It was hard to get excited about the 2022 municipal election in Haliburton County.
After all, the mayors and deputy mayors of the most populated centres – Dysart et al and Minden Hills – had already been acclaimed. mayor-elect Murray Fearrey and deputy-mayor-elect Walt McKechnie were in months ago, as were Bob Carter, mayor, and Lisa Schell, deputy mayor of Minden Hills.
Granted there were still some races in Dysart, for ward 1 with four candidates; ward 2 with three contenders; and ward 4 with four wannabes. However, with the top two jobs already spoken for, voter turnout was low, at 31.47 per cent.
Minden Hills also featured races for councillor-at-large, ward 1 and ward 2 but without a mayor and deputy mayor on the ballot it was a bit ho-hum there as well, at 24.76 per cent.
And while there were mayoral races in Algonquin Highlands and Highlands East, turnout in Algonquin Highlands was 28.9 per cent and Highlands East 21.26 per cent.
We know that competitive races usually result in higher voter turnout. In the County this time around, one half of all candidates were acclaimed. That is 12 of 24. That isn’t good.
And, sometimes incumbents get back in on name recognition alone, not necessarily performance. Studies estimate incumbency increases a candidate’s winning percentage by 30 per cent in municipal races, compared to about 10 per cent in federal races.
But low voter turnout isn’t just a Haliburton County story. Other townships, including the City of Toronto, have seen record low voter turnouts.
Some have speculated it is voter fatigue following a federal, provincial and now municipal election in 13 months during COVID.
Incidentally, the provincial election in June recorded its worst-ever turnout, while last year’s federal election saw its lowest turnout in a decade.
The sociologists will likely have a field day with this, but it does speak to the state of democracy in our country and across the world.
Closer to home, could the municipalities themselves have done more to attract candidates and voters?
The answer is yes.
Municipalities in general don’t do a good job of promoting the nomination period and explaining what the election is about and what people’s options are.
It is commendable that a candidate information session was put on by the townships, featuring Fred Dean, a municipal coach and former municipal solicitor, back in April. To my knowledge, nothing like that had been done before locally.
The session provided an overview of the roles and responsibilities of municipal council members and explained how public office will impact would-be councillors’ lives.
Researching this week’s editorial, I came across a CBC interview with Dave Meslin from Grey Highlands. He launched the nonpartisan Grey Highlands Municipal League earlier this year with support from a dozen volunteers across the municipality.
They organized election information sessions at cafes and libraries. They mailed out postcards in the style of job ads to recruit council candidates. And when the nomination period closed, they sent out a candidate ‘menu’ to residents.
They had 23 candidates this year for seven positions. They had never had more than 15 in the past. There were three for mayor, three for deputy mayor and 17 for council.
Those worried about the future of democracy in the Highlands might take a look at what Grey Highlands Municipal League is doing for our 2026 election