How to wake up sleepy mu­nic­i­pal vot­ers

The Standard (St. Catharines) - - Opinion - DOUG HEROD Spe­cial to The St. Catharines Stan­dard dherod.ni­a­gara@gmail.com

Do you be­lieve in mir­a­cles?

More specif­i­cally, do you think widely ex­pressed dis­con­tent with the work­ings of Ni­a­gara Re­gion coun­cil will drive cit­i­zens to the vot­ing booth?

Hey, stranger things have hap­pened. You know, like the Amer­i­can hockey team beat­ing the Soviet Union at the 1980 Win­ter Olympics; the dis­man­tling of the Ber­lin Wall; or ve­gan dough­nuts be­com­ing pop­u­lar in St. Catharines.

Thing is, the afore­men­tioned dis­con­tent is the only rea­son­able hope for a rel­a­tively strong voter turnout Oct. 22. At least in St. Catharines.

Con­ven­tional wis­dom is that in­ter­est in a mu­nic­i­pal elec­tion is en­hanced when there’s a closely con­tested mayor’s race.

If true, St. Catharines is in big trou­ble.

As pre­vi­ously al­luded to in this space, its may­oral con­test is a dud.

Fact is, though, St. Catharines hasn’t been known for some time as a hot­bed of mu­nic­i­pal elec­tion in­ter­est, re­gard­less of how com­pet­i­tive the mayor’s race is.

The low point prob­a­bly came in 2000 when Tim Rigby, seek­ing a sec­ond term, had no com­pe­ti­tion and was ac­claimed into of­fice. That year, there was only a 27 per cent voter turnout. Two city coun­cil­lors chal­lenged Rigby in 2003, but turnout was still dis­mal — 29.7 per cent.

A high-pro­file con­test in 2006 for an open seat, won by Brian McMul­lan, at­tracted 40.7 per cent of vot­ers. Four years later, a ho-hum race that saw McMul­lan re-elected over a bunch of no­bod­ies had a 31 per cent turnout.

Per­haps most de­press­ingly, a hard­fought con­test for the open mayor’s job in 2014 fea­tur­ing three high-pro­file can­di­dates, drew only 34 per cent of el­i­gi­ble vot­ers to the polls.

To the other 66 per cent, I say: what ex­actly does it take to get you off your butts? Oh, right. A sale on ve­gan dough­nuts.

There are some in­ter­est­ing races in sev­eral St. Catharines wards this elec­tion, due, in large part, to the fact four coun­cil in­cum­bents aren’t run­ning. Still, there aren’t any par­tic­u­larly im­pact­ful is­sues in play.

So, we look to Ni­a­gara Re­gion as a driver of voter in­ter­est.

This, of course, would have been a laugh­able sug­ges­tion if made at any point dur­ing the first 48 years of the Re­gion’s ex­is­tence.

And it still might be.

Yes, there has been much dig­i­tal ink spilled the past year or so, item­iz­ing the var­i­ous woes of the Re­gion and its kissin’ cousin the Ni­a­gara Penin­sula Con­ser­va­tion Au­thor­ity.

In par­tic­u­lar, the con­tract stuff in­volv­ing Re­gion CAO Car­men D’An­gelo has been jaw-drop­ping.

Plus, the next re­gional coun­cil could play a key ad­vi­sory role in map­ping Ni­a­gara’s po­lit­i­cal fu­ture, given the ap­par­ent down­siz­ing de­sires of On­tario Premier Doug Ford.

Or Ford could just lis­ten to the “peo­ple,” de­fined in his world as those who voted for him, and act uni­lat­er­ally.

Hmm, act uni­lat­er­ally on a ma­jor Ni­a­gara Re­gional mat­ter … where have I heard that lately?

But the big ques­tion here is whether the many high-pro­file, de­tailed news accounts of re­cent re­gional fol­lies have gen­er­ated wide­spread gen­eral in­ter­est or sim­ply made the some­what lim­ited core of ded­i­cated mu­nic­i­pal fol­low­ers re­ally mad and re­ally loud.

Clearly, the re­ally, re­ally ded­i­cated folks are en­gaged. Egads, man, 23 of them are run­ning for six St. Catharines re­gional coun­cil seats! If all their friends and rel­a­tives vote, that alone should be enough to boost voter turnout.

Then again, maybe ex­pect­ing hordes of hereto­fore som­nam­bu­lant St. Catharines cit­i­zens to wake up and smell the vot­ing pen­cil graphite is a lit­tle too far-fetched.

Oops, I for­got. This col­umn is about be­liev­ing in mir­a­cles.

So, at a time when the Toronto Maple Leafs are ac­tu­ally favoured to win the Stan­ley Cup, I say the Re­gion’s gong show will help boost voter turnout.

Mind you, I wouldn’t nec­es­sar­ily bet a ve­gan dough­nut on it.

The Leafs win­ning the Cup, that is.

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