters increasingly considered their vote through the lens of urban change, with two clear poles emerging. Near one poll were parties in favour a range of policies designed to increase urban density, aggressively improve housing affordability, and facilitate multi-modal transportation including bike lanes and transit infrastructure. At the other end of the spectrum lay parties and candidates generally cautious about those same issues, favouring limited new development, and much more cautious about investment in multi-modal transit approaches. Crucially, these issues interact with, but are not reducible to the more traditional left-right political axis. While such debates have always been a part of municipal politics in Vancouver and elsewhere, their explicit incorporation as a core organizing principle of campaigns represents a break with past political practice. Causes for this break are varied, but include both endogenous factors such as the rapid increase in housing costs, and exogenous ones including the lower barrier to competitive entry in the election resulting from changes to campaign financing rules. Though clearest in the City of Vancouver races, a similar phenomenon occurred across the lower mainland. In this paper we trace the emergence of this new dimension of Vancouver-area politics through semi-structured interviews with current officials, past candidates, and other experts. We supplement these interviews with archival and polling data.