All too often, we hear about how voting is a privilege, one that we should be grateful to have in this democratic country. Yet, despite the emphasis on this civic duty, we continue to see low voter turnout at Canadian elections.
During this year’s Toronto municipal elections, the voter energy was low and the city was not as engaged in the election. I even found it hard to drag myself to the poll stations. After all, it is easy to become jaded when there is so little information on the municipal election.
Municipal elections generally do not have the same feel as the federal ones, as there are fewer heated debates or warring candidates. For instance, the municipal election this year felt lukewarm, and there seemed to be a silent agreement that nothing would change; John Tory would win, and issues related to the housing crisis and homelessness would simply stay the same or get worse over time.
As I later found out, others in Toronto seemed to share my sentiments, as the voter turnout for Toronto was at a record low of about 29 per cent of eligible voters.
Why didn’t people show up to the polls?
Low voter turnout can happen for many reasons. In the last few years, the pandemic has become a possible cause for this very low turnout, as it has isolated individuals from their communities and politics. However, the low voter turnout this year was not due to the pandemic alone.
In an interview with Yahoo news, Renan Levine, a political science professor at the University of Toronto Scarborough, suggested that lower voter turnout was due to the large number of candidates, and voters not knowing which party each candidate was from. For instance, in the University—Rosedale electoral district, a total of 14 names appeared on the ballot for the Ward 11 city council seat. With this number of candidates to consider, it becomes difficult to understand the party and campaign of each in order to make an informed decision on voting day.
According to Levine, candidates running for office fail to deliver the knowledge and resources that parties provide to further persuade voters. Consequently, these candidates may struggle with engaging potential voters and motivating people to go to the polls.
However, turnout was not just low for the recent municipal election, but also for the most recent Ontario provincial election. This could be attributed to political campaigns at all levels of government simply failing to connect with the people.
Why is it important to vote in municipal elections?
We often view municipal politics as trivial in comparison to provincial and federal politics. However, municipal politics play a significant role in our daily lives.
The mayor of our city, John Tory, works with both the provincial and federal governments to adopt policies and tackle issues within our city. The councillors that we elect sit on important boards and agencies and also work with their respective communities to host events and meetings, to help people access City services and programs. They also introduce motions to the City Council to raise awareness and foster change for different issues in our city.
Our mayor and councillors have a significant impact on public transportation, municipal policing, libraries, parks, water treatment, and municipal Hydro. As such, our vote in municipal elections plays a critical role in getting what we need and value from our city. By failing to vote, we risk electing people who do not understand the needs of our ever changing society.
For instance, homelessness has lately been a pressing issue in Toronto as renting and housing prices soar. Councillors who sit on committees that run the Toronto shelter system play a significant role in ensuring that the problem of homelessnes is addressed. As such, we must vote for councillors who have effective policies and ideas to tackle homelessness into city hall.
City Hall is the governing body that plays the most significant role in the daily lives of the people of Toronto, so we must work to increase voter turnout and reignite the joy of civic duty in the city. What may seem trivial, like police task forces and paramedics, are actually what we need our council to focus on for the betterment of our society.
Just decades ago, racist and patriarchal laws prevented many people from voting and weighing in on our public system. Now that many of us finally have this civil right, we should take full advantage of it.
After all, voting is a privilege that we have been afforded, and without it, our voices aren’t heard. As we approach future federal, provincial, and municipal elections, we must ask ourselves who we want in power and why, and make use of our civil rights to get them into this position.
Jasmin Akbari is a third-year industrial relations and human resources, digital humanities, and writing & rhetoric student at Woodsworth College.