When One Elected Office Just Isn’t Enough

CBRM Mayor Cecil Clarke has declared his candidacy for the provincial Tory leadership, which he intends to pursue while remaining mayor.

Clarke points to Nova Scotia’s Municipal Government Act (MGA) which places no restriction on municipal officials seeking other offices. (Neither, it should be noted, does the Municipal Elections Act.)

Cecil Clarke (Source: http://www.cecilclarke.ca/)

Cecil Clarke (Source: http://www.cecilclarke.ca/)

Before we go any further, however, it’s worth noting that just because a thing is not expressly prohibited by legislation does not mean it is generally tolerated in Canadian politics. As Heather Webb explained in a 2015 Canadian Parliamentary Review article:

Running in several federal ridings in the same election — Sir John A. Macdonald once ran in three — was once a favoured method of increasing one’s chances, but this is no longer possible…It is specifically forbidden by some — but not all — election statutes in Canada, but even where not specifically forbidden, the practice is unknown.

The MGA and the Elections Act may not forbid Clarke from remaining mayor as he seeks the Tory leadership, but that doesn’t necessarily end the discussion: after all, Clarke told Steve Sutherland of CBC’s Information Morning Cape Breton on Tuesday that if he wins the leadership, he will resign as mayor. Not to give him any ideas, but the Municipal Elections Act doesn’t seem to require this. Becoming an MLA, an MP or a Senator means you must resign as mayor; becoming the leader of a provincial political party is not mentioned. Clearly, then, in saying he’ll resign if he wins the leadership, Clarke is taking into account something other than the rules set out in the MGA and the Municipal Elections Act. He’s taking into account how the public (and his new employers) would react to him trying to be both mayor and PC leader.

Expecting him to resign to run for the leadership was probably always a non-starter, but asking him to take an unpaid leave of absence should not be, certainly not in the broader context of Canadian municipal officials seeking higher office. Because while it’s true that no province or territory forces a mayor or councilor to quit to run provincially or federally, at least one requires them to take a leave of absence — and there are many examples of municipal officials doing so voluntarily. And although I realize Clarke is not running provincially or federally, I would argue running for the leadership of a political party is basically the same thing (Clarke admits as much when he says he’d resign if he wins the leadership contest.)

I’ve been doing some (unscientific) research into the question which I am presenting today in the name of expanding the conversation beyond, “The MGA doesn’t say he has to resign.”

First up: Canadian mayors who run for party leadership positions.


Roland J Thornhill

I owe these first two examples to political scientist Tom Urbaniak, who was on CBC Information Morning Cape Breton on Monday morning discussing the issue.

The first is Roland Thornhill who, in 1971, as mayor of Dartmouth, made an unsuccessful bid for the leadership of the provincial Progressive Conservatives while remaining mayor.


John Savage

John Savage

John Savage

In February 1992, John Savage, then-mayor of Dartmouth, was attending the provincial Liberal Party’s AGM in that capacity when the confidence vote on then-leader Vince MacLean took place. (MacLean survived the vote with 52% support, but within a few days faced a caucus revolt and resigned.) According to Savage’s Wikipedia entry:

He was approached to run for the Liberal leadership and took a leave of absence from his mayoral duties [emphasis mine].

He won the Liberal leadership four months later, in June.

Assuming the Wikipedia entry is accurate (a dangerous assumption, perhaps), Savage felt he could not carry out his duties as mayor while running a leadership campaign, which is interesting.

The two more recent examples I found of mayors seeking provincial party leadership are just kind of sad:


Glenn Taylor

In 2011, Glenn Taylor, the three-term mayor of Hinton, Alberta, announced he would seek the leadership of the Alberta Party.

He remained mayor going into the convention in May 2011, where he won on the first ballot with just over 55% of the votes. In fact, he continued as mayor until 3 January 2012, when he resigned to focus on the provincial election campaign.

The elections were held on 23 April 2012. The Alberta Party fielded 38 candidates (including Taylor), none of whom won.

In September 2012, Taylor stepped down as party leader.


Nolan Crouse

Nolan Crouse

Nolan Crouse

The mayor of St. Albert, Alberta, Nolan Crouse, announced in January 2017 that he would seek the leadership of the provincial Liberal Party. Crouse was unapologetic about retaining his post as mayor while seeking the leadership, telling the St. Albert Gazette:

“I’m not leaving the mayor’s job and I won’t leave the mayor’s job even if I become the leader,” Crouse said. He intends to stay on a mayor until the end of his term in October.

