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‘A real concern for democracy’: Vancouver councillor warns of record low turnout in civic elections

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A Vancouver city councillor says there could be a record low voter turnout in next month’s B.C. civic elections, and he wants the province to do something about it.

Coun. George Affleck says campaign finance restrictions, combined with the fact that the elections are taking place earlier in the year, could mean fewer voters will take part in the Oct. 20 civic elections.

“Those two things, I think, are going to have a huge impact on turnout,” he said.

“I think people don’t see the election coming, and you also see a lot less money spent by parties… so in general you won’t see much marketing about an election coming, and I think people will be potentially not aware as they have [been] in the past.”

READ MORE: Global News launches B.C. municipal election profiles in lead-up to October election

According to a post on Affleck’s Facebook page, he has submitted a motion to urge Premier John Horgan “to look at ensuring people head to the polls and vote” and expects to see it on the agenda at the Sept. 18 council meeting. The councillor also says he and other civic politicians should talk to Horgan about the issue at this week’s Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in Whistler.

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His motion asks council to request the province “immediately consider enhancing the existing communications budgets for Elections BC, various regional districts and UBCM to help raise public awareness of the imminent 2018 local government elections in British Columbia on an emergency basis.”

READ MORE: New Westminster city council candidate raises concerns about low voter turnout

New Westminster city council candidate Daniel Fontaine has also raised concerns about the lack of awareness around the election.

“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,” Fontaine told Global News last week.

Further muddying the waters is the fact that municipal elections happen to share a campaign period with a provincial referendum on electoral reform. Fontaine said he has already run into many people while campaigning who are confused about the two separate campaigns.

Affleck, who is not seeking re-election, says the lack of awareness is not just a problem in Vancouver but in municipalities across the province.

“This is a real concern for democracy,” Affleck said.

—With files from Richard Zussman