Municipal Voting Checklist: Where to Find Information

Another election approaches, and you want to try to do some research on the candidates to determine who to vote for.

However, unless you follow your municipal politics closely, it can be hard to get a sense of what the candidate’s stances and priorities are and how the incumbents performed the previous term without doing hours and hours of research.

Most municipal election candidates (and even many elected officials) do not meet Wikipedia’s notability test, so they are not eligible to have their own page. This limits the amount of encyclopedic information there is about the people we vote for or who represent us.

Here is a quick guide on questions to ask and where to look to find answers to get you started.

Before the election period, make sure you’re on the list of voters:

1. Know the responsibilities of municipal government

The powers of municipal governments are determined by provincial governments. For example, municipal governments in Ontario are responsible for providing many of the services with their boundaries that you rely on daily, such as:

  • Airports
  • Ambulance
  • Animal Control and By-law Enforcement
  • Arts and Culture
  • Child Care
  • Economic Development
  • Fire Services
  • Garbage Collection and Recycling
  • Electric Utilities
  • Library Services
  • Long Term Care and Senior Housing
  • Local Road Maintenance
  • Parks and Recreation
  • Public Transit
  • Planning New Community Developments and Enhancing Existing Neighbourhoods
  • Police Services
  • Property Assessment
  • Provincial Offences Administration
  • Public Health
  • Side Walks
  • Snow Removal
  • Social Services
  • Social Housing
  • Storm Sewers
  • Tax Collection
  • Water and Sewage

It may be difficult to measure candidates for your city against all these issues, so consider picking 3 issues that matter most to you, or most to your area and comparing candidates’ platforms against those.

2. Review candidates’ platforms

The next step is to read about the candidates and their platforms and weigh them against questions such as:

  • Do they have a website?
  • What are their priorities for the community?
  • How much detail does their platform include about the issues and their priorities? Are they specific or vague about what they want to accomplish?

Members of council

  • Do their priorities align more with their own interests or those of others?
  • Do their priorities align more with the underprivileged or the privileged?
  • Are they more focused on cutting costs or providing social services?
  • Do they address the root causes or the symptoms of issues such as homelessness and affordable housing?
  • Do they have a website that includes their thoughts on
  • Do they support defunding the police, or increasing police funding?
  • Do they acknowledge or reject the existence of climate change?
  • Do they consider access to green spaces, walkability and services to be a right or a privilege?
  • Are they aware of what services fall under municipal responsibility vs provincial and federal?

School board trustees

  • Do they have experience working in schools?
  • Do they know what students and teachers actually need?
  • Do they acknowledge current levels of provincial education funding?

3. Candidates background check

Candidates are politicians and thus can be performative – it’s on us to hold them accountable to what they say they care about. It’s easy for them to talk the talk, it’s a lot harder for them to walk the walk.

Once you’ve narrowed down the list of candidates to the ones whose platforms most align with your priorities, it’s time to do some searching to find out how these candidates act.

Here are some ideas of where to look:

What are they posting about on social media?

Find the candidate’s campaign and personal social media profiles and see what sort of things they’re sharing and what their takes are on those topics. Then search their name to see what others have been saying about them.

What has been published about them?

What politicians/parties have they donated to?

What candidates and parties, if any, they have supported in past elections:

Federal political donations

Here’s how to search the database:

Provincial political donations

Here are the political contribution lookup tools for each province:

What businesses and organizations are they part of?

Businesses and organizations they may be a part of or have an ownership stake in that they have not disclosed:

Federal corporations

Provincial corporations

What does the community think?

Check or ask about the candidate in your community’s subreddit or Facebook group(s) to hear their stories and experience with the candidate.

4. Incumbents background check

How did they vote while on council?

For incumbents who have been on council and looking to get re-elected, the best source of information are their voting records which show how they voted on specific motions brought before council. Comparing these votes to what they said their priorities were during their election campaign will provide additional insight.

Some municipalities publish convenient council members’ voting record databases, but many do not. However, votes must still be recorded in the meeting minutes.

If council’s voting records are not easily accessible in your municipality, you can add your community to Open Council and help record their votes to make them publicly available on this website. Don’t worry, it’s pretty easy to do.

More: Ontario Municipalities Members’ Voting and Attendance Records

How did they conduct themselves while on council?

Watch council meetings and review meeting minutes on the municipality’s website or CivicWeb portal eg.

What conflicts of interest did they disclose?

Section 6.1 of the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act requires municipalities to maintain a public registry of all conflict of interest declarations made by council members.

These conflicts, formally referred to as pecuniary interests, are voluntarily self-reported by council members when a topic under discussion could have a financial impact on a corporation or organization that they or their spouse, child, or parent are a shareholder, director, board member or employee of.

More: Ontario Municipalities Conflict of Interest Registries

Who donated to their previous campaign(s)?

Find their donors in the previous election by searching the municipality’s website for: “Financial Statement – Auditor’s Report Candidate – Form 4“.

These statements, sworn to be accurate by each candidate who stood for election, disclose names, home addresses, the date of the contribution and total contributions of all individuals who contributed $100 or more to the campaign. In Ontario, each individual is legally bound to contribute no more than $1,200 to any municipal candidate, and no more than $5,000 to all candidates in a municipal election.

Follow the money. Who are their donors and what might they want the candidate, if elected, to accomplish for them?

For example, a developer-connected donation, is a contribution determined very likely to be made by an individual who is or is the spouse/family member of an executive, owner, representative, manager, senior staff member, or other major stakeholder in the real estate development, property management, and infrastructure industries, and any contractors, consultants, legal or financial services related to commercial and residential construction.

Who donated to third party advertisers?

Find out who bought political advertisements about a topic or individual by searching the municipality’s website for: “Financial Statement – Auditor’s Report Third Party – Form 8“.

These statements are public documents that disclose the name of the individual, trade union or corporation acting as a third party advertiser, the name of their official representative and a list of the names and addresses of individuals who contributed to them as well as the names and addresses of all individuals who contributed $100 or more to the third party advertiser, as well as the date of the contribution and amount given.

In Ontario, each entity can contribute up to a total of $1,200 to a third party advertiser, and no more than $5,000 to all third party advertisers registered in the same municipality in a municipal election. There is no limit on how much a registered third party advertiser can contribute to their own advertising campaign.

Follow the money. Who are they, who are their donors and how are they trying to sway public opinion?

More: Ontario Municipal Third Party Advertisers – Rules & Tracking

What does the community think?

Check or ask about the candidate in your community’s subreddit or Facebook group(s) to hear their stories and experience with the candidate.

Open Council’s research process

To see how we research candidates and where we get our information, see our Candidate Research Process.

There may not be a perfect option

You may find that none of the candidates perfectly align with your views.

Voting is like taking public transit vs driving your own car.

You’re not looking for the “perfect” choice that will take you exactly where you want to go, but rather, you make the choice that gets you closest to where you want to be. It won’t be perfect, but it’ll be the best option available.

If you’re waiting for candidates that inspire you or are “perfect” choices, you might be waiting a very long time to cast a ballot. And in the mean time, you’re leaving the decision-making up to other people for whom “good enough” is good enough.

While voting for the least worst candidate might feel hopeless, no vote is the same as a vote for the person you like least.

You always have a voice, and every vote does matter.

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