Don Iveson reluctant to raise bar for mayoral candidates despite quality of last race

Edmonton mayor Don Iveson remains reluctant to raise the threshold for people to run for municipal office despite the large number of fringe candidates he faced in Monday’s election.

Iveson faced 12 candidates in his second successful bid for mayor's chair

Don Iveson says fellow candidates could benefit from sitting on council before running for mayor 0:46

Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson remains reluctant to raise the threshold for people to run for municipal office despite the large number of fringe candidates he faced in Monday's election.

Anyone wishing to run for mayor only has to submit a $500 deposit and gather 100 signatures. Some critics feel the entry requirements should be raised so only serious candidates can run.

Speaking to reporters the day after he won a second term by capturing 72 per cent of the vote, Iveson said he didn't think it would change anything.

"Even if you raised the threshold, I think people who wish to have that experience and wish to have that publicity would still spend a higher amount of money and potentially go and get the signatures," he said, carefully choosing his words.

A dozen people ran against Iveson in the 2017 election. 

The tenor of the race was set in the first of three mayoral forums when candidates Bob Ligertwood and Carla Frost bickered openly.

In the third forum, candidate Ron Cousineau nearly derailed the event in its opening moments by leading a mini-mutiny against the forum moderator. 

Don Iveson sat awkwardly next to fellow mayoral candidate Carla Frost at the second mayoral forum in early October. (CBC)

Another candidate, Henry Mak, eschewed all interviews and public appearances and instead was represented at the forums by his "official agent" George Lam. 

Candidates offered other policy suggestions like building a fusion reactor to supply the city's energy needs, digging an underground tunnel to the airport, and rolling back the ban on smoking indoors in bars, restaurants and stadiums. 

Provincial law

City administration is preparing a report on candidate eligibility after former Ward 5 Coun. Michael Oshry raised the issue last spring.

But the city can only do so much. The thresholds are contained within the province's Local Authorities Election Act.

One section of the act sets the number of signatures required for nomination at a minimum of five and maximum of 100.

For any municipality over 10,000 people, the same law sets the maximum amount for a deposit at $1,000. 

The deposit is returned if the candidate is elected, drops out 24 hours after nomination day, or receives "at least equal to half the number of votes cast for the candidate elected to the office with the least number of votes.

The Henry Mak situation could potentially have been prevented with more specific language in the Act. 

Under the current law, "the duties of an official agent are those assigned to the official agent by the candidate." In other words, having an agent represent a candidate at a forum isn't illegal because there is no rule against it. 

Changing the legislation would require action by the province. Municipal Affairs Minister Shaye Anderson would not make himself available for questions on the issue. 

The ministry is planning to review the act "in the coming months," his press secretary Lauren Ascott said in an email. 

'Well-meaning people'

Thirty-three of Edmonton's 35 mayors were city councillors prior to being elected mayor, Iveson said Tuesday. 

While there were "a lot of well-meaning people" among the 12 people who ran against him, he said time on council would have given them the understanding of why some business is discussed behind closed doors in certain cases, or what matters councillors are responsible for.

"I can't imagine trying to lead Edmonton without having been a city councillor in the time prior," he said.  

"So that, I think, should be one of the tests, politically, culturally, as commentators, that we look for because I think that would have raised the level of debate."

He added the level of debate was better in the last election when he ran for mayor against fellow councillors Karen Leibovici and Kerry Diotte.

With files from the CBC's Gareth Hampshire