Last night I attended an information session at Brampton City Hall about the upcoming October municipal, regional, and other local elections. To my embarrassment it was there that I learned about something I had not heard about.
In the next local election in Ontario there will be groups, third parties, who will be eligible to advertise on behalf of candidates, causes and ballot questions. Corporations and unions will be forbidden from donating directly to candidates but they can create or donate to these third party organizations.
Before you raise objections I should lay out some of the details. Municipal elections used to be a bit of the Wild West when it came to campaigns. There were restrictions on donation amounts and spending limits, but anyone or any entity could donate to any campaign. The changes in the law have the potential to make individual campaigns more about citizens and their interests and also give third parties chances to advocate for their causes.
These third party advertisers can receive a maximum of $1200 per individual/corporation/union and those donors can give a maximum of $5000 to all third party advertisers in a given municipality. While I learned of this information I began to seriously worry that there might be big moneyed interests that would use this as a way to bully the electoral. Real-estate developers and others in the housing industry could easily pool their money to push for more sprawl-friendly candidates. On the other hand I could imagine those in Brampton who fought hard for the Hurontario LRT creating "Friends of the LRT" and endorsing candidates to make sure the next council doesn't make the same mistakes.
TPA might also pave the way for something Ontario local politics rarely deals with: slates. There are no such thing as local political parties. There is no Liberal, Conservative of New Democratic Party of Brampton. I actually think large cities would be served by having political parties, Toronto in particular. However, if a TPA was, say, the Progressives of Brampton or Free Enterprise Alliance, and advocated for council candidates and mayoral candidates that fit their vision it could simplify voting.
I have no doubt that there will be issues around TPAs in the municipal campaigns, but I will be curious to see how it plays out and I am not entirely convinced it will go poorly. The nominations for candidates and to register third party advertisers opens on May 1st and voting concludes on October 22nd. I think we can all look forward to an interesting campaign.