So You want to be on City Council – Part 2: Count the Costs

Ron Bolin: Feb. 11, 2010

The Costs of Running for Municipal Office (Nanaimo)

Once you have filed your papers with Nanaimo’s Chief Electoral Office at City Hall, it’s time to get busy and campaign.  You can leave it at that and hope that you have enough friends to get you one of the top eight vote counts to make you a Councillor, or, if you have elected to run for the Mayor’s job, the top tally in that category.

Nanaimo does not have political parties nor do we have wards.  The field is wide open to all comers who, as you discovered in your nomination papers, can find two Nanaimo electors to sign for you and pay a $200 deposit to guarantee that you will remove all the clutter of signs that you have erected during the campaign.  (Personally I object to this charge.  Democracy is a messy business and it couldn’t be that hard to clean up after someone who will never be able to run again if they leave a mess.  If we want to set limits, perhaps we should require more electors to sign the nomination papers.  But these are matters for debate.)

You will find that the media are quite stingy when it comes to free access to their services.  You may be offered a few seconds for a video presentation on Shaw Community Cable, some few column inches in the local papers, and perhaps a couple of minutes on stage at the Port Theatre, though not all these venues were presented in the 2008 election.  You may also be called to come before some other local organizations and may find 20 to 50 voters and a few of your fellow candidates at each. If you are viewed as a comer, you may be invited to a meeting of the Nanaimo Chapter of the Canadian Home Builders’ Association at the Nanaimo Golf Club.

You will note that aside from responses to identical questions asked by the newspapers of each candidate –and few of these at that- there will be no real discussion of issues, let alone any debate.  If you don’t already have some name recognition, as, for example, by having been on Council for one, or two, or three, or four, or… terms, you will need to try to get it quickly.  While you can wear a sandwich board on street corners, and campaign from door to door, if you really want to win, you will need to approach the media:  printers, newspapers, sign makers, radio, tv.  These all cost serious money.  The internet makes possible the creative use of on-line social networking which does, at least, provide a method of getting out a message without too much expense if you are able to develop and manage it yourself.  (If you use this method successfully via a web site, a blog, facebook, twitter etc. it is hoped that you will keep it up even after you get elected.  Somehow, once elected, our local politicians suddenly go silent.)

To get an idea of these expenses, one can take a look at the campaign finance documents which each candidate is required to submit after an election.  These are available on line at the city’s web site under Municipal Hall, Municipal Elections.  Here you can view both the expenses of each candidate and the sources of their contributions.  If you look closely you will note that there are relatively few grass roots contributors and that most of the funding comes from either unions or businesses and developers.

To give you a very general idea of what you may be up against, I will give only a brief gloss on the election campaign expenditures reported by those who were successful in the 2008 election and who  serve, or have served,  on our present Council:


John Ruttan …. $34,316.05


Bestwick ………     $4,223.65


Johnstone ……….$6,091.59

Kipp …    ……………$  495.00

McNab …… …….$12,475.01

Pattje …….………..$3,259.22

Sherry    ….……….$1,079.19

Unger ….………….$9,630.95

The range for Councillors was from $495 to $12,475, and the average expenditure was $5,431.28. Get out your checkbook or start chasing those funds.  Looking over all expenditures for those elected and those who were not, it is evident that money is not everything in our elections, but it can help mightily.

And don’t forget to count in your time.  You will lose a lot in developing your promo material, arranging for ads and/or attending events, siting and maintaining your signs and ads in the media, and/or developing website or social media.  If you have good friends or have sufficient funding you may have help in these areas

I again ask for comments, questions, corrections from those who have either been through this process or who are contemplating it.  You have until Feb. 18 to file your candidacy papers at City Hall.

The next part of So You want to be on City Council will be on the benefits of the position if you are successful and will appear shortly.