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.
The next Municipal Election is October 27, 2014.
Organizing an All-Candidate Meeting
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.
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:
Sample Ground Rules
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:
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
Event host and moderator
Location and equipment
For more information