In a municipal ward election, people are less concerned with traditional "political" issues than they are with getting the services they have already paid for through municipal taxes: sewers, sidewalks improved, curbs and gutters repaired, etc.
For that reason, Freedom Party activist Marc Emery's Ward 3 (London, Ontario) municipal campaign was based on the premise that money being spent on municipal mega-projects, social programs, grants, and subsidies ought to go into the physical infrastructure of the city (i.e., sidewalks, sewers, roads, etc.) where progress was falling years and years behind. This was a particularly relevant approach in older areas of the city, where Emery's opposition to municipal expenditures on political mega-projects was greeted most receptively.
But Emery's problem in getting elected was somewhat unique.
In contrast to his political opponents' strong public profile within his ward (and absolutely none on a city-wide basis), Emery had a very high city-wide profile (and less recognition within his own ward). (A city-wide campaign was out of the question, given resource limitations.) Regrettably, on a ward level, recognition really centers on how many "little" things one can get done (or more accurately, take credit for), which naturally gives the incumbents an incredible political advantage when election time rolls around.
Intellectual and ideological arguments have very little value at the ward level; for that reason, Emery's rather defined attitude towards government [see election literature, at left] may have been a liability in the soliciting of votes. He could not help but appear to be "rigid" or "uncompromising" in attitude, while his opponents, who expressed no ideological principles at all, appeared "flexible" and "openminded."
Another unique circumstance was in the fact that voters can vote for two candidates in a municipal election; thus, Emery's strategy concentrated on his not saying anything too negative about any of the other candidates. An "offensive" comment could lose the vote of the person who was prepared to vote both for Emery and the candidate criticized.
Thus, the campaign was generally reduced to promoting Emery's personality and image, while trying to ignore the shortcomings of his opponents.
London's Ward 3 is a solid, working-middle-class ward of over 27,000 eligible voters, though only 9,000 actually bother to do so. The predominant ethnic background is white, British or Canadian born, with minority groups of Dutch and Italian descent composing less than 5% (each) of the ward. There is a larger than average of Roman Catholic voters.
Of those who vote, 60% live in older sections of the ward, 30% live in modern suburbs, while the remaining 10% live in apartments or townhouses.
Federally, the area voted Conservative; provincially Liberal --- with Ontario premier David Peterson being the local MPP.
Municipally, the media considered Ward 3 to be the toughest aldermanic race to predict, since both incumbents were subject to much public criticism (largely as a result of Emery's off-election campaigns), and since the challengers both had high local profiles in their own right.
In a municipal election, voters can vote for one or two aldermen; two are elected.
Pat O'Brien, a Roman Catholic school board trustee from 1980 to 1982, was elected alderman in 1982 when he defeated incumbent Bernie McDonald, making McDonald's the only defeat of an incumbent in four elections for aldermen (1978, 1980, 1982, and 1985).
Emery clashed with O'Brien often, seeing him as vulnerable due to his flip-flop stands on municipal issues (see past issues of our No Tax for Pan-Am Newsletter). Despite his inconsistencies in principle, O'Brien nevertheless is a hard worker and had built a fair level of support based on his work.
When Ward 3 senior alderman Joe Fontana was appointed to Board of Control seven months earlier, Bernie McDonald, who had been defeated by Pat O'Brien in the previous election, was appointed to fill Fontana's position.
It would seem that McDonald was the perfect type of incumbent to challenge. Generally lacklustre in every way, McDonald rarely, if ever, uttered a word in City Council; during his previous term in office, 18 months passed before his first remark was recorded!
As a union activist in a labour-oriented ward, McDonald's major asset came in the form of organizational and financial assistance from organized labour. Additionally, McDonald's literature conveyed a simple "folksy" style that was appealing to most voters. It is a sad truism that, the more simply and unintellectual a candidate comes across, the better chance he has against a principled opponent.
Peter Cassidy, the provincial NDP candidate in London Centre during the last provincial election, was the only other person besides Emery who was contesting Ward 3 incumbents. With the help of the NDP provincial election machine, Cassidy's strength lay in the "hot-list" of support he received in the provincial election.
