—— Local Voices
In municipal elections, being able to follow the issues and what candidates stand for is a challenge. Certainly, most people running, either for mayor or councillor, are quite open to meeting residents and discussing issues. But with participation barely topping a third of eligible voters, a strong majority of residents show that they’re not following local politics closely at all.
This lack of interest is one of the major arguments in favour of municipal political parties. It’s said that they make it easier for voters to follow what candidates stand for. After all, being able to consult a single, well maintained website would provide voters with information in a clear and concise manner. Independent candidates, especially for council, may not have the time or resources to create such sites, relying instead on word-of-mouth to spread their messages.
Municipal parties have certainly become common across Quebec. A total of 181 from across the province are registered with Elections Quebec for the November vote. Yet outside of Quebec, only British Columbia has seen a significant presence of municipal political parties. Still, by Quebec standards Gatineau is a bit of an outlier in that many smaller towns have far more parties than here. Tiny Beloil, population 20,000, has five parties, as does Longueuil, the city in Quebec whose population is nearest to that of Gatineau.
Regardless of whether political parties help voters to follow the platforms of candidates, they don’t seem to increase voter turnout. Laval and Longueuil both had substantially lower turnout than Gatineau in the last election despite most candidates representing municipal parties.
Yet political parties are clearly beneficial from a fundraising perspective. Residents join political parties and feel an affiliation to them, making contributions to the party more frequently than they may have to an independent candidate. There are also various government-sponsored top-ups. The funds can then be shared between all of the party’s candidates. Action Gatineau has certainly shown this in terms of how many signs they’ve been able to put up around the city.
Multiple political parties could also make it more likely for a sitting candidate to be defeated. Name recognition is difficult for an independent challenging an incumbent. Provincial and federal elections have been shown to be more about parties than the candidate whose name is on the ballot, and incumbents often lose. However, with official party lines local representation may suffer. If a governing party is largely based in a particular part of the city it could be difficult for a representative from another neighbourhood to make the voices of their constituents heard. From the mayor’s perspective, if their party has a majority of council seats implementing their agenda is much easier.
Regardless of whether municipal parties are good for residents, Action Gatineau has shown that having a single political party in a city gives its members a significant advantage financially and in terms of name recognition. Hence it’s likely we’ll see the emergence of a second municipal party before too long.