The Problem of Incumbency
An important issue in municipal government, as is the case in all levels of politics, that is rarely talked about is the “problem of incumbency.” One definition of “incumbent” means a person currently holding an office, but it also is defined in the Webster’s Dictionary as “lying, leaning or resting on something else.”
This is exactly what the large “majority” of incumbent councillors in the City of Ottawa have been doing for far too long a time. For most, whatever good intentions to serve their residents that they originally had have been long lost to the very self – serving goal of making this a “career.”
These individuals have spent years “resting” on the perks and intangibles of their office such as taxpayers funded media coverage, social events, photo-ops, mailings, donations, personally “name-branded” merchandise and so on. These taxpayer funded “privileges” are all utilized by incumbents primarily for their name recognition and the continuation of their “careers”.
Moreover, this concept of privileges is so ingrained with some incumbents that they even have the feeling that they are the only ones that are capable. In fact, on a radio program I recently heard some long – term Ottawa City councillor musing about the upcoming election and actually referring to new candidates as “these people that come out of the woodwork”. How did they start and what makes them better than anyone else? I was absolutely disgusted when I heard such statements from people forgetting how they got where they are!
Unfortunately, incumbents are able to use their taxpayer funded “perks” even during an election year. This is why traditionally we find so few people coming forward when there is an “incumbent” in place as a level playing field does not exist at all! As previously mentioned in 2010, I became one of the very few people since amalgamation to ever run against Osgoode Ward “incumbent” Councillor Doug Thompson.
Now we see the same thing happening in Rideau – Goulbourn Ward. Many people in that area have not been very happy with Scott Moffatt, particularly regarding his attitude about windmills being installed in the Ward. However, here once again no one, as of yet, is running against him. Moreover, we find this phenomena occurring with the Mayors race and in numerous Wards throughout the City. In some Wards we even found no one running until recently, but everyone just knew the “incumbent” was going to run again.
In 2014, primarily due to the fact that Doug Thompson is retiring, we have a number of people who have decided to run to be our representative on Council. The fact that so many people did not feel comfortable running prior to this year is wrong and very clearly shows the “problem of incumbency”. Everyone that steps forward should be given due consideration without the “privilege” and “cronyism” of incumbency hanging over them.
Without question my solution to the problem of incumbency is to establish term limits for Council members. If this concept was instituted it would re-establish the idea that this position is merely to “represent our area for a time” not to be considered as a “career” or for legacy building.
In my opinion, our representation should be limited to a maximum of two terms which is eight years. In that length of time you should be able to accomplish most of your original goals and this then allows other people to come forward. Moreover, it would keep our representation “fresh” with new ideas and approaches constantly helping the area evolve and improve!
It is disingenuous for politicians to say that campaign contributions have no influence on their decisions. In many ways, money can have a corrupting influence on politics. Therefore, I feel that the municipal sector certainly still needs major campaign finance reform.
In Ottawa, it took the initiative of an individual citizen, Kevin O’Donnell that forced candidates’ campaign financing information from the 2010 election to finally be available to the public. Prior to that year there was no transparency and therefore the public really was not made aware of where the candidates received their funds. (How to improve municipal campaign financing)
As a first step, I feel that corporate and union donations should be banned from municipal campaigns. Very clearly, these contributions can be a form of “influence”. In Ottawa, the largest donors to municipal campaigns are usually developers and businesses involved in construction, planning and engineering as well as waste management and even taxi cabs. Then, the municipal council, as part of their job is supposed to regulate these concerns “impartially” which can obviously be problematic. (Big Donors and City politics)
As an example, in Osgoode Ward during the 2010 election Doug Thompson received campaign contributions from such businesses as Capital Sports Management, ByTown Investments, Minto, Orgaworld, Tomlinson and Taggart Construction. In fact, Mr. Tomlinson gave a maximum contribution not only from his business but also as an individual, thus paying for almost 10 per cent of the costs of the Thompson campaign. Furthermore, of all the winning candidates of the 2006 municipal election, Thompson had the highest percentage of donations (81.9%) coming from corporations. (Campaign Donations report – Thompson)
Another example would be cases like the Ottawa Police Association giving money to Jim Watson’s campaign in 2010, considering the Mayor usually chairs the board that oversees the city’s police services. Therefore, in essence, the City of Ottawa itself (taxpayer funds) gave Jim Watson a campaign contribution. Moreover, we find that incumbent candidates at the municipal level continue to rely disproportionately on contributions by such institutions.
In Canada, in 2006 a federal ban on union and corporate contributions to parties and candidates was put in place. Why is this not taking place at the municipal level of government?
Another problem is that money from individuals goes to incumbents to the disadvantage of new candidates. This automatically makes the playing field “skewed” in favour of the incumbent. One obvious solution would be to require candidates to publish a list of contributions some time before the vote takes place. Clearly, having this information published after the election, as it is now, means absolutely nothing in helping the voter analyze the integrity of the candidate.
My Campaign Donations:
As an advocate pushing for “fiscal responsibility” of City of Ottawa council, in many ways, I am intuitively against the Contribution Rebate Program. Over the years I have found that it is never easy to ask people to contribute to the various charities I have been involved in. Therefore, not only is it difficult to ask hard-working citizens to contribute their money to my campaign as I have not proven myself at this point, but also, the rebate program once again takes money from the taxpayers. In fact, the city is spending a sizable amount of taxpayer funds to rebate these contributions. Therefore, as was the case in the 2010 election, I will NOT be seeking ANY donations to my campaign.
Instead, I would very much appreciate it if you could contribute to the Township of Osgoode Care Centre to help pay for a new roof and other repairs for the facility. Otherwise, please make a contribution to the “local” Food Cupboard or any other Osgoode Ward cause or need you are aware of.
A Fair Campaign:
With our “incumbent” councillor announcing his “retirement” it was my extreme hope that this election at least would be a “fair campaign” where all candidates could have a reasoned exchange of ideas of how to improve our Ward. However, it appears that a series of circumstances have occurred that may make this impossible. This “situation” will be elaborated on at a future date.