Why is voter turnout in municipal elections so low?

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Pradip Rodrigues

Last week a story on the CBC website caught my attention. It’s title was – Mississauga’s population is 57% visible minorities. So why does its city council look like this? Below that headline were pictures of middle-aged Caucasian Peel councillors. I was expecting an investigative piece that would get to the bottom of this mystery, but the piece revealed nothing new or newsworthy.
The article went on to state the facts- According to the 2016 census, 57 per cent of Mississauga residents identified as visible minorities. However, not one of them was elected to the city’s 11 council seats in 2014. The writer seemed genuinely perplexed by this anomaly.

In neighbouring Brampton, where 73 per cent of residents identify as visible minorities, just one of the city’s 10 councillors is a person of colour, for the next few weeks atleast until election day.
It does seem strange that Peel Region has no talented people who could be moulded to become good politicians. The truth is that as long as only real estate agents and new immigrants often running small businesses end up running against powerful incumbents with name recognition, the handful of residents from the wards who actually bother to show up will always end up voting for the familiar OLD faces, yes, quite literally. And when one or two seats become available every now and again as is the case in both Mississauga and Brampton, a slew of first-gen candidates make an aggressive pitch and may well end up elbowing out a genuinely great candidate with a lot more to offer.

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And in ridings where it is all but impossible to dislodge the sitting councillor, it is quite pointless for anyone else to run unless they have money to burn and time to waste.

I asked a few people living in Mississauga if they planned on voting in the upcoming Municipal elections on 22nd October. One said he would if he got home in time. The others simply shrugged and said ‘maybe’ and few really didn’t know who was running against their powerful entrenched local incumbent councillor who isn’t going anywhere.

In the piece on the subject the reporter got in touch with Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie who seemed as usual quite troubled by the phenomena of long-serving councillors, although she doesn’t have an opinion on long-serving mayors, notably her predecessor Hazel McCallion who served 36 years. Mayor Crombie said the reason why so few visible minorities have been elected was that a slew of long-serving incumbent councillors, were ‘notoriously difficult to unseat in municipal elections.’

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“Some of them have been in office a long period of time,” she said. “And the city has changed over the years.” It was her way of gently reminding some of these councillors with fossilized minds that its 2018 and not the 90s when some of them became councillors. Prior to this municipal elections, Mississauga’s Ward 7 councillor Nando Iannicca announced he would not seek re-election and was retiring. He has served since 1988, naturally then that is the ward where there is a lively campaign going featuring mostly non-Caucasian candidates. So it does seem that Mississauga could well be on its way to electing its first non-Caucasian councillor. This would really help avoid the embarrassment of having an all-white cast of councillors as has been the case all these many years.

Many of the incumbent municipal councillors across the GTA and beyond ‘campaign’ very seriously even when there are no credible opponents. In Peel Region some councillors could simply abandon the pretense of campaigning and having campaign fundraisers. In Mississauga, Mayor Bonnie Crombie perhaps doesn’t need to campaign at all given her nearest opponent Kevin Johnston has mostly been discredited and ignored by the media following his anti-Muslim rants in the past. Her predecessor Hazel McCallion famously didn’t bother to campaign yet won repeatedly by massive landslides.

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In Brampton it is another story, you have an embattled Mayor Linda Jeffrey who is being challenged by Patrick Brown who smells an opportunity to unseat her. Other than that high profile opponent, most wards have candidates who have little or no name-recognition and very few resources to run an effective campaign.

The result is that issues that are important to residents of a city never get aired. No one quite knows what a councillor really does apart from voting for and against some new sub-division or pushing for funding for a city park or putting up speed bumps or traffic signals.

For most residents, municipal councillors are quite redundant, they could really be replaced by a person appointed by the City HR department based on their education qualification and understanding of civic issues. You really don’t need a bunch of councillors who happen to be senior citizens who should be out playing golf or fishing or perhaps helping out at a local food bank sitting and going through the motions or putting forward some motion or the other. -CINEWS

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