2 weeks before the filing deadline, some municipal races in Waterloo Region have few or no candidates

There are less than two weeks left before the deadline for submitting applications for those wishing to run for the municipal and school elections in October.

With August 19 at 2 p.m. fast approaching, there are races in Waterloo and Guelph Region that have one – if any – contestants starting Friday at noon.

There is one candidate in four local mayoral races: Waterloo, North Dumfries, Wellesley and Guelph.

In the townships, there are councilor races where no one has yet registered to run.

It’s “a little worrying,” says Tim Mau, an associate professor of political science at the University of Guelph.

But, he adds, it can also be strategic.

“Sometimes people wait until the end. Starters often like to hang in there and make a final decision late in the game,” Mau told CBC News.

Tim Mau is an associate professor of political science at the University of Guelph. (University of Guelph)

“But if there’s absolutely no candidate in a particular ward vying for the next election, that’s really concerning.”

Less interest in municipal elections

Mau says municipal elections traditionally don’t capture people the way provincial or federal elections would and there’s often a lower turnout.

For example, voter turnout in the June provincial election in the five Waterloo Region ridings ranged from 42% to 49%.

In the 2018 municipal election, the highest turnout was recorded in Waterloo at 34%, but this is down slightly from 2014, when 36% of eligible voters cast their ballots.

Cambridge was the region’s second highest voter turnout in 2018 at 33%, up from 30% in 2014.

Guelph’s voter turnout saw a dip in 2018 when 37% of eligible voters turned out to vote, down from 45% in 2014. The difference may be that in 2014 online voting was used, but that’s not was not the case in 2018.

“We have this curious situation where, at the local level, the issues that your local councilor is dealing with have the most direct and immediate impact on your daily life and the quality of life you have within your community. And yet so few people bother to show up and vote after the election,” Mau said.

A “really rewarding” job

Local politics is very important to Jamie McGarvey, Mayor of Parry Sound and President of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario.

McGarvey served as a councilor for 29 years before being elected mayor in 2010. He is seeking re-election this fall, and so far is running unopposed.

He says local politics is important because you can “do something good” and impact people in their community.

Portrait of a man in a suit.
Jamie McGarvey is Mayor of Parry Sound, Ontario and President of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario. (Parry Sound/parrysound.ca)

“There’s a lot more work than people realize, but I find it really rewarding,” McGarvey said. “You can see the good you are able to do in the community and help people.”

His advice to people considering running is to make a decision quickly, as candidates must submit 25 signatures with their documents.

“You better start taking care of your friends, family, neighbors and that kind of stuff so you can get your papers in,” he said.

“Get engaged, sign up and try your luck,” he added.

“When I first ran, I tried. I was lucky enough to be on a board,” he said. “Try your luck…sometimes situations you have to navigate, when you come out the other side, you realize how rewarding that really was.

Challenge to get people excited about issues

Mau ran for office in Guelph in 1991 while working on his undergraduate degree at university and says he was “flabbergasted” that many people didn’t even realize there was a election.

“People have completely disconnected from what’s happening locally in terms of politics, which is really discouraging,” he said.

Mau says that for some people, municipal elections may miss the big picture promises people see at the federal and provincial levels.

“I think the challenge is trying to get people interested in things like waste removal, waterworks, sewage treatment, parks and recreation,” he said.

“These are some of the bread-and-butter services that are provided to municipal residents, but they certainly don’t have the same appeal as things like national unity, health care and education.”

If people are not happy with the speed of cars on their road or the implementation of property taxes or regulations that they do not agree with, the municipal government will take care of them. , noted Mau.

“There is no level of government at which you have a greater opportunity to influence change,” he said.

Melissa C. Keyes