Toronto election campaign booted from Nathan Phillips Square prompts rule reminder

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Toronto clarifies campaigning rules after mayoral candidate booted from Nathan Phillips Square
WATCH ABOVE: The city was forced to remind candidates in municipal election what its rules are for city property during elections. This came after a campaign event was told to leave Nathan Phillips Square, prompting claims security was playing favourites. Matthew Bingley reports. – Sep 14, 2022

City officials were forced to remind candidates running in the upcoming Oct. 24 Toronto municipal election about the regulations for formal campaign events on city property during election periods, after a candidate was kicked off city property Wednesday morning.

Mayoral candidate Gil Penalosa was in the middle of a platform announcement detailing his plan to address the city’s housing crisis, when City Hall security stepped in and told him and his team to vacate Nathan Phillips Square.

Penalosa’s team team of volunteers had moved onto the square with temporary cardboard cutouts to spell “Gill 4 Toronto” by lining up next to the existing sign bearing the city’s name.

Candidate Gil Panelosa’s use of a speaker and large lettering quickly caught the attention of City Hall security. Matthew Bingley/Global News

Penalosa and his team moved to the sidewalk along Queen Street West and attempted to carry on a scaled-back press conference, but were informed again by security they remained on city property and needed to stop. A visibly frustrated Penalosa attempted to carry on his message, promoting a plan that includes ending exclusionary zoning rules in the city and allowing existing property owners to add rental units to their homes, but ultimately he relented and ended the conference.

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Following the interaction, his campaign team called into question why security was targeting their campaign, while ignoring the incumbent mayor’s campaign events held on city property elsewhere.

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“The Mayor has done campaign announcements on city property recently,” said Diana Chan McNally in a statement to Global News.

“It’s reasonable to assume his primary competitor would be afforded the same opportunity.”

Mayor John Tory did indeed campaign alongside incumbent city councillor James Pasternak at a city park, but the city said the ways in which both campaigns conducted themselves are behind why one was allowed, while the other was not.

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Campaigning in city parks is allowed, but only if they are less formal events.

Under Toronto’s “Use of City Resources During and Election Period Policy,” informal scrums and announcements are permitted to take place on city property, but not if they include signs, structures, or any means to amplify voices. In addition to the giant letters Penalosa’s team included, they also used a microphone and speaker in violation to the rules.

“That’s to ensure that there is a fair and level playing field for all candidates, whether they’re incumbents or not,” said city spokesperson Brad Ross. “The city government have an obligation to ensure the use of city resources, the use of facilities does not give an unfair advantage to one candidate over the other.”

Ross said the rules are communicated to all candidates widely and added they apply for all elections, not just on the municipal level.

“Provincial and federal, there have been occasions where candidates for various parties have attempted to hold an event,” he said, “where we need to politely ask the campaign to relocate.”

While there are no permits given during an election period (Aug. 1 – Oct. 24), Ross said incumbents are still allowed to take part in events on city property, as long as they are not campaign-related.

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Last week, Mayor Tory and Coun. Pasternak both participated in a launch of the city’s antisemitism campaign, where Tory defended making headline-grabbing appearances during an election period.

“I’m here just to take part in the announcement of that program; that is part of my responsibilities as mayor,” said Tory. “My responsibilities as mayor have not stopped because a campaign began.”

While the city’s rules allow sitting politicians to participate in city events, the media attention those duties garner has once again highlighted the advantage incumbents get at all levels of politics.

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