Cassidy's campaign emphasized a "rainbow coalition" which promised benefits and considerations to feminists, environmentalists, single-parents, the unemployed, etc. --- not exactly an emotionally galvanizing set of priorities to put forth in a municipal election. But his main problem was the fact that he wasn't personally known in the ward, a circumstance that was a distinct political disadvantage, given the public profiles of the rest of the candidates.
Marc Emery, businessman, community activist, and Action Director for Freedom Party, had no problem whatever with voter recognition (polls indicated he was on par with both incumbents), but what form that recognition took was not as easy to determine.
Emery received extensive press coverage over the six years preceding the election; his involvement with Freedom Party was quite well known, as was his involvement with community groups like his local Optimist Club, of which he was an executive member.
Like Cassidy, Emery had the support of a provincial election machine: Freedom Party's. But this was Emery's second aldermanic race. In his first (1982), he fell 1200 votes behind candidate Bernie McDonald, which now seemed a plausible gap to fill given Emery's interim campaigning. Emery's chances at gaining an aldermanic seat appeared to be good.
When it came to organizing Emery's election machinery and strategy, he was well ahead of the game. Election signs had been printed in August, literature was prepared in advance, and volunteer delivery schedules were already mapped out.
A mass-mailing to London Freedom Party members and to supporters of Emery's previous campaigns brought money, volunteers, and sign commitments. The mailing lists had been compiled on computer as a consequence of previous activity, and were thus readily available.
While volunteers delivered 50,000 pieces of literature throughout Ward 3 (this encompassed three separate deliveries), Emery began a rigorous and disciplined door-to-door campaign which lasted from September 13 to election day --- November 12, 1985.
The campaign itself went off like clockwork, with the minor exception of coordinating sign posting in the most efficient manner. But thanks to the efforts of sign poster and party stalwart, David Hogg, things were soon corrected.
Emery's campaign approach and strategy was only subtly different from that of his opponents': Bernie McDonald, for example, didn't bother going door-to-door, but had volunteers deliver literature indicating that he was available should they wish to speak to him. And whereas most candidates depended solely on name recognition, Emery additionally hoped that his campaign theme of "Responsibility in Government" would attract further support and recognition.
Emery's opponents placed a great deal of emphasis on their sign campaigns. While it was difficult to determine, on an individual basis, people's justification for having a sign on their lawn, the ratio of signs erected on behalf of each candidate did reflect in the final vote count. O'Brien had over 450 signs erected and McDonald had close to that number. Emery's 275 signs compared more closely to Cassidy's 200 signs.
Throughout the entire campaign, media attention was negligible, and voter attendance at candidates' debates was dismal. One well-publicized debate organized by a local member of the London Status of Women Action Group, drew only two undecided attendees and no members of the media.
But one of Emery's main difficulties in getting elected may not have been due to lack of attention, but to overexposure. One reaction that constantly filtered through to campaign headquarters concerned the matter of his youthful appearance. Despite his 28 years, to most people, he appeared in his very early 20s, a factor that proved surprising to the many voters who, having heard him on radio or read about him in news accounts, assumed he was in his 40s or 50s!
Despite Emery's political loss, a great disappointment to be sure, the work involved in his campaign did not go to waste.
The new contacts and supporters gained throughout the campaign have already proven their value to Emery and Freedom Party in subsequent campaigns. Freedom Party, Emery's municipal election supporters, and thousands of concerned Londoners have been hard at work fighting self-serving interests at city hall.
And of course, there's always the future.
To his credit, Emery's campaign was smoothly run, there were no political embarrassments or disasters of any kind, and the issues and concerns he raised during the election did not take long to surface. Already, people who voted for his opponents have called our offices to express their regret at having done so. If their memories remain fresh to the next election (and we'll do what we can to make sure that's the case), much of our work necessary to win the next election will already have been done.
In the meantime, Emery will have become most familiar with a great virtue: patience. And no doubt, he'll have aged a little.
last updated on April 28, 2002