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2022 election: Voter turnout drops across Lower Mainland

Click to play video: 'B.C. municipal election: Voter turnout and Doug McCallum seeking recount'
B.C. municipal election: Voter turnout and Doug McCallum seeking recount
Legislative bureau chief Keith Baldrey has more on voter turnout at the B.C. municipal election and Doug McCallum is seeking a recount in Surrey. – Oct 17, 2022

Voters across the Lower Mainland sent a clear message Saturday night, booting half-dozen mayors from office. But an even larger block of voters sent another message: they stayed home.

Turnout in the municipal elections continued a troubling trend this year, with turnout declining across the region.

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In the City of Vancouver, advance polling numbers had raised hopes that voters would reverse several cycles of declining turnout.

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With two fewer days of early voting than in 2018, more than 16,000 additional people cast an advance vote in 2022.

Ken Sim of ABC Vancouver defeated incumbent Kennedy Stewart in a landslide after a crowded, divisive campaign focused heavily on crime and public safety. But with with the final results counted, just 36.5 per cent of Vancouver voters cast a ballot this year, down 3.1 per cent from 2018.

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New Vancouver mayor begins work on transition

“I was actually expecting it to go up a bit,” University of the Fraser Valley political scientist Hamish Telford said.

“Political scientists have found that when we have competitive elections on important issues with controversial figures, turnout tends to go up, so I was expecting a nudge up, especially with all of those candidates running for mayor in different cities trying to motivate voters,” he explained.

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“But political scientists have also discovered that when things are confusing, voter turnout goes down. And, of course, in Vancouver where we did see a drop there was a huge number of candidates, slates, a huge ballot, and I’m guessing a lot of people just couldn’t make sense of it and gave up, which is sad.”

The City of Surrey also had a crowded field of high-profile candidates, focused on the city’s police transition and accountability at city hall, but was the rare municipality with a slight boost in turnout.

Brenda Locke edged incumbent Doug McCallum out by fewer than 1,000 votes in that contest. In Surrey, turnout increased slightly to 34.5 per cent, up from 32.9 per cent in 2018.

Click to play video: '2022 B.C. municipal election roundup'
2022 B.C. municipal election roundup

Stewart Prest, a political scientist with Quest University, said the dismal results across the region suggested it might be time to look at changing the way voters elect their municipal governments.

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“We can do things differently in the B.C. municipal races,” he said.

“A move towards wards can be a way to simplify the choice so you are only electing one representative, so that means you are going to have fewer names to choose from.”

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The small communities of Anmore and Belcarra were, as in 2018, the only two Metro Vancouver municipalities to exceed 50 per cent turnout. But even they saw turnout decline with Belcarra dropping from an impressive 84.7 per cent to 74.6 per cent, and Anmore falling from 52 per cent to 50.8 per cent.

The City of Langley, which saw a bruising campaign with name-calling and allegations of trashed election signs, had the worst turnout in the region.

Just 17 per cent of eligible voters cast a ballot in the contest that had Nathan Pachal beat incumbent Val van den Broek by a two-to-one margin.

Port Coquitlam (18.3 per cent) and Burnaby (19.3 per cent) had the next lowest turnouts. However, both communities had their mayors acclaimed after no one else stepped up to run, providing less incentive for voters to head to the polls.

Pitt Meadows saw the biggest dip in turnout from 2018, with 23.3 per cent of voters casting a ballot, down 16.9 per cent from 2018.

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