Before Nominations Open, Let’s Look at the Political State of Guelph

While everyone is eagerly awaiting the start of the Provincial Election, it’s important to remember that there actually two elections happening in 2022. Later this year, Guelph voters will choose a new mayor, a new city council, and new trustees for the local school boards, but before nominations open a week from Monday we’re going to look at the political odds going into the coming campaign.


The question isn’t whether Cam Guthrie is going to run again for the mayor’s chain of office, but whether there’s anyone that will to run against him. In 2018, Aggie Mlynarz entered the mayor’s race in later summer after running as Guelph’s NDP candidate in the 2018 provincial election, but it was well-known that she faced an uphill battle.

For Mlynarz, her campaign was essentially meant to present the electorate an alternative to Guthrie, and included an innovative sign-less model where supporters made their own signs if they wanted something to put on their lawns. The conclusion though was never really in doubt, and Guthrie ended up winning 66 per cent to 33 from Mlynarz.

History looks likely to repeat itself in 2022. In looking for a likely candidate to run for mayor against Guthrie, which is to say a candidate that might pose an actual threat to Guthrie’s re-election, there aren’t a lot of names that come to mind. Guthrie enjoys a high-profile for a Guelph politician due to his role as the chair of the Ontario Big City Mayors group, which has seen him featured several times on provincial and national media.

Guthrie’s also manages to occupy a very expansive middle ground in the discourse, observing an active fiscal prudence while doing a lot of outreach on issues of homelessness. In other words, it’s going to be hard for anyone to get on either the left or right flank of Guthrie, which combined with the his sharp social media game is going to make him stiff competition for anyone that wants to be Guelph’s mayor.

The more compelling races in this election will likely be among the wards.

The Wards

It’s important to note that the ward boundaries have been changed since the last election, and as a result certain candidates may have more of a choice in terms of what ward they want to run in.

Ward 1, for example, is now all areas of the city east of Victoria Road, north and south. Current Ward 1 Councillor Bob Bell, given the fact that he lives and works in the Ward might seem more likely to run in the Ward 2, but he’s already announced that he will not run for re-election this fall, which leaves a pretty big vacancy given that Bell has been on council since 2006.

That leaves Bell’s wardmate Dan Gibson, who’s been a city councillor since 2014 and achieved a relatively easy victory in the 2018 election in a very competitive field with 27.18 per cent. If Gibson chooses to run again, he will probably enjoy a relatively easy ride due to his years of council experience and the ward boundary change, which now favour suburban areas of the old Ward 1 without the progressive baggage of the area around downtown.

The original Ward area and Downtown Guelph are now part of Ward 2, which now covers all areas north of the river between Victoria and Woolwich. In a recent episode of Open Sources Guelph, current Ward 2 Councillor Rodrigo Goller said that he intends on running for re-election in the new Ward 2, which makes sense considering he’s now in the process of finishing his first term. Goller’s wardmate James Gordon also seems likely to end up a candidate running for re-election this fall.

The next ward over is relatively unchanged in terms of its boundaries. Phil Allt and June Hofland both easily won re-election in 2018 with 36.74 per cent and 31.86 per cent respectively, but Allt seems more likely to run for re-election than Hofland. Allt was first elected to council in 2014 unseating long-time Ward 3 representative Maggie Laidlaw, but Hofland has been a member of council since 2006 and she perhaps might be ready to move on like Bell. Stay tuned.

In Ward 4, there are two long time councillors. Mike Salisbury was first elected in 2006, but was briefly unseated in 2010 before getting re-elected in 2014. Christine Billings has been on Guelph city council since 1997, but with breaks between 2000-2003 and 2010-2014. The normally competitive Ward 4 had seven candidates in 2018, but only one person came close to unseating one of the incumbents; Indu Arora came within just over 200 votes of beating Salisbury.

Incumbency usually makes one pretty safe in these elections, and 2018 was very safe for both Leanne Caron and Cathy Downer. With only three people running in Ward 5 in 2018, at least one of the two incumbents were guaranteed success, but Caron secured 41.29 per cent of the vote and Downer got 39.14 per cent. Their only competition, Alex Green, ran a distant third with a little less than 20 per cent.

Still Downer has been on city council since 1994 though she took a break from 2006-2014, while Caron has been on council for 16 years straight since 2006. Although neither councillor has said publicly that they intend on making this term their last, they both have a long record of service and might be interested in ending their time in municipal politics. It seems likely that’s the only way that someone new might represent Ward 5, which is significantly bigger now that a northern portion of the old Ward 6 has been absorbed into it.

Speaking of Ward 6, there were six people that ran in that ward in 2018. An open seat vacated by long-serving councillor Karl Wettstein was well contested, but on Election Day it was Dominique O’Rourke that came out on top in her first content with 36.57 per cent of the vote. The other seat went to incumbent Mark MacKinnon who got 27.75 per cent who was running for the second time after first winning his seat in 2014. It seems likely that both O’Rourke and MacKinnon will run for re-election this fall.

The first day to file you nomination papers is Monday May 2, and the last day to file nomination papers is August 19 at 2 pm. Election Day itself is October 24.

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