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The Week: Comox voter turnout better than most; Elections BC reviews by-election complaints

Dec 2, 2021 | Commentary, Latest Feature, Politics

By George Le Masurier

Isn’t it curious that elections for local government — the ones with the most direct impact on our day-to-day lives — routinely attract the fewest number of voters?

More voters turn out for provincial and federal elections because they build a higher profile among the general population. And they’re able to do that because political parties have more donors and therefore more money to spend on signs, campaign organizations and advertising. Local candidates just don’t have that level of resources.

And it doesn’t help to raise awareness of local elections when local radio and print media provide the bare minimum of coverage.

But here’s some good news. You might look at the recent by-election in the Town of Comox and lament the low voter turnout (18 percent of eligible voters), or you might draw a more positive conclusion: Comox by-election voters are among the most engaged in BC.

In the City of Burnaby, for example, only 8.4 percent of eligible voters turned out this year for a by-election. In the City of Richmond, only 9 percent cast ballots. The City of Abbotsford matched Comox with 18 percent, but even the City of Victoria fell short at 17 percent in 2020.

Comox did better in the 2018 general election, too, when 4,392 of Comox’s 10,867 eligible voters (40 percent) showed up at the polls. That was 4.8 percent better than the 36 percent average across the province.

In other words, the Comox population was well represented in the recent by-election, comparatively speaking. And especially so when you consider the town’s by-election came on the heels of a federal election campaign and in the midst of a storm that drenched voters on their way to the polling station.

By-election winner Dr. Jonathan Kerr credited his success to the 65 volunteers who ran a “positive, value-based campaign.” His team always took the high road, he said, and stuck to the issues that people told them were important.

“This was a win for participatory democracy,” he told Decafnation this week. “That was one of our six values at the core of our campaign. We focused on really engaging people and being open and accessible.”

Kerr praised his campaign’s volunteers for not slipping into a “hard political style campaign.”

“Our approach was to engage people whether on the doorstep or wherever by simply saying we’re here to learn about the issues that are most important to you,” he said.

Kerr said he’s looking forward to finding common ground with the other council members and to using creative methods of engaging the public, such as drop-in coffee shop chats and Zoom town hall meetings. He used both during the campaign and says there’s no reason not to do more as a council member.

Perennial candidate Don Davis told us that he thought the election results were predictable.

“The campaign was much different with Covid and digital,” he said. “Too early to say intentions for next year. I have alway tried to be non-partisan, but maybe it’s time to get a team behind me.”

First-time candidate Judy Johnson said she learned a lot in this campaign and that she feels more prepared for another run in 2022.

“I enjoyed meeting the candidates and hope that we all get elected next year because I think our four different perspectives and strengths will provide four solid pillars for an effective council,” she told Decafnation.

Candidate Steve Blacklock did not respond to our invitation to share his observations about the election. But he did post his thoughts on Facebook.

“Not the result we needed on Comox Election night. Very saddened that only 2100 people (18%) actually exercised their franchise democratic right. This is how democracy dies. Congratulations to Jonathan Kerr and the #ComoxGreens, with 4 out of 6 members of council now ‘aligned progressives’ the future of Comox is a (sic) bright as the rising sun.”

Elections BC confirmed that it has received two complaints as a result of the Comox by-election. The complaints allege violations of the legislation administered by Elections BC, including the Election Act, the Recall and Initiative Act and the Local Elections Campaign Financing Act.

A spokesperson for Elections BC told Decafnation this week that the office is conducting an official review of both complaints to determine if they warrant an investigation.

“We take any potential contravention of the legislation we administer seriously and we review every complaint we receive, but not all reviews result in an investigation,” the spokesperson said. “If a complaint does not result in an investigation, we will advise the complainant and tell them why an investigation will not be conducted.”

For all our palindrome fans, did you notice that yesterday’s date was 12-1-21?


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