The previous municipal election saw a whopping 70 candidates vie for 12 city council positions, and 13 people run for mayor.
This followed a 2016 byelection in what was then called Ward 12, where 32 (!) people ran for one spot.
It would be a stretch to expect the 2021 municipal election to attract nearly as many candidates.
Judy Garber is an associate professor in the University of Alberta’s political science department and an expert on municipal elections. While it’s early in the nomination process, she imagines that COVID will have a major effect on the number of candidates running — and the city’s engagement with the election campaign.
“When I talk to people in and around Edmonton who are involved in electoral politics, they’re telling me, yes, COVID is making a difference. Even if everyone is vaccinated by September, which they won’t be, how do you go out door knocking? How do you campaign?” she asks.
Basically, if you’re new to the scene and battling someone who is a well-known political veteran, how do you introduce yourself to voters during a pandemic? They don’t want you at their doors.
As well, candidates who aren’t incumbents often need to take leaves from work in order to run. They need to be financially prepared to take the time to campaign. With so much work uncertainty because of COVID, the financial impact of campaigning may be too much to bear.
“If you’re running in a ward that has an incumbent, that’s awfully daunting,” says Garber.
Re-drawn boundaries and the decision of some members of city council not to run again — like Scott McKeen and Michael Walters — will create “open” wards. Those are the wards most likely to attract new blood, she says.
At press time, just 40 people have stepped up with enough signatures to be officially considered candidates. The city has only seven declared candidates for mayor.
Garber senses that there’s also a “malaise” when it comes to politics, period. “People are focused on COVID, and they might not care so much about politics right now,” she says. And, she says measures by the provincial government to limit what city councils
and school boards can do may also add to a lack of enthusiasm for municipal politics.