New website helps voters find out what council candidates support
This is a screenshot of the Position Primer website which aims to inform Toronto voters about who is running for council in their ward and what the candidates' platforms are.
Vidya Kauri, CP24.com
Published Friday, September 26, 2014 2:14PM EDT
Last Updated Friday, September 26, 2014 4:53PM EDT
Do you know how your council candidates feel about the burning issues in your ward? If not, do you know how to find out?
Council candidates, even though the election is just weeks away on Oct. 27, are finding it hard to relay their platforms to voters. Ward races are consistently overshadowed by the mayor’s race in the media and voters don’t have regular access to candidates.
Now, a website has been created where people can enter their postal code to find out not only who is running for city council in their ward but also what the candidates’ platforms are. The information is laid out in such a way that it is not hard to see how ward contenders stack against each other.
The simplicity and usefulness of the site called the Position Primer make it surprising that a similar concept doesn’t already exist. But implementing it was considerably painstaking for Women in Toronto Politics, or WiTOpoli for short, the group behind the project.
Stephanie Guthrie, WiTOpoli founder, and Abby Plener, their spokesperson, explained that a non-partisan group of about 10 people, mostly women, spent two months trying to find contact information for council candidates – not all candidates provide this information when they register to run in the municipal election.
Candidates were then emailed an online survey to gauge where they stand on nine key issues including transit, childcare, taxes and affordable housing. The information submitted was then fed into the site.
“Candidate outreach was perhaps the hardest part,” Guthrie said.
Out of approximately 360 candidates running across all of Toronto’s 44 wards, the WiTOpoli group was able to find contact information for 240 of them. Of these, 165 candidates, or nearly 69 per cent, filled out the form.
The Position Primer is essentially an opportunity for candidates to reach a lot of people really quickly, Plener said. Their answers to the survey questions are unedited and their names are presented in the order in which the surveys were submitted.
“The breadth of topics is important to have,” Plener said. “We wanted to make sure we had enough topics to cover all of Toronto’s needs and that everyone of any background has a topic that speaks to them… We hope as a group to use [the Position Primer] as a reference point once we have our new council as a way to hold councillors accountable to ideas they put forth in the Position Primer.”
The names of candidates who did not fill out the survey are listed on their specific ward page along with any contact information available for them because “it would be misleading to not provide voters with a full list of people running in their ward,” Guthrie said.
The survey was a challenge to fill out for many candidates because a snappy 500-character limit was imposed for each answer, but Plener told CP24.com in July that the brevity of the answers makes it easier for voters to get a sense of candidates’ priorities and for candidates to be showcased equally.
WiTOpoli also had to fundraise on a crowdsourcing website to pay the web developer they had hired to create the Position Primer site. They surpassed their goal of $8,000 by just over 10 per cent - some council candidates even donated to the project - and are using additional funds to promote their new website.
Now that the site has been created, WiTOpoli members hope volunteers will help them spread the word about the Position Primer by “postering all over the city” and meeting with community organizations to introduce people to it.
In the future, they also hope to have more resources to design a similar survey and platform for the school trustee election.
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