EDITOR - TODD LIHOU: It's time to revamp the nomination process for municipal elections

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When I was in Grade 5 a collection of us got together and decided it would be a good idea to organize an election for class president – probably because the evening before we had seen an episode of the Cosby Show or Diff'rent Strokes that dealt with similar subject matter.

After the morning recess it was all but assured (as far as students were concerned) we would be holding an election, and by the time the bell rang for classes to resume in the afternoon, I was convinced I had the support necessary to make a run for president.

I had campaigned for support and curried favours from just about everyone in Andy Petepiece's class – so victory was mine.

But Petepiece had other plans.

"Sir, can we elect a class president?"

"No."

And thus ended my fledgling political career before it even got started.

It taught me a backhanded lesson about politics that still kind of resonates today: do your homework, and find out which way the wind is blowing before getting excited about something – even an election campaign.

I bring this up because it's time to consider changing the process in which municipal candidates find themselves running for office and turn the nomination process into something that actually resembles its namesake.

The way it works now is a candidate shows up at city hall, plunks down their money ($200 for mayor, $100 for councillors) and signs on the bottom – whamo, they're deemed a candidate.

Of course the city clerk has to sign off on the nomination and make it legal, but that's basically a rubber stamp affair.

The problem I have with the process is that it's not really a nomination, because in reality a candidate is nominating themselves. There's no oversight, even early in the process, to ensure the electorate is getting good bang for their voting buck.

It seems clear to me that even before their name appears on the ballot candidates should be campaigning for support.

Which is why I think candidates should be mandated to collect 25 or even 30 signatures from residents within the riding before they can file their nomination papers.

That's not a huge number, when you consider it takes thousands of votes (4,000 is typically the threshold to squeak into the final council position) to actually win a seat at the table.

But it serves as an early indication as to how successful your campaign will ultimately be, because if you can’t get 30 people to sign your papers in the early going, how do you expect to convince another 4,000 you're worthy of the job?

I'm not exactly re-inventing the wheel here. If you want to run as a candidate in a federal election you have to get a whopping 100 signatures (50 if you're in a remote district) that must be duly witnessed before your name can appear on a ballot.

City hall requires signatures on a petition when it considers a complaint from residents on anything from sidewalk repairs to a new skateboard park.

So why are we letting anybody with $200 burning a hole in their pocket and the ability to sign their name suddenly become a candidate?

I'm as democratic as the next guy, and this missive is not an attempt to short-circuit an election process that has brought us a slew of competent (and some not-so competent) leaders over the years.

But changing the nomination process can serve to protect us from wasting time on people who have no business on the list, and others who need to be protected from themselves.

Years ago the Standard-Freeholder was approached with concerns from family members when a candidate for political office was spouting off about the problems at city hall.

The candidate's arguments weren't being questioned, but the family had legitimate worries about the candidate's state of mind.

The candidate ultimately lost, but I would argue they probably shouldn't have been on the ballot in the first place.

Municipal elections in Ontario are governed by Queen's Park in Toronto, by way of the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, as well as the Municipal Elections Act.

It would take a provincial-level decision to effect change to the nomination process in Ontario municipalities.

But it should still happen.

During the 2010 municipal elections in Ontario more than 8,000 candidates ran for positions on councils and school boards.

In 2014, Ontarians will elect approximately 2,800 council members and 700 school board trustees across the province.

They should all be seeking support to govern our communities before their name even appears on the ballot.

Organizations: Standard-Freeholder, Queen's, Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing

Geographic location: Ontario, Toronto

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