Campaigning on City Property
Please remember that all candidates are prohibiting from campaiging (sic) on City property (i.e. community centres, city owned parks, etc…). For more information please refer to the “canvassing” section of your Candidate’s Guide (pages 30 to 32).
I got upset. And then I got on my bike and headed down to City Hall.
I discussed this with Marie Greig, the Acting Elections Coordinator for the city. She maintained that this policy would not prohibit candidates from campaigning on city-owned sidewalks (despite the clear wording) but that it would prohibit campaigning in city parks, public squares, etc. She provided me with a copy of the Councillor Expense Policy which prohibits City Councillors from using their office resources to campaign and which uses the phrase “city facilities” as an example of things which cannot be used by city councillors to campaign. (The question of how a Councillor Expense Policy can apply to persons that are not, in fact, city councillors, remains unanswered.)
So Ms. Greig slightly narrowed the expansive wording of the original document, but problems still remained. I understand that by law, municipalities are prohibited from contributing to any political campaign. I understand the reasoning behind and fully support a ban on Councillors using their office to campaign.
However, the quintessential picture of Western democracy is an orator on a soapbox in a public park or square, and Ms. Greig’s interpretation would ban that.
So next I spoke with Winnie Li, the Director of Council and Support Services in the City Clerk’s Office, and asked her about the policy. She maintained that the policy did not ban campaigning in city parks, but that the City Council had adopted a policy whereby no permits would be granted for any campaign events whatsoever, and that Parks Department bylaws required permits for any event of more than 25 people.
So her interpretation narrows the restriction still more; now campaigning is permitted, as long as the event doesn’t exceed 25 people. Still a Charter violation, but still getting closer to acceptable.
That’s where it is today. We have three separate statements – the clear wording of the policy document (no campaigning on city property), and the conflicting statements from two officials from the City Clerk’s office.
The sad thing is that it isn’t enforced anyway. Two City Council candidates in my ward are violating it this weekend: Sean McCormick is hosting a campaign rally/music festival in Trinity-Bellwoods, for which he was granted a permit, and Mike Layton is hosting a bicycle ride/campaign rally/barbecue, again in a city park, for which he probably wasn’t granted a permit. So my worries about compliance with the campaigning rules are probably baseless, as the candidates seem to simply ignore them anyway. But keep this in mind nevertheless: your city thinks that political discussions in public parks are unacceptable.