Crouse was not expecting much hard slogging in the race for the top spot in a party that, at the time, had one seat in the provincial legislature:

The campaign won’t be quite as involved or gruelling as the Progressive Conservative leadership race that is currently underway, Crouse said, because the party membership is much smaller across Alberta. He said he doesn’t have plans to travel across the entire province to drum up support for his campaign. Instead, he will focus his energy on connecting with Albertan’s through an online presence and a social media campaign.

On 29 March 2017, two days before the nomination deadline, Crouse withdrew from the race (leaving no candidates). Crouse told the CBC his reasons for withdrawing from the campaign “will be kept private” and said he would “provide ‘no comment’ as to these varied questions and associated speculation.”

I think the only detail in this weird little story that is relevant to the CBRM situation is that Crouse didn’t feel any need to resign (even if he won) because the party he hoped to lead didn’t have a ghost of a chance of winning the next provincial elections. That’s obviously not the case with the provincial Progressive Conservatives in Nova Scotia — there’s a good chance they could form the next government. Three other candidates for the leadership have already declared and if Clarke felt it necessary to travel the province extensively before he announced, how many miles will he log now that he’s officially in the race? Especially when he’s pitted against candidates who, for better or worse, as sitting MLAs will be free to devote their energies to the campaign?


Conventional behavior

As mentioned at the outset, there are lots of examples of mayors and councilors running for provincial or federal office (and I think it’s fair to compare running for the leadership of a provincial political party to running for Parliament or a provincial legislature). The rules governing this vary from province to province, although, as we’ve established, no province (or territory) makes its municipal officials resign to run for higher office.

On the other hand, Prince Edward Island’s updated Municipal Government Act (MGA) adopted in 2016, states:

A member of council shall request and shall be granted, for the purpose of running in a federal or provincial election, a leave of absence without compensation, beginning when the person has filed nomination papers with the appropriate election official, and continuing until the end of the election. 2016,c.44,s.84.

PEI flag.

PEI flag.

The Act further specifies that being a Member of the Provincial Legislature or a Member of Parliament disqualifies you from sitting as a municipal official, so if a mayor or councilor ran in a federal or provincial election and won, they would then have to resign their municipal seat.

Ontario, on the other hand, which has no specific rule governing municipal officials running for higher office, has something of a “convention” around it, according to the Hamilton Spectator:

What happens generally is a councillor running federally or provincially gives up their pay during the election campaign period. They might also take a leave of absence or get help from a council colleague to attend to ward issues.

Ward 4 alderman David Christopherson offered to forgo his pay for the duration of a 1987 federal byelection for Hamilton Mountain when he sought the NDP nomination. He lost the nomination contest but followed that pledge in the 1990 Ontario election as the NDP candidate in Hamilton Centre. He won and is now MP for Hamilton Centre.

Ward 5 alderman Dominic Agostino gave up six weeks of pay when he ran for the Liberals in Hamilton East in the 1995 provincial election. This came after a colleague was unsuccessful in having council adopt a motion requiring aldermen to resign when they run for higher office.

Others who gave up their council pay during an election campaign include Russ Powers, Andrea Horwath, Tom Jackson, Bill Kelly, Brad Clark, Mike Wallace in Burlington and Max Khan in Oakville. Powers, Horwath and Wallace were successful in their campaigns.

Hamilton is one of three municipalities in Ontario — the other two being Toronto and Ottawa — in which being a councilor is a full-time job (like being mayor of the CBRM).

Toronto is a particularly interesting case because, as Toronto Star columnist Carol Goar explained in a 2014 column, the city has a “long tradition of sending talented municipal politicians to Queen’s Park and Parliament.”

It’s a tradition she approves of — she says having people in office provincially or federally who understand the challenges faced by municipalities is a good thing. Her problem is with what she terms its “unsavory” aspect:

Most Toronto councillors who climb the electoral ladder keep their municipal seats and salaries as they campaign. If they lose, they have a job waiting.

