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Survey: name recognition key to election

|Written By Robert Todd

The results of a survey on candidates in the 2007 Law Society of Upper Canada bencher election are in, and one member of Convocation says the findings reject the perception that campaign spending determines results.

“It sounds like one of the key factors to getting elected is really the name recognition,” says Bencher Avvy Go, who is a member of the law society’s equity and aboriginal issues committee, which commissioned the report.

“If you look at the amount of money spent and a number of other factors, it looks like those who were successful and those who were not successful . . . there wasn’t a lot of variation.”

Go says the results show the advantage incumbent benchers hold over those hoping to bring a new face to Convocation chambers.

She adds that the apparent primacy of name recognition doesn’t bode well for the existence of a diversity of voices at the law society.

“Someone who is not working in the mainstream kind of setting . . . for them it might be very hard to get elected, and I’m not sure what is the solution,” says Go, a well-known community legal clinic lawyer who says she feels obligated to continue to run for election to represent her peers.

“It’s so important to have a voice for the people who work in the clinic system,” she says, adding that it’s vital that Convocation consist of a wide spectrum of lawyers from different practice areas.

“Convocation is supposed to govern the entire legal profession, which is made up of very different people with different backgrounds, experiences, interests, and perspectives,” she says.

“In order to have a meaningful, engaging kind of discussion on any policy issue, you need to have that variety of perspective and interest so that the policies that you develop at the end of the day will take into account, to the best of our ability, the various experiences and interests of the members. Otherwise it will benefit some at the expense of others,” she says.

The study, conducted by the Strategic Counsel, was based on the responses to questionnaires the 99 bencher candidates were asked to complete, with 55 candidates actually completing it.

Respondents reported a combined total of $161,500 in estimated campaign expenditures, broken down as follows:

•    36 per cent of respondents spent money on direct mailing, with a mean expenditure of $3,342;

•    40 per cent of respondents paid for advertising in print media, with a mean expenditure of $2,038;

•    35 per cent spent money to create campaign literature, with a mean expenditure of $1,435;

•    22 per cent spent an average of $274 on electronic mailing;

•    16 per cent spent an average of $523 on the creation of a personal web site;

•    9 per cent spent an average of $512 on advertising in electronic media;

•    9 per cent spent an average of $142 on telephone canvassing;

•    22 per cent of respondents reported that they made no direct expenditures on the campaign, and 18 per cent declined to answer the question.

The study also found “a modestly greater total mean expenditure” of $4,096 by those who were elected than those who lost, at $3,461.

The results also suggest, said the Strategic Counsel, that non-incumbents may have a stronger belief than incumbents in the importance of direct campaign expenditure. That conclusion was based on the finding that the average total expenditure among non-incumbents of $3,390 is more than one and a half times greater than the average among incumbents of $2,142.

Specifically, the study noted that the one area where incumbents were more likely to spend money was on electronic mailing. Thirty-five per cent of incumbents reported an average expenditure of $314 in that area, while 14 per cent of non-incumbents spent an average of $219.

The report also asked candidates about indirect expenditures - costs “related to activities or services that are not of a partisan nature,” such as child care fees or accommodation. Only 16 per cent of respondents reported such expenses.

The survey also looked at monetary contributions to candidates. Sixty-six per cent said they received no monetary contributions, while four per cent refused to answer the question.

Those who received monetary contributions reported a combined total of $83,140. Of those receiving contributions, 20 per cent said they received money from their law firm and nine per cent said they received help from people in the legal profession.

According to the findings, 36 per cent of the respondents were incumbent benchers. The study notes that 26 of the respondents were elected or re-elected in 2007, meaning 47 per cent of those who answered the survey are sitting benchers and represent 65 per cent of the 40 benchers elected in 2007.

In terms of age and gender, 60 per cent of respondents were men and 65 per cent of those completing the survey were 50 years of age or more. The findings show that 67 per cent of respondents “do not self-identify with any characteristics of an equality-seeking community.”

Members of the law society’s equity and aboriginal issues committee discussed the report at an Oct. 8 meeting. The study was commissioned by the law society in 2007 after benchers considered a request to provide candidates with e-mail addresses of LSUC members to cut down on campaign costs associated with paper mailing.

That request was turned down, but the law society eventually decided to ask members for permission to provide their e-mail addresses to election candidates for future elections. Benchers also asked the equity committee to further investigate potential barriers to candidates running for election.

At the meeting, the equity committee decided to make the report public, that the report should “inform the work” of law society committees, that the committee itself will use the findings to find ways to “level the playing field” in future elections, and that the committee would use the report to develop strategies in the spring of 2009.

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