Like many other municipalities across the province, voter turnout numbers in Fort Frances during last year’s Municipal Election were low, and no one is entirely sure what to do about it.
During Monday night’s meeting of the Town of Fort Frances council, municipal clerk Gabrielle Lecuyer delivered a debrief report on the 2022 Municipal and School Board Elections to highlight to council how the election was run, and the stats behind the scenes to show how voters behaved during the voting period.
One of the most dramatic numbers in the debrief shows that voter turnout for the municipal electio in fort Frances was 49.6 percent, which Lecuyer noted is down 1.7 percent from the 2018 municipal election, and down 5.55 percent from the 2014 cast ballot. The report notes that there are 5,317 eligible electors, and only 2,639 of those cast a ballot. While the numbers are indeed low, Lecuyer said there is no reason to think the turnout is unique to Fort Frances.
“I do want to say this is a bigger problem than just Fort Frances,” she said.
“It is province-wide. It’s not just here. We’re seeing reports of voter fatigue. That is true. If you’re sending people to the ballot too often, people get tired of it. We had just had a provincial election, we had a federal election, unfortunately I believe that played a part in our voter turnout at the end of the day.”
While voter fatigue may factor into low turnout numbers, Lecuyer said it’s hard to predict why people don’t vote. Some people may see no problem with the status quo and thus don’t feel the need to vote, or they may lie at the complete opposite end of the spectrum and be so disillusioned with the electoral process that they feel there is no point to casting their ballot.
“Everybody thinks about voting a little bit differently,” Lecuyer said.
Councillor John McTaggart asked Lecuyer if any thought had been put into ways to entice more young people in their 20s and 30s to get out to vote in future elections. Lecuyer noted that they have expanded their presence at events like the Business Expo to reach more of the younger demographic, as well as increased marketing presence, though she also noted that she feels it is in part up to candidates to also make their own attempts to reach out to those demographics as well during their campaign efforts.
Another point Lecuyer addressed during the debrief was the higher level of acclimations that took place across the province. Municipalities in Ontario all seem to be struggling with attracting candidates who want to run for political positions, a point that is backed up by data from the Association of Municipalities Ontario (AMO) that showed a decrease in the total number of candidates in Ontario in the 2022 election (6,306) compared to the 2018 election (6,658). With a lower number of total candidates ostensibly running for the same number of seats, acclimations in the province thus tracked higher, with 548 acclimations occurring in the 2022 election compared to 477 in the 2018 election. The AMO noted that 32 municipal governments were fully elected by acclamation in 2022, which represents a total of eight percent of all municipal councils. There are 444 municipal governments in Ontario, though only 417 of those hold municipal elections.
Lecuyer said that the data for why fewer people are running for municipal politics is again difficult to pin down with any specificity, but can likely be ascribed to several different factors, including the difficulty of the job, and the ever-present nature of social media.
“You hear people say ‘it’s hard to recruit new or more diverse councils,’” she said.
“We’ve talked about it at this table, actually, changing meeting times and that kind of thing. And that is true, there is all merit to be looked at in the future, but I also think being in politics is a tough job. So it may be intimidating to some individuals, especially when you’re seeing activity on how politics is portrayed on social media. It’s usually not great news and it can be very challenging for the politicians, the council member and their family, and sometimes just that in itself is discouraging. The social media world has not helped in that aspect.”
Lecuyer also said she feels the changes from the province requiring an Integrity Commissioner and code of conduct has further made it difficult to bring in new blood when there is a constant concern for what one says in order for their words not to be misconstrued and lead to a code of conduct violation.
While addressing the low numbers of both voters and candidates will continue to be a concern going forward, Lecuyer noted that some other parts of the province have cast their eyes much younger when it comes to trying new tactics for engaging a new generation with local politics that could be something to explore in Fort Frances in the future.
“Other things that council or other municipalities do look at in terms of not just voting but candidacy is having student councillors on their council,” Lecuyer said.
“These are always good things to think about, understanding our chambers are a little snug, but for voting and having more candidates, those are options to think about in the future.”