Aspiring politicians may want to stick to the civic level when it comes to job security.
Data from the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy report titled “Policy Responsiveness and Political Accountability in City Politics” shows municipal level councils are likely to act as corporate bodies rather than partisan legislatures.
“When given a choice between the uncertainty and extra demands of an information-rich, highly competitive electoral and legislative domain and that of a potentially more controllable low-information, modestly competitive environment, civic politicians favour the second,” the study reveals.
Researchers Anthony Sayers and Jack Lucas tracked the careers of over 900 mayors and councillors from Calgary, Edmonton, and Vancouver, and state a lack of competition not only affects political choices, but undermines accountability as well.
“They are sitting pretty,” he said, adding there can actually an incentive for them not to stir the pot and bring on too much attention. “The only force for change in this whole equation are voters.”
Overall voter turnout in Calgary’s most recent election was just over 39 per cent.
Sayers points out the much higher rates of turnover at the federal and provincial levels is due to the partisan nature of those levels of government with politicians belonging to parties, although there are party affiliations in Vancouver.
Sayers added there’s a lack of information about municipal governing.
“If I’m not paying attention, I don’t have a lot of information on which to vote, I tend to default to things like well the councillors don’t seem to have done a bad job, which is true, but it might not be very helpful,” he said.
“You may actually be getting a councillor that has gone along with other councillors, but in ways that if you look more closely at their policy preferences, you wouldn’t like.”
Sayers said this can have both positive and negative effects, but ultimately voters have to get more engaged.
“If you had voters become more engaged, your voters realize that with low voter turnout, you actually do get a chance to influence particularly ward elections,” he said. “It may actually make councillors think well there may be some advantage of making clear that I’m not the same as everybody else.”
You can read the full report here.