A closer look at the Ward 7 by-election in Hamilton

Former CHCH TV reporter Donna Skelly was elected Monday with 1,967 votes, a 92 vote lead over John-Paul Danko in the Ward 7 by-election in Hamilton, Ontario. John-Paul Danko wrote an excellent article earlier today that takes you inside his campaign. You can read it here. My analysis is on the general trends, what this result means for the respective political party machines in Hamilton, and some final thoughts on the rules around municipal elections.

Disclosure: I was part of the John-Paul Danko campaign.

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More people voted in advance and institutional polls than in 2014.

Advance poll turnout increased from 1,520 in 2014 to 1,649 in 2016. The winner here was Uzma Qureshi, who had a slight lead over Donna Skelly and John-Paul Danko. Qureshi was one of two New Democratic Party (NDP) backed candidates in this by-election, the other was Geraldine McMullen.

At the Village of Wentworth Heights, a long-term care facility for seniors, there were 38 votes cast. Votes were distributed fairly evenly. Shaun Burt ultimately won this poll. The Wellington, a retirement and long-term care facility, saw Donna Skelly walk away with 50% of the 40 votes cast. There was another institutional poll scheduled for Grace Villa, but it was cancelled due to a disease outbreak. I wonder what the result would have been there.

What impact will this election have on provincial and federal politics?

Municipal politics has often been viewed by aspiring politicians as a stepping-stone to higher levels of political office, whether provincially or federally. This is something that the NDP have perfected. A number of local politicians have leveraged their support into provincial and federal NDP nominations in recent years:

All three mentioned above played a role in Uzma Qureshi’s campaign. At the door, many NDP supporters acknowledge having received robocalls from MP Scott Duvall urging them to vote for Uzma Qureshi. As reported by The Hamilton Spectator, a last-ditch effort by MP Duvall and MPP Taylor tried to convert NDP support into votes for their preferred candidate at the expense of fellow NDP-er Geraldine McMullen. After seeing their preferred candidate lose Ward 7 and the narrow margin of victory in the last federal election, you have to wonder what’s next for the NDP?

Narrowly losing to MP Duvall last October was Shaun Burt, the Liberal Party candidate for Hamilton Mountain. It’s easy to see why he registered for the Ward 7 by-election. After getting 16,933 votes only a few months ago, how hard could it be to get the 2,000 votes likely needed to win this time around? One of the challenges he faced was the realization that political party votes don’t neatly translate into votes for City Council. Another challenge was a sub-par performance at an all-candidates event that was covered by Joey Coleman. Despite all of this, he still managed a respectable 4th place finish. Does he get another shot at being the Liberal candidate, or do they look elsewhere?

Hamilton Mountain should be an interesting riding to watch provincially and federally over the next few years.

Do municipal election rules need to be changed?

Candidate registration

Ward 7’s by-election had 22 candidates—the most in any election since amalgamation. It produced a diverse field of candidates, but it also created complications. Election debates were virtually impossible to organize, residents had candidate fatigue by the end of the election, and campaign materials arrived in their mailboxes on a daily basis.

Currently, you only have to pay a $100 filing fee to register as a nominee. One option would be to raise this fee, but that would be an unnecessary barrier to entry. A more equitable solution would be to require a list of 100 signatures from eligible voters along with the $100 filing fee.

Campaign length

Campaign length became another issue in this by-election. Candidates were able to register from December 10, 2015 to February 5, 2016. Election signs were able to go up February 22, 2016. And election day was March 21, 2016.

The perceived front-runners outside of Doug Farraway and Geraldine McMullen all registered towards the end of the deadline. This isn’t all that surprising, as the widely held belief is that you only really need to campaign about a month before the election if you’ve got the resources.

Political signage

Not being able to put up election signs until much later on in a campaign is also something that needs to be re-evaluated. If you’ve registered early and have identified a supporter that wants a lawn sign, why shouldn’t you be able to put one up? The delay favours candidates that register later and that have the resources to put up several hundred signs in a single day.

The delay in putting up election signs also keeps people uninformed of the election for a majority of the election period. If you care about voter turnout, this is probably the most obvious thing that needs to be changed.

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One thing’s for certain, Ward 7’s by-election will change the dynamics at City Hall and force the political parties to re-evaluate where they stand in Hamilton Mountain. Will it change how involved they are in the next municipal election? Also, what will this result mean for the ward boundary review currently taking place? We’ll soon find out.

 

 

 

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