How the Ottawa municipal election is stacking up

The municipal election officially kicked off earlier this month when candidates could start submitting their nomination forms, but so far only a handful of people have thrown their hats into the ring.

Only a handful of candidates have filed their nomination papers for the fall municipal election

Rainer Bloess, 'The Mayor of Blackburn Hamlet', is not seeking re-election this year. (CBC)

If the countdown clock on Roland Stieda’s campaign website is reliable, there are, at the time of writing, 285 days and several hours to go until Ottawa heads back to the voting booth to elect the next city council.

Alistair Steele is the municipal reporter for CBC Ottawa.

In most democracies the period between a candidate’s nomination and election – or defeat – is measured in days and weeks, not 10 months. We humans can conceive and give birth to a child in less time.

And yet there Stieda stands, so far the only person in the running to be the next councillor for Innes Ward in the city’s east end. That was confirmed Tuesday, when political veteran Rainer Bloess announced that during a pensive paddle in the Caribbean last week, he reached the decision not to run for re-election.

Bloess will now have plenty of time to spend sitting in his kayak, or wherever else he wishes. And that was the primary reason behind his retirement. While he’s not council’s most elderly member, he is 62.

My favourite Rainer Bloess story

I had to travel out to Rainer's ward to interview him one day last fall.

"Meet me at the barber shop in the strip mall at Innes and Bearbrook," he told me. "I'm getting a quick haircut."

Locating the place, I walked into the shop and announced, "I'm here to interview your city councillor."

The barbers and their clients turned to look at me, confused. "Rainer? He's not here," one of the barbers told me.

I thought I detected a hurt look on his face, but I decided to ask anyway. "Oh there another barber shop around here?" The barber, now looking distinctly unamused, pointed with his scissors to another strip mall across the street.

Sure enough, there was Rainer — the "Mayor of Blackburn Hamlet" — getting his haircut, chatting up all the nice folks in the shop. When I told him about my blunder he slapped his forehead and groaned, "Thanks a lot Alistair. Now I have to go get another haircut!"

Alistair Steele

“This is a time to travel, not when you’re a senior citizen that can’t move too well anymore,” Bloess told reporters Tuesday at City Hall.

But he had another motivation. “I think the timing is right to step aside…and in the interest of democracy to give candidates the full year, the full election period to work on this, and not to keep people hanging and waiting to see who should run.”

There are, at the moment, 26 candidates signed up to run. There’s little doubt there are many, many more who are “hanging and waiting” to see what the incumbent will do. I know, because I’ve spoken with some of them.

In our electoral system, incumbents enjoy a significant advantage – that’s undeniable.

So far seven – Mark Taylor, Tim Tierney, Mathieu Fleury, Diane Holmes, Stephen Blais, Scott Moffatt and Allan Hubley – have filed their nomination papers. Several others, including Mayor Jim Watson, have announced they will run for re-election, but haven’t officially entered the race.

It’s interesting to note that only two of those incumbents who have filed – Diane Holmes and Stephen Blais – so far face adversaries. The others (all elected for the first time in 2010, as it happens) are the only names on their respective ballots. Their early announcements will help some would-be challengers decide against embarking on a gruelling, costly, and often thankless campaign.

Since Coun. Steve Desroches announced he wouldn't run again, four candidates have emerged in his riding. (CBC)
Conversely, Bloess’ decision will almost certainly encourage others to join Roland Stieda in Ward 2. Just look at Gloucester-South Nepean, where Steve Desroches announced he wouldn’t run for re-election either: Four candidates have signed up to take his place, and it’s only mid-January.

The election may be more than nine months away, but the numbers on that countdown clock aren’t slowing down. Other councillors should take Bloess’ cue and consider extending the same courtesy to the hangers and the waiters. They should either declare their intentions, or step aside. And if they haven’t decided, maybe it’s time for a thoughtful, solitary paddle in a kayak.