Phinjo Gombu
Toronto Star
A broad survey by Environmental Defence of candidates competing in the fast-growing edge cities around Toronto shows wide support for progressive initiatives such as expanding and strengthening the Greenbelt.
But the mountain of data on nine issues assembled by the environmental group also reveals a major difference between incumbents and their rivals: while 54 percent of the GTA and Simcoe County challengers responded, only 45 per cent of incumbents did.
Candidates who did respond showed strong support for green initiatives — almost 95 per cent supported building up the Greenbelt, for example.
But overall support plummeted to just 66 percent on the question of election finance reform. Who donates to election campaigns becomes an environmental question when much of the money comes from people who have a stake in environmental decisions, such as developers.
It’s perhaps revealing that the lowest rate of response to the survey came from high-growth municipalities such as Vaughan, Halton Hills, Brampton and Milton, as well as Bradford West Gwillimbury and New Tecumseth in Simcoe County, where development is “leapfrogging” the protected Greenbelt.
Rick Smith, executive director of Environmental Defence, said he was encouraged that the survey showed there is “support for green initiatives and actions that will benefit the quality of life,” such as intensified building, transit and other eco-friendly initiatives.
The lower response by incumbents, he said, could mean that incumbents simply feel confident about being re-elected and “don’t feel fussed about surveys.”
“Or it could mean that challengers feel more motivated to get their message out.”
The lack of support for legal changes that would allow candidates to take donations only from electors in a municipality — preventing big money from propping up campaigns — did not surprise Smith.
“We’ve done the number-crunching, and land speculators provide the vast majority of money sloshing around in local municipal elections,” said Smith. “Clearly, (answering) that question is more difficult for a lot of municipal candidates — even challengers. It takes quite a confident candidate to disavow development industry money,” he added.
York University professor Robert McDermid, an expert in election finance and donation issues, has found that 43 per cent, or $1.7 million of the $4.1 million raised in campaign funding for elected politicians across Durham, Peel, York and Halton Regions, came from the development industry.
Candidates’ responses to the survey can be found at www.votesmart2010.ca/index.php