As the deadline for nominations for the Oct. 20 municipal election approaches, a question begins to emerge: why have so few candidates come forward in light of the political odds?
Consider the basic numbers. Last year’s by-election following the death of long-time councillor Vic Derman attracted ten candidates for one open spot. As of this writing, 10 non-incumbent candidates are competing with four incumbents for a total of four open spots following the retirement of Couns. Dean Murdock, Leif Wergeland and Vicki Sanders and Coun. Fred Haynes decision to challenge incumbent Mayor Richard Atwell. Long-time community organizer Rob Wickson is also running for mayor.
Rishi Sharma, Trevor Barry, Cory Montgomery, Ian Jessop, Kathleen Burton, Nathalie Chambers, Rebecca Mersereau, Ned Taylor, Zac de Vries and Teale Phelps-Bondaroff are running as non-incumbents, in challenging Couns. Colin Plant, Susan Brice, Judy Brownoff and Karen Harper for a seat on council.
So if all the incumbents running for councillor were to retain their seats, the 10 non-incumbents would be competing for four spots. Under this scenario, each candidate has 60 per cent chance of losing, far better than the 90 per cent chance of losing in the byelection. Odds improve when we do not distinguish between incumbent and non-incumbents. In this scenario, 14 candidates are competing for eight spots, meaning each candidate has almost a 50 per cent of winning.
The number of candidates has not gone unnoticed, but Murdock said it is early yet.
“In terms of the numbers of candidates who’ve entered the race, we may see a few more names yet before the nomination period closes [on Sept. 14],” he said. “One factor may have been the late summer announcements from my colleagues [Wergeland and Sanders] who are not running again. That did not leave a lot of time for someone who was considering a council run to put a campaign together.”
The magnitude of the undertaking — especially the financial dimension — may have also discouraged candidates from coming forward. “With recent campaign finance changes, there’s been a lot of attention given to the cost of running an election campaign,” he said. “That awareness may cause some to reconsider whether they’d throw their hat into the ring.”
Murdock also suggests that sitting council might have lost some prestige. “While I expect that four incumbents deciding not to seek re-election to council (including one who’s running for Mayor) would have cleared the way for some new voices, [it] may have also sent the message to some that half of the existing [council] did not want to be there anymore and they (the candidates) wouldn’t want to be either. I want to be clear that my desire was not to send that message but rather to encourage those with fresh ideas and new energy to come forward.”
Overall, for Murdock it is not a question of how many candidates are running but of quality. “In that regard I think Saanich voters are being treated to some excellent candidates who will make great councillors,” he said. “I look forward to hearing more from those folks on the campaign trail and as some of them find their voices as new councillors.”
It is important to point though that the low number of candidates is perhaps not surprising. In 2014, 13 candidates ran for council.