There are a record-breaking number of people running in the Kitchener Centre byelection this month and the people responsible for getting more candidates to sign up say they hope it will spur a conversation about democracy.
But will it?
“I mean, we’re talking about it,” Tomas Szuchewycz said in an interview Friday about the Longest Ballot Committee, which Szuchewycz says helped get 11 of the 18 people on the local ballot.
Szuchewycz says his goal is to get people to talk about how election rules are set.
“MPPs are in charge of the rules that … they get elected by, but it’s kind of like self referential,” he said. “It even kind of goes further than that, where MPPs are also in charge of the rules of their own integrity and they’re in charge of their own salary, which is quite unique. I wish I was in charge of my own salary. That would be pretty nice.”
Szuchewycz lives in Kitchener Centre. His partner, Ali Engering, is running as an independent in the byelection.
Engering says she has no illusions of winning the byelection.
“By being on the ballot, I at least have the chance to [win], but I’m not actually hoping to win really,” she said. “But it’s a really great way to talk about politics, by running in an election. That’s what elections are for.”
Patrick Smith, a public engagement officer with Elections Ontario, confirmed this is the highest number of candidates in an Ontario provincial election. The previous record was 12 and that was in the Scarborough-Guildwood byelection in July.
“I think voters generally know how they’re going to vote and if they don’t know, they’re usually tossing between two, maybe three names — usually two and it’s usually a front-runner,” Perrella said.
“Whether the ballot has four names or 40 names, I don’t think it makes that much of a difference. It just makes a little tiny bit more work for the voter to find the box that they have to tick off.”
Robert Williams is a professor emeritus of political science at the University of Waterloo and says he’s unclear why a group would want to grow the number of candidates on the ballot in order to get people talking about the byelection.
“I’m really mystified by what people think they can do in an election like this,” Williams said, noting the election of an MPP in Kitchener Centre will have little effect on the current balance of power in Queen’s Park because the Progressive Conservatives have a clear majority with 79 of the 124 seats.
“I think the only thing that would get people talking is the novelty of it,” he said of the long list of candidates. “I don’t see it as generating a serious discussion about political participation or about making thoughtful choices for an MPP.”
Williams said some of the parties listed on the ballot may be obscure or are focused on single issues. Elections Ontario confirmed to CBC News all the parties listed by candidates are registered parties.
Williams also noted one of the candidates is John Turmel of Brantford. Turmel holds the Guinness World Record for “most elections contested.”
When he earned the title in 2016, he had put his name on the ballot in 90 federal, provincial and municipal elections and had 89 defeats. His one non-loss was the 2008 federal byelection in Guelph that was pre-empted by a federal election.
The Kitchener Centre byelection will be Turmel’s 109th election.
For his part, Szuchewycz sees some humour in getting so many candidates on the ballot and he hopes others do too, and that spurs them to talk and vote.
“A lot of people were really into the idea. And you know, a lot of people were kind of laughing immediately when I say what I’m doing and then they say they just think it’s funny. Fair enough,” Szuchewycz said.
“Even if people think it’s kind of goofy, like voter turnout is so low that even if a few people show up to vote just to see this massive ballot, that’s a net positive as far as I’m concerned.”