Submitted by Robyn Gillam
So we’ve just had a big turnover in our municipal government. The mayor, and some councillors retired; incumbents lost in the polls. It certainly looks like a “change election”, but there’s a downside. Only 35.4% of eligible voters bothered to cast a ballot (although more than elsewhere). While some have questioned the validity of the result and others what would get people engaged, what interests me is why people don’t vote in municipal (or other) elections. Here follow some unscientific observations, along with reasons to vote. On Election Day, I was at the university campus in suburban Toronto where I work, chatting to some of my students before my lecture. All was bright and friendly until I reminded them to vote in the municipal election. Total silence fell as they looked at the ceiling, their shoes, their laptops, phones or fingernails, anywhere but at me. Undeterred by this chilly reception, I pressed on: “It’s important– local government oversees infrastructure and services where you live… and you’ve got until 8pm.” One fixed me with an accusing stare, saying: “I don’t have time–I’ve got all these assignments.” Another piped up: “I don’t turn 18 until next week.” A third simply responded: “Mmmm..”
This was not the first time I had encountered negativity on this topic. A friendly office administrator at work became a lot less friendly, saying he didn’t know anything about the issues or the candidates. A friend of mine asked how on earth she could find out who was running in our ward and what the issues were. When I told other friends I was really involved in the election, all I got were pitying stares. It’s no secret that most people find municipal elections, or local government, boring. You could put someone to sleep simply by repeating the phrase ‘municipal election’ several times, and it’s generally assumed that the relevant information is inaccessible, as well as snore-inducing.
Actually, it’s not really that hard to find what’s going on. It doesn’t take high level research skills or huge amounts of time. For weeks candidates distributed information about their campaigns and the issues by posting on line, knocking on doors and distributing flyers. If you didn’t speak to them in person, their materials provided succinct overviews of their platforms and where they stood on relevant issues. (And no, it’s not junk mail, it’s important information about civic government. You should definitely read it.) To dig deeper, go to mainstream and independent local journalism.
What about the issues? That’s not difficult at all. The issues are whatever affects you in your daily life–garbage pickup, snow removal, building regulations, issues around health and safety. Municipal government is where you live, and if it’s not boring that’s because it’s not working and you should be concerned.
“I’m a tenant” is another common reason for non-participation. It’s a widespread misconception that residential tenants don’t pay property taxes, but it’s included in their rent and assessed at a higher rate. Municipal government is directly responsible for the regulation of rental properties, especially large high-rise buildings. Large numbers of Hamilton tenants voted this time to get more representation for their issues on council. You might argue that you’re moving soon and there’s no point in voting. Actually, there is if you are around for a few months to a year. Maybe you don’t feel involved if you are a student living away from home, but you’re still around for over half the year, and you really do live here.
Apart from those who are ineligible or unable to vote, most of us are too busy or not interested. However, although you didn’t get to have any input in the current makeup of City Hall, it’s not the end of the world. The next election is Monday October 26, 2026, and although four years seems like a long time, you now know that it only requires a small effort and a little bit of planning to be informed, if not involved. Mark it in your calendar so you won’t forget.
Find out more about municipal elections at: https://www.muniscope.ca/research/municipal_facts/Elections