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Observer worried 'entertainment politics' will begin to dominate

'What (the Progressive Conservatives) discovered is less is more; it’s a winning strategy,' says political science teacher
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It was a nail-biter right to the end.

And even though Barrie-Springwater-Oro-Medonte promised to deliver one of the closest races of the 2022 provincial election, only 44.61 per cent of local eligible voters cared enough to mark their 'X'.

In the end, Progressive Conservative incumbent Doug Downey, who served as attorney general, captured 16,114 of the votes, 609 more than Liberal candidate and longtime Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman.

Provincewide, as the Progressive Conservatives captured a clear majority on Thursday, the voter turnout was just over 43 per cent with 98.98 per cent of the polls reporting on Friday morning, proving to be the lowest ever in a provincial election in Ontario.

That’s down significantly from the 57 per cent that turned out for the 2018 provincial election.

The turnout in Barrie-Innisfil, where PC incumbent Andrea Khanjin ran away with more than 50 per cent of the vote, was even more abysmal, with only 39.26 per cent of eligible voters casting a ballot.

“Almost 60 per cent felt it wasn’t worth going to the polls to express an opinion,” says Georgian College politics teacher Geoffrey Booth, expressing concern over the low turnout.

The showdown between Downey and Lehman in Barrie-Springwater-Oro-Medonte illustrates that until it’s all over, nothing is ever certain.

Booth figures if there was ever going to be a splash of red in the overwhelming Tory blue results, it would have been with Lehman in the local riding.

But he sees this campaign overall  where many PC candidates opted out of debates, including locally  as different from others. And that, Booth adds, may not be a good thing for democracy. 

Another concern for Booth is the style of the campaign.

“The Progressive Conservatives ran a campaign that really didn’t focus much on policy but focused more on feel-good politics,” he says, again lamenting the low voter turnout. “And people bought it.”

Without an informed public view, people can become vulnerable to being taken advantage of, he says.

Booth says he found the PC campaign lacking substance, which he worries may become a template for future campaigns he calls 'entertainment politics'.

In his teaching, Booth tells students not just to vote, but to make an informed decision so they can cast a knowledgeable vote.

He points to Simcoe North where PC incumbent Jill Dunlop pulled out nearly 50 per cent of the vote after turning out to just one all-candidates’ event.

“What they discovered is less is more; it’s a winning strategy,” Booth says. “So pull your candidates away from engaging with the citizenry. Send out talking points, send out press releases, but don’t let your candidates actually get in touch with citizens because they might say something that throws off the game.

“Obviously, it was a brilliant political strategy this time around. People are tired of the pandemic, we all just want to get out there and go to the garden centres and live our lives," he adds. 

That approach, Booth explains, is based on focusing on the leader whose image is crafted by the campaign team. 

That leaves the people on the ground representing the individual ridings to rely upon that big picture without extending much of themselves to the electorate, he says.

He feels that approach, largely enabled through social media, creates a template that he worries might be followed in the future that he feels is not healthy for democracy.