Municipal Elections

… a core term in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100


Andrew Sancton (reference below, p. 142) notes that in Canada there is broad support for nonpartisanship at the municipal level even if it is generally understood that “political parties are often at work behind the scenes.”

Sancton notes (p. 142-43) that:

“Support for nonpartisan elections can be traced back to the North American urban reform movement that reached its apogee around the turn of the twentieth century. It was aimed at eliminating the municipal corruption associated with party-based urban political machines and introducing professional management to city governments.” (Weaver 1977). The influence of this movement appears to have been strong everywhere in Canada, because none of the occasional attempts to introduce political parties to municipal politics has been successful. In most places even attempts to elect local slates of like-minded candidates have failed miserably, although in some prairie cities (especially Winnipeg), formal slates of pro-business candidates have dominated municipal elections in the past. British Columbia and Quebec are the two provinces in which local political parties have been most successful. At-large municipal elections in British Columbia have encouraged slate building. For example, voters in the city of Vancouver would have trouble keeping track of ten independent at-large councilors and a mayor. Instead, they have been able to vote since 1937 for a slate presented by the right-wing Non-Partisan Association or for various slates offered by the center and the Left, most recently Vision Vancouver and the Coalition of Progressive Electors, respectively. Quebec’s local political parties trace their origins back to Montreal’s Civic Action League, whose candidate for mayor, Jean Drapeau, won a surprise victory in 1954. From 1960 until 1986, Drapeau and his Civic party completely dominated Montreal city politics. Local political parties remain in Montreal, and in other large Quebec cities, but new ones now emerge and disappear with considerable regularity.

“The terms of office for municipal councilors have been extended in recent years, the justification being that municipal councils need longer periods of time between elections to make strategic and long-term decisions and to be more like governments at other levels. The terms are either three or four years (four in the two largest provinces of Ontario and Quebec), except in rural Saskatchewan, where the terms are for two years. Vacancies are filled either by council appointment or by by-election, depending on the province and the circumstances. Council membership ranges in size from sixty-five and forty-five in Montreal and Toronto, respectively, to as few as four in some rural municipalities.”

Atlas topic, subject, and course

Municipal Governance (core topic) in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100 Governance and Institutions.


Andrew Sancton (2010), Local Government, in The Oxford Handbook of Canadian Politics, eds. John C. Courtney and David E. Smith, pp. 132-151. Toronto: Oxford University Press.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified on 29 September 2016.