After making himself scarce for a few days following his Danforth escapade, Mayor Rob Ford let it be known yesterday that his office will be putting a bunch of resources toward ensuring that a byelection is held in Ward 3 to replace former deputy mayor Doug Holyday, who has moved on to Queen’s Park. The mayor does not want a temporary replacement councillor appointed. He feels very strongly about this.
He’s announced that there will be a special meeting of City Council on August 26 to debate the matter. Councillors will vote on whether to proceed with a byelection or kick off an appointment process. Ford has also scheduled a rare public consultation for August 21. Which means that his relatively minor issue will see more public consultation than a lot of others have.
There are at least two problems here.
The first is that Ford almost definitely won’t be able to convince a majority of his colleagues that a byelection is a good idea. The votes aren’t there. The only way the mayor could conceivably pull off a win is if more than a dozen councillors don’t bother cancelling their summer vacation plans to show up to the meeting.
The second problem is that a byelection is just a bad use of money. Ford likes to say that you can’t put a price on democracy, but you absolutely can. We do it all the time. The cost of holding an election is routinely cited as a reason why minority governments at the provincial or federal level may opt to work with other parties rather than go to the polls. And the savings from less frequent elections was one of the reasons offered for moving municipal elected officials in Ontario from three-year to four-year terms in 2006.
City staff say this byelection would cost anywhere between $175,000 and $225,000, and there’s simply no way that’s a good use of funds. Inevitably, voter turnout would be incredibly low and the winning candidate would serve as Ward 3 councillor for just a month or two before starting another campaign for the general election in 2014.
They’d be elected in October or November. The next campaign period starts in January. With that kind of timeline, they might as well just leave the lawn signs in place.
Appointing someone to fill Holyday’s seat, meanwhile, carries few downsides. Pick someone who has good local roots and can handle the constituency stuff. Councillors will try to find someone who will promise not to run in 2014. In the past, that promise hasn’t always carried a lot of weight, but maybe they’ll do better this time. And even if not, an appointed candidate who breaks a pledge not to run still has to answer to voters.
Beyond all that, I’m not sure I really buy the mayor’s motives here. He wasn’t as interested in the virtues of democracy when it came time to talk about things like voting reform or extending the vote to more residents. More likely is that Ford wants an election because he just plain loves elections. He loves going door-to-door and talking to people about issues. It’s his strength. He’s always seemed to like the process of getting elected far more than the day-to-day experience of being elected.
So Ford may see this as an opportunity to spend the fall campaigning for a hand-picked candidate to replace Holyday. It’d be a lot of fun for him, and, hey, maybe also work to strengthen his own support. Which is a fine strategy, but not one worth the $225,000 price tag. Ford will get his chance to campaign next year. Let’s not use public money to give him a head start.