February 1st, 2024 | RYAN TYLER

We Don't Need Municipal Elections

Canadian hamlets, towns, villages and cities are cesspools of corruption and bad policy.
The mayor of Talkeetna, Alaska was a cat named Stubbs. In 2017, a dog named Finn ran for mayor of St. John's, Newfoundland. Until 1998, a teenager was mayor of New Norway, Alberta. In most municipal elections across the world, turnout and voter participation almost never surpasses 30%. Although most Canadian provinces prevent pets from becoming mayors, because they can't vote for themselves, other countries treat municipal elections as what they are: a joke. It is for this reason that Canadian cities and towns would be better served by having their leaders appointed by their provincial governments.
In late 2023, a majority of council and the mayor of Chestermere, Alberta were fired by the provincial government following an investigation that found ongoing misappropriation and misconduct. Along with alleged bullying, according to reports, the former mayor racked up credit card expenses on the taxpayers' dime. From there, the province's Minister Of Municipal Affairs fired the mayor, administrators and all but three councillors. The fired mayor and councillors, of course, deny all wrongdoing and have insisted it was all a big conspiracy orchestrated by Ric McIver, the UCP and the RCMP. However, I think if every Alberta municipality went under the same microscope, these kinds of firings would become more common.
All of this only reaffirms a belief I have been quietly carrying for more than a decade: that we need to do away with democracy on a municipal level.
Most town and city councillors are know-nothings who barely get elected by a majority of voters. They're often stay-at-home parents, retirees, failing business owners, students, welfare cases and people who have never accomplished anything noteworthy in their lives. I'm sorry, but not really. Most of them aren't equipped to vote on anything other than meals in a pre-school.
I once thought about running for my town's council, only to make these points.
The very fact that the provincial government can fire an entire council and replace them with a couple of administrators is evidence enough. This should become the new normal. Rather than allowing 30% of a municipality to select a bunch of low-achievement dimwits, provincial governments should be appointing talented, experienced and educated administrators to run towns and cities. No more voting on idiotic initiatives, but more importantly: no more voting on taxes and budgets. Most mayors and councillors can't even do basic math.
Every town or county can survive with one administrator each. Cities could have two or three.
In almost every major city or municipality, there exists a deep state of managers and bureaucrats who have never been elected. Big city managers are often hired by a council and hold their positions for more than twenty years until they retire or move on. These same managers then guide and direct future councillors and mayors in most of their decisions. Where and how should the next major road or community be built? The mayor and council have no clue—it's the managers and administrators that provide the advice, planning, and guidance.
If I ran for mayor and won, I too would have no idea about most things. How does the water treatment facility work? Who knows. I'd have to talk to the people who have been running it for thirty years. I'm not going to tell them how to do their jobs, they are going to tell me what they need. This is the case in most democratically elected administrations, but the quality and brass of Canadian mayors and councils is enough to question the need for elections on a municipal level. Furthermore, voter participation is the lowest in municipal elections compared to provincial and federal elections. In some cases, it drops as low as 22%.
Most municipalities receive a majority of their money from the provincial government, meaning that councils have minimal control over funding for major projects, like new transit systems, facilities and major roadways.
The cost to employ these know-nothings exceeds three million per year—not including the expenses they incur on the taxpayers' behalf. On average, a big city councillor earns between $120,000 and $150,000 a year, while mayors earn upwards of $200,000. In cities like Toronto, that amounts to more than $3,200,000 per year. Now imagine firing the entire council and hiring two big city administrators, appointed by the Minister Of Municipal Affairs, for only $250,000 each. That's $500,000 per year and millions in additional savings from no longer running municipal elections every few years. On top of that, each councillor and mayor have handfuls of staff and assistants which would no longer be required. For the sake of transparency, all major decisions must be released publicly with an explanation and names of all contractors and the details of their contracts. 
The benefits from these reforms would be outstanding, but if people aren't fans of axing municipal democracy all together, some other alternatives could be explored.

Candidacy By Merit

Provincial ministers can open an application process for qualified individuals to apply for candidacy. Ministers would then select a handful of individuals as candidates and put them up in local elections. Rather than electing councils, each municipality would elect one administrator from a field selected by the provincial government. Big cities would elect two or three administrators.
All the duties of a council and mayor would then be given to these administrators—who would confer and coordinate with the usual municipal managers and planners. Budgets, bylaws, and taxes would be decided by these administrators, eliminating the tired and obstructive democratic bureaucracy that bogs down the current process. As employees of the provincial government, these administrators would be directly connected to the Minister Of Municipalities. Replacing and appointing these administrators for political and ideological reasons would then become an election issue on the provincial level.
Each administrator would have a couple assistants or secretaries to take and answer citizen complaints, inquiries, and concerns. Staffing could match what we currently see in a normal mayor's office.

Democratic Autocracy

Keeping most of the democratic process in the hands of the people, municipalities could do away with councils and instead elect a single “mayor” for a term of four years. These mayors would take on all the decision-making duties of a usual council—without the typical ideological roadblocks and horseshit that come with voting. These mayors would have to go through the normal processes that currently exist, including receiving an adequate number of signatures to qualify as candidates. Ideally, they would be limited to serving two terms.

Other Ideas, Public Consultations, Reform

At the very least, provincial governments should open public consultations on reforming municipal governments. There could be other ideas floating around out there, some much better than anything I could ever think of. The worst case scenario would be to do nothing.
Across the whole country, I'm convinced that most municipalities are rife with corruption, favouritism, cronyism and misappropriation. With such low levels of voter engagement, councils, mayors, and city staff can get away with almost anything—and they do. No one cares about municipal politics and it shows. Most municipal scandals see little attention from media, which allows deep-seated corruption to flow unhindered.
If you've ever been suspicious about your mayor, or about certain contractors getting favours in your community—and about whether the bidding process is rigged—you might want to consider getting on board with reforming and investigating all of our municipal governments. I guarantee your suspicions are warranted.


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