Ward All-Candidate Meetings Learning Guide
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Ward All-Candidate Meetings
During an election, one way for constituents to get to know the candidates in their ward is at an All-Candidate meeting. As its name suggests, this type of meeting brings together all of the people in a ward who are running for a seat on City Council. At this meeting the candidates respond to questions from the event organizers and from a public audience.
All-Candidate meetings can increase public awareness of municipal elections, build understanding of where candidates stand on local and city-wide issues and motivate people to vote. Anyone can organize an All-Candidate meeting. There are a few important steps you should consider to ensure a successful event that informs constituents and engages candidates.
This guide provides some suggestions and tips for organizing an All-Candidate meeting. More information can be found in the resources listed on the back page, or by speaking to groups and organizations who have hosted these events in the past.
Think about what you want to achieve and what type of event you would like to organize. Generally the purpose is to give the public information about issues so they can make an informed choice when they vote. The format, questions, and advertisements should all be designed to provide that information in a neutral way – not promoting any one candidate.
Find partners and volunteers to help host, advertise and run the event. Consider asking local groups to co-sponsor the meeting. The more groups that are involved, the more volunteers you’ll have to get the word out, the more people you will attract to the meeting and the more likely it is that candidates will accept your invitation. You will also be able to share costs and you might establish longer term relationships.
Hold a meeting with your group to plan your event. As a group, review the information in this guide as well as other resources for organizing All-Candidate meetings. Discuss options for time and location, agenda and format, and delegate tasks and deadlines for completing them. Set follow-up meetings as needed to make sure tasks are completed and plans stay on track.
Find a location for your event that is easy to find and accessible to everyone. It will need to be large enough for the number of participants you anticipate, have tables and chairs and most likely a sound system with a microphone.
- Try to find a place that people can get to easily by walking, bike or transit and with adequate parking. Provide clear directions on your flyers and on the building during the event. Make sure the entrances are well lit, pathways are clear and that the space is accessible for people with disabilities.
- Community groups can have access to City facilities for All-Candidate meetings for $1.00. All registered candidates must be invited to attend. To find out more, call 311.
Decide on the timing of your event. Choose a date that doesn’t conflict with a community event, holiday, significant or religious day of observance or another All-Candidate meeting in your ward, and which is suitable for most, if not all, candidates. You will need to coordinate the date selection (see next step) since the availability of candidates will make or break your event. You will need to find an alternate date if only one candidate can attend, but you should go ahead if most of the candidates are available. Consider a date that is far enough into the election to allow all potential candidates to have registered.
Invite the candidates. Each candidate should receive the same invitation and information to make sure the process is fair and impartial. Toronto’s City Clerk keeps a list of all registered candidates which you can find, along with general information about the 2014 municipal election. This list does not always contain contact information – you may have to locate individual candidate’s offices or campaign staff. Look for posters, flyers, campaign material, candidate websites or signs or by searching the internet.
Start getting the word out as soon as possible to ensure a great turnout. Friends, family, neighbours and co-workers who live in the ward are more likely to come if they receive an invitation and information from someone they know.
Agenda and Format
Create a format and agenda for the event. The number of candidates who accept your invitation will affect the number of questions or length of discussion try to keep the whole event under 2 hours.
Prepare questions for candidates. To find out about current issues in your ward, your organizing committee could look at recent Community Council agendas, articles from ward or neighbourhood newspapers, or ask local organizations for suggestions. Make sure to include a few city-wide topics as well. If you have a relationship with members of the local media, you might want to ask them about current municipal issues. Questions should be clear and should be asked the same way to each candidate. Start with the most important questions in case you run out of time.
All-Candidate meetings usually run like this:
- The moderator introduces the candidates and then describes what will happen at the meeting as well as any ground rules for candidates and members of the public.
- Each candidate gets the same amount of time to make an opening remark – usually 2 or 3 minutes (the order can be drawn from a hat or alphabetical).
- The moderator asks each candidate to respond to the same questions within a given time. You can change the order the candidates speak – who goes first and last – with each question.
- Depending on the number of candidates, the agenda could allow some time for the candidates to debate each otherjust be sure to have clear time limits.
- The moderator then takes questions from the audience, managing the order and length of questions, and the order and timing of responses by the candidates. Assigning someone the job of timekeeper for both questions and responses will make sure as many topics and issues are covered as possible a minute for each is a good length.
- Wrapping up – make sure to thank the candidates, participants, host organization, sponsors etc.
- You could change the traditional format; just let all of the candidates know ahead of time.
- You could have audience members discuss their ward in small groups prior to the candidates arriving settling on some priority issues or questions
- You could have volunteers write down questions and the candidates’ answers on flipchart paper
- You could provide time before and after the formal session for candidates and members of the public to connect informally
Sample Ground Rules
- Keep to the time limits – a time keeper can flag speakers when their time is over
- Make sure questions are not speeches
- Be respectful of each other – don’t use insulting, offensive or prejudicial language, or try to “catch someone out”
- Ask questions that will interest others, not just one individual
Running the Session
You will want to consider how to handle candidate information. You could give everyone the same amount of space on a bulletin board to post their information, or limit posters and banners to outside of the main room. If your goal is to give people different views and perspectives, be mindful of any one issue or group taking control of the time, microphones or questions from the floor.
Some additional ideas:
- provide refreshments if you can
- provide space for local groups to set up information tables or publicize upcoming events – maybe even other All-Candidate meetings taking place in the ward
- provide some colouring or quiet activities for children who attend with their parents or care-givers
- if you can’t hold a session with all the candidates, consider creating a survey or questionnaire and asking everyone who is running to complete it and return it to your group by a set date – just make sure to be clear how you will be using the information, for example by circulating or posting the responses that you receive on your website
- Organize a dry-run or practice session (with your group, not the candidates), if you haven’t done this before
- If you plan on organizing an All-Candidate meeting again, you might want to get participants to fill out an evaluation form, or comment sheet on their way out.
Thank all your volunteers and organizers. All-Candidate meetings can be a lot of work, but they can also help build community spirit and local action.
To make sure everything gets done and the event runs smoothly, you will need someone to work on each of the following tasks. You should consider volunteers who are not working for any candidate or campaign.
Planning Committee Coordinator
- Organize and chair planning meetings
- Keep track of tasks and volunteers
Event host and Moderator
- Should be someone who is considered fair, calm under pressure and known and respected by the community
- Consider a local media personality or a community leader who will be able to attract an audience and the media
- Greet, introduce and thank candidates
- Contact all candidates in your ward and extend an invitation to the meeting. Let them know what you have planned for the event
- Follow up with each of the candidates prior to the event and follow-up with a “thank you” afterwards
- Find out media contacts in your community and invite them to the event
- Write and issue press releases for the event
- Call media prior to the event to get commitment to attend
- Design a flyer, bookmark or ad for the planning meetings and the All-Candidates meeting
- Post information online at the hosting agencies’ websites if you create an emailable, downloadable or easily printable flyer, groups can distribute materials to their members more easily
- Post information in the community at recreation centres, libraries, restaurants etc.
Location and Equipment
- Locate and book a suitable venue
- Organize, set up and test equipment required for the event e.g. microphones and speakers; arrange name cards, water and glasses, tables and chairs
Toronto’s municipal elections: includes key dates, information for candidatesy-laws and notices, election finances and previous election results
Information on planning accessible All Candidates Meetings, see Count Us In: Removing Barriers to Political Participation – Quick Reference Guide to Accessible All Candidates Meetings, Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services