Toronto election: 1 in 5 mayoral, council candidates joined race in September

One in five mayoral and council candidates waited until September to enter their respective election races.

Why would candidates want to wait so long to launch their municipal campaigns?

Hundreds of people are running to be either Toronto's next mayor or to win a seat on city council. One in five of these candidates registered to run last month. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

The road to victory can be long for those seeking power in politics.

But among the hundreds of people seeking a seat at Toronto city council or to wear the mayor's chain of office this fall, one in five candidates joined the race in the last two weeks they were eligible.

The City of Toronto's elections website lists 423 mayoral and council candidates whose names will appear on ballots this Oct. 27. This figure does not include those candidates who withdrew from their campaigns before the deadline to drop out.

Ninety of these candidates filed their nomination papers in September, something they could have done in any of the previous eight months.

The graph above tallies the monthly registration total for all mayoral and council candidates who had not withdrawn from the race by the deadline. Two candidates, Rob Ford and Sarah Thomson, are represented in the September column, as that is the month that both candidates exited the mayoral race and entered separate council races. (Geoff Nixon/CBC)

That's close in total to the 100 people who joined the mayoral and council races in January and whose names remain on the ballot today.

It raises the question, why would so many people wait so long to declare?

Circumstances and considerations

Clearly, there are circumstances that can lead to a last-minute entry, including some that have played out in the current mayoral campaign in Toronto.

Doug Ford joining the mayoral race at the last moment after his brother Rob Ford withdrew because of illness. But Rob Ford made the switch to the Ward 2 councillor race. (Randy Shedlowich/CBC)

Mayor Rob Ford learned that he was ill and decided to withdraw from the mayoral campaign, though his name is now on the ballot as a candidate for council in Ward 2.

That change spurred an effort to put Doug Ford's name on the mayoral ballot, in place of his brother, on Sept. 12.

Sarah Thomson also withdrew from the mayoral race in September and decided to fight for a council seat instead. She's now one of 22 people seeking to be elected as councillor in Ward 20.

Name recognition

Anna Esselment, an assistant professor in the department of political science at the University of Waterloo, said that name recognition is an advantage for incumbents.

"It's not necessarily important for them to register right away," she said in a telephone interview with CBC News.

Laure Paquette, an associate professor in the department of political science at Lakehead University, says that incumbents can afford to run shorter campaigns than their lesser-known counterparts. (John Nistico)

Laure Paquette, an associate professor in the department of political science at Lakehead University, concurs.

"They can afford to have a shorter campaign," she told CBC News, referring to incumbents, who she believes should normally start campaigning for re-election "as soon as you win the election."

In Toronto, there are two incumbents on council who kept people guessing until the end of the nomination period.

Ron Moeser filed his Ward 44 nomination papers on Sept. 12, just a week after David Shiner formally launched his bid for re-election in Ward 24.

Moeser did not immediately respond to an email from CBC News, but he told the Scarborough Mirror last month that he had sought the views of constituents before making up his mind.

"I wanted to get a sense of the community and how they felt," Moeser told the paper.

Shiner could not immediately be reached for comment on Friday.

Prior service

A few people who have served in other levels of government also threw their hats into the council-race ring in September.

Chris Stockwell was a member of the legislature for Etobicoke Centre for more than a decade. He joined the council race in Ward 4 on Sept. 12.

Coun. Gloria Lindsay Luby announced in late August that she wouldn't be running for re-election in Ward 4. Chris Stockwell made the decision to run as a council candidate after learning that she wouldn't be running again in the ward. (CBC)

Stockwell told CBC News that he made a late entry to the race after Coun. Gloria Lindsay Luby announced at council that she wouldn't be seeking re-election.

When he then made the decision to run, there was a lot of work to do.

"I had to put my ducks in a row and that took a couple of weeks," said Stockwell, noting that he may have been able to register slightly earlier than Sept. 12, but not much earlier.

John Nunziata spent four terms as the MP for York South-Weston starting in 1984. His name will be appearing on the ballot in Ward 12. Like Stockwell, he also registered to run on Sept 12.

For him, the late start was "partly strategic and partly practical," but rooted in his desire to return to life as an elected official.

"I just finally decided that, yes, I'm going to do it," he said.

Like the incumbents, Esselment said, these types of candidates are familiar to voters, and they are able to point to their prior service in other levels of government.

Nunziata and Stockwell agree it's an advantage that people already know their names.

Optimism, an overly long campaign

But what about all those other candidates?

Esselment said she expects that some people may enter the race near the end when it appears an incumbent may be acclaimed. They could simply want voters to have a choice to consider, or may desire to see local issues debated.

"They might have no chance of winning and they may know that," she said.

Election Day is Oct. 27, though tens of thousands of Toronto voters have already cast their ballots early through advance polls. (CBC)

That could be the case in Ward 22, where Josh Matlow was the only registered candidate until Sept. 8. But by Sept. 12, there were four people in the race.

Among the broader group of candidates, however, Esselment said it would seem those who run for council have some belief that they could win, even if those odds are slim.

Paquette said the spike in entrants at the last minute may reflect the absence of experience for some of these candidates — they may not know what is involved in winning an election.

For political veterans Stockwell and Nunziata, there's a shared belief that Toronto's months-long municipal election campaign is too long in any case.

For Stockwell, he believes five or six weeks is long enough to get your message out, just as it is for federal and provincial campaigns.

"I just don't think that you need a six-month campaign," he said.

Nunziata said the next council needs to "seriously reconsider" the length of Toronto's election campaign.

"It's far too long," he said.