‘Apathetic voters, uninspiring leaders’: York Region stays all blue as Ontario sees all-time low turnout
June 14, 2022
After a colourless provincial election rife with apathetic voters and seemingly uninspiring candidates, all 10 ridings in York Region remain Conservative blue.
Incumbent or new Progressive Conservative candidates swept through the region in the June 2 election; as Billy Pang solidly secured Markham-Unionville, and Michael Tibollo was victorious in Vaughan-Woodbridge over Liberal leader Steven Del Duca.
On the surface, Ontario Premier Doug Ford claimed another majority in a landslide victory, but political observers say the far bigger story is that voter turnout hit rock bottom, which prompted renewed calls for electoral reform.
“Ford's PCs look like they improved on their 2018 result,” said Dennis Pilon, an associate professor in political science at York University. “However, this was more a function of how the voting system works rather than any substantive improvement in their electoral fortunes.”
Unofficial results indicate provincewide voter turnout was slightly more than 43 per cent, an all-time low record in Ontario's election history, thanks to a significant majority of Ontarians who decided not to bother heading to the polls.
In fact, voter engagement in some York ridings was even worse, well below 40 per cent: 34.54 per cent in Richmond Hill; 38 per cent in Aurora--Oak Ridges--Richmond Hill; 38.87 per cent in York-Simcoe; 39.29 per cent in Markham-Unionville; 39.45 per cent in Thornhill; and 39.72 per cent in King-Vaughan.
“Lack of confidence in politicians’ motives and sincerity, uninspiring choices of leaders, and COVID-related fatigue likely made people stay home,” said Kevin McCaffrey, a Markham teacher who votes in Newmarket-Aurora.
“The Liberals and NDP seemed not to be able to persuade Ontarians a change of leadership is warranted, and they were especially bad at highlighting Ford's short-sighted and occasionally glaring mistakes from his first 18 months as premier,” said McCaffrey.
McCaffrey added, “Moreover, Doug Ford would not be the one I would want to be premier during an unprecedented health crisis, but I think a majority of Ontarians gave Ford a passing grade on how he handled the pandemic.”
Voter turnout is partly a function of issues and conflict and voter concerns and partly a product of mobilization efforts, according to Pilon. “There just were not any strong issues that emerged and the parties seemed unable to mobilize voters into the campaign,” he said.
“So many people are just so fed up with the reds and the blues that they just chose not to vote,” said Green Party candidate Shanta Sundarason in Markham-Unionville.
Among those who voted, Pilon points out that many of them go back and forth between the Liberals and Conservatives since the two parties share a lot of voters.
“It is not untypical when one party is in power in one locale, the other does better elsewhere,” said Pilon. “One factor may be that the Liberal party and its activist base was too busy in Ottawa to give their attention and effort to the provincial campaign.”
Pilon believes voters in the past clearly would shift strongly toward one of the opposition parties but it didn't happen this time. “It looks like the PCs managed to avoid polarizing the vote against them. This suggests that while a majority of Ontario voters do not support the PCs, they were not so concerned about them that they were prepared to switch their vote to defeat them.”
“Despite the many environmental issues that we face, the economy and specifically inflation is likely at the top of mind for many voters, and PCs and a business-friendly politician like Ford is appealing to those voters,” said McCaffrey.
“But if sprawl and highways and pollution is what the majority want, then many are in for a rude awakening with climate change,” said Sundarason.
King-Vaughan resident Hina Zahid is puzzled at the low voter turnout but somehow satisfied with the results. “The voting process takes five to 10 minutes,” she said.
As a co-founder of non-profit group Muslim Women of Vaughan, Zahid expects the government to prioritize development, health care and racism issues.
“While the election results were very disappointing, I still have hope for our community,” said Thornhill resident Alice Young. “More than ever, we have to look out for each other.”