How to wake up sleepy municipal voters
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.