Canadian Municipal Election Scene Shifting Fast

by Gord Hume

Congratulations to Valerie Plante. She was elected Mayor of Montreal on Sunday, becoming the first elected female mayor of this grand city. She defeated one-term mayor Denis Coderre by a comfortable 52-46% margin.

After the drama a couple of weeks ago in the Calgary mayoral election, where Naheed Nenshi rallied to win his third term, and new mayors and councilors sweeping into office in several smaller towns and cities, it is obvious that the municipal election landscape in Canada is in turmoil. Incumbents are shifting their feet nervously as they prepare to face voters.

Ontario is in the unique position of having a provincial election next spring and a municipal election next fall. It is going to be a tumultuous time in the province, and voter fatigue may reach new heights. My early expectations are significant changes in the established power structure.

As I addressed in my new book "GETTING CITIES RIGHT", there is an uncertain and shifting public attitude about politicians. Much of this has been driven in the past year by the antics, tweets and public statements of US President Donald Trump. He has changed the political tone and climate in America, and inevitably some of that has seeped across our border. It will be most interesting to see what impact that has on upcoming elections.

While municipal elections tend to be fought on local issues and local personalities, there is no question that the overall political climate also impacts voters. This is the uncertainty that will confront candidates next year: How angry are voters, how hardened are their positions, and how do they find alternatives? Will incumbency still be an advantage?

It presents a most interesting climate for newcomers and the not-previously-elected. The dirty little truth of elections is that almost every first-time candidate runs on some variation of "…I'm not the incumbent, I promise you that I can do better, fresh start, clean slate, new broom, etc."

That strategy often works, particularly if the local mayor and/or council are perceived as arrogant, out of touch, screwed up while in office, morally repugnant, or any other number of societal illnesses or political morasses. 

It is a very uncertain political climate out there right now. Incumbents are unusually vulnerable in this political environment. A lot of voters are frustrated, angry, hurting and exhausted. The impact of social media—and it is clear that much (most??) of the information people are seeing or reading on the internet and social media sites is inaccurate if not a damn lie—is causing dramatic influences in the thinking of some people. This is going to become a bigger problem for candidates than most people want to acknowledge.

Will the negativity and attack-style campaigning of the last US election become more prevalent in Canada? How will upcoming municipal candidates campaign in the face of this emerging political environment? Will the 2019 federal election campaign change with two new leaders and a four-year old government defending its policies?

Politics in Canada, federally, provincially and municipally, will experience shockwaves and crises in the next two years. The latest seismic palpitation happened in Montreal on Sunday. The ripples and impacts will spread across the country before the next election cycle is completed. Expect more explosions.

Gord Hume


Gord Hume is recognized as one of Canada's leading voices on municipal government and is an articulate and thoughtful commentator on civic government and community issues. He is a very popular public speaker, an advisor to municipal governments, and a respected and provocative author.

Gord was elected to London City Council four times. He has had a distinguished career in Canadian business, managing radio stations and as Publisher of a newspaper. Gord received two “Broadcaster of the Year' awards. He is now President of Hume Communications Inc., a professional independent advisor to municipalities.

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