Try Try Again: Persistence in Politics
A candidate may be elected for many reasons; by the values they hold, by the platform they stand for, by the party they represent or finally by sheer persistence to get elected.
Last night Toronto Councillor Raymond Cho finally accomplished his desire to be elected to a higher level of government. Cho won the by-election for MPP of Scarborough-Rouge River and will vacate his city council seat. Previous attempts by Cho to win either Provincial or Federal elections illuminates how persistence may pay off in politics.
Cho has run for different levels of government, under different party banners for decades. His first attempt to win a political seat dates back to 1988, finishing third as the Federal NDP candidate. His run for municipal councillor was successful in 1991 and he has been elected/re-elected to a municipal council ever since.
Politics personifies persistence.
One of the issues with political persistence is the optics of entitlement. Many municipal councillors do not resign from their position when running for other levels of government. Despite their pledge to not take a pay cheque during the election process, they return to their position if defeated. Absentee councillors cannot fulfill their duties and run a campaign to the full extent both require. If a councillor cannot do both roles effectively, their elected full-time job will likely be the victim to their ambition.
There is a benefit municipally if a candidate is defeated for Provincial or Federal elections.
If an incumbent councillor is defeated in their attempt for other levels of government, it may strengthen their grip on their municipal seat with the exposure saturating their riding/ward. For some voters, it isn’t the politics that matter, it is name recognition. Creating or strengthening ties to a political party (where not 'exist' municipally) will likely help during municipal election. The fact councillors are not required to step down also means they have a job waiting for them in their defeat.
Many who are defeated from winning their first political position also reap the benefit of elections. In 2014 Joe Cressy lost to Adam Vaughan in a federal by-election. Given the high profile of the election race (to replace then mayoral candidate Olivia Chow), even his loss gave him maximum exposure politically. With only four months between the federal by-election and the municipal election, Cressy eventually won a crowded race with 41%.
Returning to last night’s by-election result, Cho’s opponent Neethan Shan lost again to Cho. Cho and Shan have been opponents during several elections, in which Cho retained his council seat or both lost Provincially. Shan has run several times municipally for councillor & trustee, provincially for MPP and has only been successful in 2 of 7 elections. Shan had won in 2006 as a trustee in Markham and a by-election for TDSB trustee earlier this year. His persistence may finally work in his favour if he were to decide to run to replace Cho’s now vacate council seat if a by-election is to be called.
An underlying message with persistence is how voters interpret failed candidates. When many voters hear arguments for “change” in representation, do candidates that have run for several previous elections actually count? Dependent on the level of government, how much change will occur to a region for a politically savvy candidate? The politics may be different but the paradigm of election cycle mentality will not change. This is not to belittle political experience. Given the importance of roles of elected officials, experience should actually have some requirement as a prerequisite.
When will persistence pay off next; possibly in 2018. The Provincial government may call a spring election in order to not have concurrent elections with municipalities. Dependent on the result of the election, several incumbents or candidates may take an opportunity to run in the municipal election. Forward thinking would-be politicians may take the opportunity to create name recognition and also lay the foundation for their possible council election team. If incumbents decide to not run Provincially, the temptation by would-be candidates to prepare for a double election run may be tempting.
Similarly, if council candidates are looking for positions in Provincial politics, the ability to run for an election while not giving up a seat may be enticing. The incumbent advantage is well documented (with 37 of 38 councillors returning) but a chance to leave the playground of Toronto Council for the green pastures of Queens Park may be worth the effort. There really is no downside for a councillor to run for MPP. If they are successful, they avoid a municipal election without party structures and possibly a dozen opponents. If they are not successful, what opponent will effectively use the “their recent election campaign shows their focus to serve as your councillor”.
A word for voters: In each election if you have the chance, ask the candidate what their motivation? Brush aside all the obvious talking points and decide if their response aligns with your view of that elected position.
A word for candidates: A candidate cannot be for “changing the system” if they have been integrated for years. Be honest and have an answer why this time you should be elected to represent your community.
In the next elections, it will be interesting to see who returns to defeat incumbents or position themselves are the anointed representative if the seat is open. The politicos will be watching.