Daniel Fontaine fears that a number of factors are creating a “perfect storm” that could result in a record low voter turnout in this fall’s civic elections across British Columbia.
Fontaine, who is running for city council with the New West Progressives, is calling on the Union of B.C. Municipalities and the Metro Vancouver regional district to take immediate steps to raise awareness of the Oct. 20 municipal elections in British Columbia.
“There are now less than 50 days until Election Day, and we are simply not doing enough to increase awareness of the pending election,” he said in a press release. “I have been knocking on doors all summer, and I am struck by the number of citizens who have no idea it is an election year. It is not too late for agencies like UBCM and Metro Vancouver to support awareness-building campaigns both regionally and across the province. Protecting and promoting local democracy should be at the core of their respective mandates.”
Fontaine cites a number of issues that could impact voter turnout, including the timing of this year’s election.
Normally held in November, voters will go to the polls in B.C. on Oct. 20 – just a few weeks after Labour Day. He noted that the campaign is also taking place at the same time as a campaign about the proportional representation referendum, which is leading to some voter confusion, and at a time when candidates may have reduced advertising budgets because of new campaign financing legislation that bans union and corporate donations.
While the local turnout is often around 25 per cent, Fontaine said New Westminster it bumped up to about 28 per cent in 2014, likely due to the “huge mayoral race” that saw incumbent mayor Wayne Wright, longtime councillor Jonathan Cote and two other candidates vying for the mayor’s seat. Within no candidates having yet come forward to challenge incumbent mayor Cote, Fontaine fears that could lead to lower voter turnout in New West.
“We are only a few weeks away from an election, and I don’t feel that the city has done enough to promote the election. I don’t think the region or the UBCM have done enough,” he told the Record. “We are into a perfect storm.”
Fontaine said city council “dropped the ball” in terms of ensuring the city was promoting the election. He believes that information about the election should be included with utility bills (as has been done in the past with the TransLink referendum) and posted regularly on the electronic billboards in the city. He also thinks the city should make it easier for people to get election information from the city that they can distribute around town to raise awareness about the election.
If elected, Fontaine said he will support increasing the city’s budget to promote municipal elections.
In 2014, the chief election officer who oversaw the election in New Westminster told the Record the voter turnout was up for debate, as it was either 32.5 per cent (if based on the 44,768 registered voters) or 28.46 per cent (if Census figures were used.) Either way, it was an increase from the 23.45 per cent (10,614 people) in 2011, 23.86 per cent in 2008 and the 25.84 per cent in 2005.