Goar fully acknowledges that retaining one’s council seat while running elsewhere is legal, but argues it raises ethical questions. She says retaining their seats gives city councilors an economic benefit all candidates don’t have, compromises their ability to serve their constituents and erodes public confidence in elected officials. Some Toronto councilors, in fact, have gone out of their way to avoid these issues:

Olivia Chow

Olivia Chow

David Crombie resigned as mayor before running (successfully) for federal office in 1978.

Oliva Chow made two unsuccessful runs for parliament while retaining her city seat, but in 2005, facing criticism over remaining on council while running federally, she resigned — and won the riding of Trinity-Spadina.

Adam Vaughan resigned his councilor’s seat before running (successfully) for Parliament in 2014.

Some don’t resign, but opt instead to take an unpaid leave of absence. Goar cites the case of Doug Holyday, a Toronto city councilor who, after “lecturing his fellow councillors about the impropriety of running in federal or provincial races without relinquishing their council seats,” probably had no choice but to take unpaid leave when, in 2013, he decided to run in a by-election for a seat in the provincial legislature. (He won.)

But for Goar, taking an unpaid leave of absence is not good enough, as the candidate, if unsuccessful, walks back into a job. She called for legislation to stop the practice — a call taken up by another Toronto Star columnist, Bob Hepburn, in January 2018. Hepburn’s column on “resign-to-run” laws was sparked by Toronto Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong’s announcement that he will retain his seat (and $112,000 a year salary) as he runs for the Conservatives in Don Valley East in Ontario’s June 7 provincial election. He’ll be joined by councilors Shelley Carroll and Chin Lee who are running as Liberal candidates in Don Valley North and Scarborough North, respectively.

Why, asked Hepburn, should taxpayers pay salaries to politicians who clearly don’t want their jobs?


BC precedents

British Columbia also provided some interesting examples of mayors running for higher office. In that province, municipal officials can not only run for provincial or federal office without resigning, they can hold provincial or federal office without resigning. As Lindsay Byers, media relations person for the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing told me:

There is no requirement for a council member to resign from council if he or she decides to run for the leadership of a provincial party or to run for provincial office. If an elected provincial or federal member chooses to hold both seats, it becomes a question of the practicality and capacity to fulfil[l] all of his or her obligations to both offices.

On the other hand, if the mayor’s post becomes vacant and a councilor wishes to run for it:

Under the Local Government Act section 83 (3), if a councilor decides to run for a vacant mayoral position, he or she cannot be nominated until they have resigned from office. This resignation must occur within 14 days of the chief election officer (CEO) being appointed for the by-election.

Let’s see how these rules play out in real life, shall we?


Peter Milobar

Peter Milobar was midway through his third (four-year) term as mayor of Kamloops, BC in September 2016 when he announced he would seek the BC Liberal nomination in Kamloops-Thompson North for the May 2017 provincial election.

Milobar remained mayor of Kamloops as he campaigned for the nomination, which he won in November 2016. He took an unpaid leave of absence when the writ was dropped and won the Kamloops-Thompson seat.

And that’s when that “councilor must resign to run for mayor” rule came into play, as Milobar had explained to the press in September 2016:

“Whereas I don’t have to resign to run for a different level of office, a councillor would have to resign to run for a seat as the mayor in a by-election,” Milobar says. “If that was to take place and a couple decided to do that, you could have a quite few empty seats and it might be more pragmatic for me to stay on until the by-election happened just so we have enough people to actually have a quorum around the council table.”

By “stay on,” he meant extend his leave of absence to the end of 2017, at which point, there would be less than a year before the next scheduled municipal elections (in October 2018) so the town would avoid a by-election (which, it was estimated, would cost about $120,000). As it happened, the resignation (due to illness) of another councilor in June 2017 automatically triggered a by-election anyway, so Milobar quit at the same time.

The by-election was held in September 2017 and former councilor Ken Christian won the mayor’s seat.

Dan Ashton

Penticton - Castanet MLA Dan Ashton (l) made good on an election promise to pay costs of a civic by-election. Here he presents a cheque for $32,000 to new mayor Garry Litke (Photo: Deborah Pfeiffer)

Penticton – Castanet MLA Dan Ashton (l) made good on an election promise to pay costs of a civic by-election. Here he presents a cheque for $32,000 to new mayor Garry Litke (Photo: Deborah Pfeiffer)

And here’s a really interesting example.

The former mayor of Penticton, British Columbia, Dan Ashton, remained mayor while he ran for — and won — the Liberal nomination for the provincial riding of Penticton. He remained mayor as he ran for — and won — the Penticton seat in the May 2013 provincial election. A month after winning the provincial seat, he resigned.

