Get ready for 2018 mu­nic­i­pal elec­tion changes

Condo park­ing, school clo­sures, bike lanes should make for an in­ter­est­ing cam­paign

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - JOAN LIT­TLE

Soon the “silly sea­son” will be upon us, when lo­cal politi­cians strut and pon­tif­i­cate so we know the mu­nic­i­pal elec­tion is close.

Burling­ton, over­all, is well run, largely be­cause of its su­perb staff, who con­stantly pro­pose proac­tive po­lices for coun­cil — like life-cy­cle fund­ing of as­sets, so ev­ery­thing won’t de­te­ri­o­rate at once, leav­ing tax­pay­ers with enor­mous bills (taxes).

Three coun­cil mem­bers have been there for­ever. In 2018 John Tay­lor hits 30 years, Jack Den­ni­son 24, and Rick Craven 18. With to­day’s high coun­cil salaries, and rich pen­sions, there’s no in­cen­tive to re­tire. Coun­cil­lors now earn $103,783, and the mayor $174,673 com­bined city and re­gional salaries. They also have a $9,000 city ex­pense ac­count. In­sid­ers say all seven mem­bers will seek re-elec­tion.

Is­sues? High school clo­sures pit­ted neigh­bour against neigh­bour. This was a school board is­sue, but an­gered vot­ers through­out the city — per­haps enough to turn some into can­di­dates.

There’s no de­ci­sion yet on the New Street “pi­lot project” bike lanes — whether they be­come per­ma­nent or get re­moved — but it’s due this fall. Burling­ton is nei­ther a uni­ver­sity city, nor a bike com­muter city. An­gry mo­torists are vent­ing — not be­cause there are bike lanes, but that they have lost a driv­ing lane to ac­com­mo­date so few cy­clists.

Our too-small, seven-mem­ber coun­cil has said for years that, with a pos­si­ble re­gional coun­cil size change loom­ing, there was no point ad­dress­ing the is­sue, but de­clined to even dis­cuss it last year when seven re­gional seats were re­con­firmed for Burling­ton.

De­vel­op­ment? Peo­ple are frus­trated as de­vel­op­ers ig­nore of­fi­cial plans and zon­ing, ap­ply for the moon, then threaten to cost us more at the OMB if coun­cil doesn’t cave. Coun­cil ap­proves con­dos, for­get­ting that our pri­or­ity is pro­mot­ing com­mer­cial/in­dus­trial. Pro­posed good changes to the OMB are un­likely to be leg­is­lated un­til fall at the ear­li­est.

An emerg­ing is­sue is condo park­ing. Our trans­porta­tion depart­ment thinks cars are gone, and is re­duc­ing park­ing stan­dards. To­day it of­ten ac­cepts one space per unit in high­rises where our low­est stan­dard has been 1.25.

De­vel­op­ers say if there’s not enough park­ing, peo­ple won’t buy. Balder­dash! They do, im­pos­ing park­ing chaos on neigh­bour­hoods, and cre­at­ing a tax bur­den for down­town busi­nesses, who must pay a park­ing tax levy. An in­ter­est­ing re­cent ar­ti­cle pro­jected self-driv­ing cars will in­crease car own­er­ship be­cause of their con­ve­nience for lo­cal trips.

Would-be can­di­dates should start plan­ning now for 2018’s elec­tion, Mon­day, Oct 22, but there are rule changes. Beat­ing an in­cum­bent takes great plan­ning — a team, an is­sues list, sign and lit­er­a­ture de­sign — all the lo­gis­tics. If re­cent global elec­tions tell us any­thing, a “sta­tus quo” ap­proach won’t likely suc­ceed. A Burling­ton cam­paign can cost about $10,000.

One change is a shorter elec­tion pe­riod. Pre­vi­ously, nom­i­na­tions could be filed Jan 1. Now they must be filed be­tween May 1 and July 27.

Be­fore, can­di­dates filed a form and paid the $100 re­turn­able de­posit ($200 for mayor). Now coun­cil can­di­dates (school trustees are ex­empt) re­quire sig­na­tures from 25 vot­ers, who must sign a dec­la­ra­tion that they are el­i­gi­ble vot­ers. No fundrais­ing can oc­cur be­fore a nom­i­na­tion.

The big­gest change for can­di­dates, though, is who can do­nate. Unions and cor­po­ra­tions no longer can. BUT now they can reg­is­ter as “third-party” ad­ver­tis­ers, and pro­mote or pan can­di­dates. I don’t like that, but I didn’t like de­vel­op­er­funded cam­paigns, ei­ther.

In 2014, coun­cil­lors Rick Craven, Jack Den­ni­son, Paul Shar­man and Blair Lan­caster ben­e­fit­ted most from their largesse. John Tay­lor self-funded; Mar­i­anne Meed Ward self-funded about 60 per cent, with no do­na­tions from de­vel­op­ers. (De­vel­op­ers can still write per­sonal cheques).

Now coun­cils may es­tab­lish ad­vance rules for au­to­matic re­counts. For in­stance, if a can­di­date only won by 10 votes, pre­vi­ously he/she had to ap­ply for a re­count. And now it’s il­le­gal for vot­ers to take pic­tures or videos of their marked bal­lots.

An­other change en­abled coun­cils to opt for a ranked bal­lot sys­tem, but both Burling­ton and Hal­ton de­clined. Lon­don will be the first city us­ing that sys­tem. We’ll watch that with in­ter­est.

Free­lance colum­nist Joan Lit­tle is a for­mer Burling­ton alder­per­son and Hal­ton coun­cil­lor. Reach her at specjoan@co­geco.ca

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