Dozens will run for CBRM council, including 6 contenders for mayor
55 candidates are running in October's municipal election, but less than one-quarter are women
Voters in Cape Breton Regional Municipality will have a total of 55 candidates to choose from to fill 12 council seats and the mayor's chair in October.
Six are running for mayor, including the incumbent Cecil Clarke, who said he wasn't going to reoffer for a third term — but changed his mind.
Cape Breton University political scientist Tom Urbaniak said with only half the council reoffering, candidates are likely sensing an opportunity for change.
"This is a dynamic election, there is no question about it," he said. "Six of the council seats do not have an incumbent running and usually when you don't have an incumbent running ... that is absolutely an incentive for new people to look at the office and look at their chance."
Urbaniak said there may also be increased interest in the top job because Clarke had said in 2016 he would not run for a third term.
The incumbent mayor may also have lost a few votes by running for the leadership of the provincial PC Party in 2018, Urbaniak said.
Mayor job 'full-time plus'
"The job of mayor of CBRM is full-time plus, so anything that you do that takes you away from the job for part of your mandate, especially if it's in relation to other political ambitions, that does open up an opportunity for potential successors."
In addition to Clarke, others running for mayor include former District 8 Coun. Amanda McDougall, and in alphabetical order, Chris Abbass, Kevin MacEachern, Archie MacKinnon and John Strasser. Gordon MacPherson was running, but withdrew from the race Wednesday.
While 55 candidates have filed nomination papers for CBRM mayor and 12 council positions, they have until the end of the day on Wednesday to withdraw. After that, their names will definitely be on the ballots.
Clarke is a former Progressive Conservative MLA and cabinet minister. McDougall is executive director of the environmental organization ACAP Cape Breton and one-term councillor for District 8. Urbaniak said she is the most high-profile candidate gunning for the mayor's seat.
Abbass is originally from Sydney. He retired after working out west for the last decade in hospitality and sales and returned home. MacKinnon is a Sydney Mines carpenter who ran unsuccessfully for the provincial NDP in the 1990s and ran unsuccessfully as an independent in last year's federal election.
MacEachern owns several businesses in Sydney and Strasser is a retired metallurgical engineer from Whitney Pier who was president of St. Clair College of Applied Arts and Technology in Windsor, Ont., until he retired in 2015 and moved back to Cape Breton.
Five candidates ran for CBRM mayor in 2012, but that race ended up as a contest between Clarke and Rankin MacSween. Clarke won his first term with more than 9,800 votes over MacSween, with the other contenders trailing a considerable distance behind.
In 2016, it was solely a rematch between Clarke and MacSween. MacSween narrowed the gap considerably, but still lost by 1,331 votes.
Separation strategy needed
Urbaniak said incumbents traditionally have an advantage. With a crowded field of candidates for council and for mayor, the best strategy is to come on strong early to try to create a two-way race.
"In these next few days and in the next couple of weeks, it's going to be very critical for a serious challenger to blanket the municipality with communication," he said.
That includes billboards and signs, telephone calls, mail-outs and social media, Urbaniak said.
The districts without incumbents running will be interesting to watch, but Urbaniak said not all of the incumbents will have an easy time.
Some have serious challengers and with concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic and a possible second wave this fall, candidates will have to be creative to reach voters directly and safely, he said.
"In this case, I wouldn't be surprised if a few of the incumbents are actually sweating a little bit and are realizing that they have to run a serious campaign if they want to retain their seats," Urbaniak said.
Urbaniak said women are noticeably under-represented. Only 12 of the 55 candidates are female.
"It's unfortunate because the burden of actually running most of the community and grassroots organizations falls to women, but there is a persistent gender barrier when it comes to politics," he said.
In addition to CBRM mayor and council, eligible Francophone voters can choose from Clermont "Monty" Charland and Marcel Lefort in the race for one seat on the Conseil scolaire acadien provincial (CSAP) school board.
Port Hawkesbury mayor in a race
Meanwhile, in the only other municipal unit on Cape Breton Island with a mayoral system, Brenda Chisholm-Beaton is reoffering for Town of Port Hawkesbury mayor and is facing her first contest.
The one-term town councillor was acclaimed as mayor in 2016, but this time will face challenger Archie MacLachlan, president of the unionized workers at Port Hawkesbury Paper, who filed mayoral nomination papers on Tuesday.
Seven candidates, including incumbent councillors Hughie MacDougall, Mark MacIver and Blaine MacQuarrie, are running for four at-large seats on Port Hawkesbury town council.
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