All candidates’ meetings are they really worth it?

To all election wonks, All Candidates’ Meetings (ACM) are the purest of democracy tools. But are they really? Perhaps in a Federal and Provincial election they might work simply because of the small number of candidates sharing the same platform.

In a municipal setting we think that most meetings are unworkable and as such do not allow the public to see a complete picture of the candidates and their points of view. For a meeting to be successful they must be accessible to all and allow a fair exchange of opinion. In this election, in Cobourg we have two ACMs scheduled and both fail the test of openness and accessibility. One, organised by the local Chamber of Commerce (which has always failed the democracy test), has made accessibility worse by restricting attendance to members first and then the remainder of the 125 seats to members of the public. The other ACM is being held by aother local organisation but again fails the openness test by the very timing of the meeting. By scheduling the meeting for 0830 hrs in the morning it disqualifies anybody who works at that time or anyone else who has morning chores to take care of.

Which brings us back to the position that ACMs as currently and historically practised are not open and fair to the voters. In fact some of the candidates have declared that ACMs must be favourable to them or they will not attend. How is that fair to the voters?

One ACM, in Cobourg, has already been cancelled because some of the candidates did not approve of the structure or the organisers of the proposed ACM. How was that fair to the voters? In Hamilton Township only three of the six candidates attended an ACM held last week and a meeting in Cramahe was cancelled because some candidates, noticeably the Mayor, had “scheduling conflicts”.

In order to allow local democracy to flourish we would like to suggest that ACMs should be mandated by the bylaw that governs local elections and supervised by the Town Clerk who supervises local elections. At least two ACMs should be mandated for each election period: one during the day and one in the evening, that would allow access to the candidates by all people who may miss on meeting by not being available. These meetings should allow more time than the past meetings have allowed – one minute opening statement and questions from the floor. The very idea of having vetted questions is a danger to local free speech and subject to charges of selective questioning.

And that’s the way we would run ACMs

  5 comments for “All candidates’ meetings are they really worth it?

  1. Michael
    September 16, 2018 at 10:55 am

    Good suggestion, Ben.

    The only wrinkle in having this mandated is that the Ontario Municipal Elections Act inexplicably gives municipalities free reign on how they run their elections.  For instance electronic voting is perfectly acceptable in Ontario’s municipal elections while prohibited in provincial and federal elections due to security, reliability, and verifiability issues.

    Urging Cobourg to follow the good form of other municipalities won’t work either as Cobourg seems to like flaunting its renegade attitude: of Canada’s 3,572 municipalities, only 3 have elections with no paper ballots (Digby NS, Leamington ON and Cobourg ON).

    Still, it’s a good suggestion.

    • Deborah OConnor
      September 16, 2018 at 9:37 pm

      Straight from the Port Hope municipal website.

      “The Municipality of Port Hope is running a paperless election. Residents can cast their votes online or by telephone anytime during the voting period, which begins on Tuesday, October 9 and ends on Monday, October 22”.

      Agree about this, Ben and the Affordable Housing all-candidates meeting starts not at 8:30 am but at 8 am. Even worse!

  2. Ben Burd
    September 17, 2018 at 7:10 am

    An email from Johnny Percolides:

    I am a candidate in this municipal  election and I am absolutely in favour of bringing a Question+ Answer period to Cobourg Town meetings.

    I am also in favour of mandating that a minimum of two All Candidate meetings be available for the public at every election. One in the day time before 11 am and one after 6 pm so that as many people as possible can attend.
    I am not in favour of the Municipal Clerk being the supervisor for these ones. These should be left to businesses/organizations to organize.
    We need some things left in the hands of the public. Otherwise we risk being completely supervised and controlled by government.
    Businesses and Organizations can bid on who gets to host these meetings every election. They could all make a donation first  to a charity in order to be eligible to host.
    Just a thought.


    • Ben Burd
      September 17, 2018 at 7:11 am

      But Johnny the private sector cannot be mandated, so it has to be a Town Clerk thing!


  3. Ben Burd
    September 17, 2018 at 7:13 am

    An email from Bill T:

    Ben Your suggestion bears merit and serious consideration.

    When the present Cobourg town council won’t  allow a Question and Answer period after Council meetings requested by how many public delegations how is it supposed to happen ?
    As five of seven of Northumberland municipal councils do permit Q & A periods. perhaps Cobourg will become the sixth under new leadership.
    Hopefully with end of the closed shop attitude of the present mayor, the new mayor and council will truly embrace  transparency and two way communication so often promised at election time but shelved once elected.
    We live in hope that a sea change of attitude will prevail in October and the same old same old governance style will be gone.
    Bill Thompson

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