But in response, I presume, to criticism that his early departure would mean a costly by-election for the city, which wasn’t scheduled to have municipal elections until the fall of 2014, he promised to reimburse Penticton for the costs of the by-election, up to $35,000.

And he did.

In November 2013, he presented Penticton’s new mayor, Gary Litke, with a check for $32,000.

Now, let’s be real: if he was collecting two salaries for the month of November during which he was both mayor and MLA, that $32,000 was hardly a sacrifice. Still, he could have put it in his pocket — there was nothing to force him to cover the costs of the by-election. Instead, he opted to help a city out.

I’m not going to endorse this as a policy because the Canadian Federation of Taxpayers apparently thinks it’s a good idea so you know it can’t be. But it might make a nice opening offer to Clarke — something council can then back down on in favor of an unpaid leave of absence.


Political staff

Urbaniak touched on the issue of partisan politics in municipal government during his CBC interview, noting that while municipal councilors in Nova Scotia do not run as representatives of political parties or organize themselves into party caucuses, many have well publicized party affiliations — Clarke was a former provincial Tory minister; Halifax Regional Municipality Mayor Mike Savage is a former Liberal MP.

I think it’s worth noting that no matter how distinct a municipal politician’s political stripes, officially, Nova Scotia mayors are non-partisan which, once again, raises questions about Mayor Clarke’s “political” staff.

Christina Lamey, Mark Bettens, LinkedIn profiles

I’ve never felt it was appropriate for the mayor to by-pass municipal hiring regulations to hand-pick two people with connections to the provincial Progressive Conservatives as his executive assistant and spokesperson. But council allowed it, and he did it, and here we are.

But if the express purpose of his “political” staff is to serve the mayor in a “political” capacity, and if the mayor has decided to run for the leadership of the provincial Tories, does that mean their job is to do all they can to help him achieve that “political” goal? Are CBRM citizens going to pay to staff Clarke’s leadership campaign?

Mark Bettens (the executive assistant) and Christina Lamey (the spokesperson) will no doubt swear up and down they will only work on Clarke’s campaign on their own time, but who knows how many campaign-related emails will be sent or phone calls returned during office hours? We certainly won’t.


Vacation daze

Urbaniak also, politely, debunked Clarke’s assertions about the “20 weeks” of vacation he claims to have stockpiled.

There’s nothing in the MGA about vacation time for mayors, he told Information Morning‘s Steve Sutherland:

…[g]enerally, elected officials are treated a little bit differently than career public servants – you’re not accumulating days. It’s not a strict formula.

Yes, he said, residents understand a mayor taking time off to recharge his batteries but (and he didn’t say this but I will) they are unlikely to approve his taking 20 weeks off to run for another office.

Personally, I thought Clarke was painting himself into a corner by claiming he’s worked so hard these last five years that he’s taken no vacation and done “double” and “triple” time at the office (or in the air). Wouldn’t that suggest he DOESN’T have time to run a leadership campaign? Will he now work quadruple time? Hasn’t he just spelled out why he probably should take a leave of absence?

I think that suddenly dawned on him too, because he informed Sutherland on Tuesday that “half” of what was occupying him — the port — has now been “handed off” to the private developers, freeing him to campaign.


Politically advisable

I think I’ll borrow a conclusion from Heather Webb, the author of the article cited off the top — “Changing House: The Law Affecting a Move Between Elected Offices.”

Having worked her way through all the applicable legislation, federal, provincial and territorial (some of which, I should note, is now out of date) Webb concludes:

While the law in Canada does not always require candidates to resign their current seat before seeking a different office, it may still be politically advisable for them to do so. Candidates may want to consider demonstrating their commitment to the new office and avoid any perception of conflict of interest by resigning their current seat.

I think candidates might also want to demonstrate respect to those who elected them to their current office by not pretending they can give it their full attention while trying to get another job.

It will be interesting to see what Clarke’s opponents make of his refusal to take a leave of absence as mayor. (So far, his opponents have an advantage in this department because all three, to date, are sitting MLAs who are not expected to resign to run, as having a seat in the provincial legislature is considered a plus when you’re hoping to lead a provincial party.) Things could really get interesting if it becomes a talking point used against him.