The municipal election does not interest you? You’re not alone, but here’s why you should vote

When people tell Helen Jowett they don’t really care about local politics, it makes her « a bit sad ».

“Local government matters,” Jowett, outgoing regional councilor for Cambridge, Ont., told CBC Kitchener-Waterloo.

« We are the most accessible. We live where the people we serve live, » she said.

People at the grocery store or on the street will stop him to talk about local issues.

Tenille Bonoguore agrees and says municipal politics touch everyone’s daily life.

It’s « extremely important and extremely interesting », and that’s why Bonoguore, the councilor for Ward 7 in Waterloo, says people need to vote.

Announcing that she would not stand again after a term on the council of Waterloo, Tenille Bonoguore said that she ran her term in a sprint. Now is the time to pass the baton. She says there was a heavy workload with the part-time job, and it was « an absolute honour », but not running again was the best decision for her and her family. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC)

« From the moment you step onto the sidewalk or onto the bus, to the design of the road, the look of the city, the feel of the park, even the flushing of your toilet, it’s all municipal » , she told CBC Kitchener-Waterloo.

Historically low voter turnout

This is an important message one month before the municipal elections in October. Historically, municipal elections tend to have the lowest turnout compared to provincial and federal elections.

Across the province, the Association of Municipalities of Ontario said the average voter turnout was 38.3 per cent in the 2018 municipal elections, the lowest since 1982.

Voter turnout in all cities and townships in Waterloo Region fell below this average in 2018 (see figures for the last four elections below).

Meanwhile, Ontario’s June election set a new record for lowest turnout — 43.5% of eligible voters cast their ballots.

Jacquie Newman, a political science professor at Western University in London, Ont., said that could signal even weaker interest in the Oct. 24 municipal election.

« We’re looking at the possibility that grassroots participation is really collapsing, » Newman said.

Portrait of woman in glasses.
Jacquie Newman, a political science professor at Western University in London, Ont., says there are concerns October’s municipal elections will see low turnout because voters are tired of the federal and provincial elections in Last year. (King’s College of Western University)

One reason is that voters are tired of two elections – federal and provincial – in the past 13 months.

Another big reason is that many people don’t realize the impact city governments have on their daily lives, Newman said.

« It’s always been a very interesting phenomenon, this feeling that local elections don’t matter as much because they don’t see municipalities as having a lot of power because municipalities are actually beholden to the province » , she said.

« But even though municipalities may be perceived as not having a lot of power, they have a lot of responsibilities. Most of what happens at the municipal level will have a real impact on your life. »

  • LISTEN | Jacquie Newman on whether Ontario voters are ready for another election:

London morning7:54Are Ontario voters ready for another election?

With two months to go until London’s municipal elections, London Morning asks Jacquie Newman, professor of political science at King’s University College, about what voters think about voting.

Need to involve voters

More needs to be done to engage voters, to help them understand why they should vote municipally, Newman said.

« Most of what happens at the municipal level is going to have a real impact on your life. »

Part of voter engagement starts with encouraging more diverse candidates to put their names on the ballot, Newman said.

“There needs to be a sense of trust around the relationship between people and their governments and unfortunately municipal governments, even though they are closest to the people, still don’t resemble Canadian society. People will have a lot more self-confidence. their governments when they see people like them in government,” she said.

« You’ll get more engagement when people feel the issues they care about are being discussed at the board level. »

helen jowett
County Council Helen Jowett, who represents Cambridge, says she had no intention of leaving the seat she has held since 2014, but has been offered a new full-time job which will allow her to work on important issues for the community. (Helene Jowett)

Jowett no longer shows up because she has decided to accept a job she deems too good to turn down. She said she hopes the races in Waterloo Region will be of interest to people, as many new candidates and several incumbents at the regional level, like her, have chosen not to seek re-election this time around.

« It’s a race, isn’t it? Intrinsically, it will bring out more interested individuals who might not have been so interested before. Hopefully that happens. »

« We have to make it as simple as possible »

Sean Strickland is a Waterloo Regional Councilor who is also not seeking re-election due to a new full-time job (and believes the Regional Councilor position should be full-time rather than part-time).

sean strickland
Regional Council Sean Strickland, who represents Waterloo, started in local politics as a school trustee in 1993 and was a regional councilor for 25 years. He was recently named Executive Director of Canada’s Building Trades Unions. (Sean Strickland)

He said he would be interested to see what impact the region’s signage regulation has on the municipal election – candidates cannot place signs along regional roads.

« I bet even more people aren’t even aware of this municipal campaign going on right now because of the lack of election signs, » he said.

Strickland said he would like to see more opportunities for people to vote. Make elections more than a single day — maybe a 10-day voting period, he said. Advance voting days have increased, which he says is a good thing, but municipalities should also embrace online, telephone and mail-in voting.

“Internet security has increased dramatically,” he said. “We need to make it as easy as possible for the electorate to participate in elections. And at the moment we are still basically operating on a system that was designed in the 1800s.”

Bonoguore, who announced in March that she would not run again largely due to the immense time commitment of the part-time job, said the pandemic has shown the impact of local decisions on their daily lives.

« It opened many people’s eyes to issues they might not otherwise have. [been] noticed. Meanwhile, global challenges are being felt right here. It inspires a lot of people not only to pay a little more attention, but also to have their say. »

She encourages voters to pay close attention, to talk to the candidates and to watch or listen to the debates.

In city councils, no one can enact platform pledges, she said, but it’s always important to know where a candidate stands on issues.

The municipal election is Monday, October 24, but how and when people vote depends on where they live in Waterloo Region. Learn more here.

  • Learn more about CBC KW’s municipal election coverage:

Below is the Waterloo Region voter turnout for the past four elections.

In Cambridge:

  • 2018: 32.24%.
  • 2014: 29.89%.
  • 2010: 28.71%.
  • 2006: 26.33%.

In Kitchener:

  • 2018: 28.22%.
  • 2014: 29.94%.
  • 2010: 27.41%.
  • 2006: 25.48%

In North Dumfries:

  • 2018: 37.6%.
  • ​2014: 39.63%.
  • 2010: 48.64%.
  • 2006: 26.81%.

In Waterloo:

  • 2018: 34.22%.
  • 2014: 35.93%.
  • 2010: 41.16%.
  • 2006: 28.66%.

In Wellesley:

  • 2018: 31.97%.
  • 2014: 29.3%.
  • 2010: 11.49%​ (all city council members elected by acclamation; people voted for regional president, school trustees).
  • 2006: 31.37%.

In Wilmot:

  • 2018: 37.82%.
  • 2014: 40.6%.
  • 2010: 47.15%.
  • 2006: 24.7%.

In Woolwich:

  • 2018: 31.3%.
  • 2014: 37%.
  • 2010: 36%.
  • 2006: 27%.


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