Skip to content

COLUMN: Election was a chance to show up ... and most did not

Columnist says he better not hear it from the nearly 70 per cent of eligible Barrie voters who didn’t bother to cast a ballot during the city election
The seven candidates for Barrie mayor in the 2022 municipal election were, clockwise from top left, Gerry Marshall, Andrew Gordon, Alex Nuttall, Barry Ward, Rob Haverson, Mike McCann and Weldon Hachey (centre).

I’d better not hear it during the next four years.

I’d better not hear it from the nearly 70 per cent of eligible Barrie voters who didn’t bother to cast a ballot during the city election for mayor, councillors and school board trustees which ended Oct. 24.  

I’d better not hear they don’t like their property tax bill, that their street wasn’t plowed quickly enough after a snowstorm, or the grass is too long in their neighbourhood park, or Barrie Landfill wasn’t open when they wanted to dump something there, or that ice time is too expensive at the hockey rink.

Or that their water/sewer bill is too high, or the road in front of their home is too bumpy and full of potholes, or they would like to put out another bag of garbage every week, or why is there so much road reconstruction and detours, even in the fall, or why is every park in Barrie a dog-off-leash area? (It’s not, it’s just treated that way by some owners.)

I’d better not hear the nearly 70 per cent of Barrie’s approximately 103,000 eligible voters complain because, frankly, you had your chance.

You could have voted, had your say, weighed in on who forms your next local government (2022-2026).

Instead you were a no-show.

You couldn’t be bothered voting on-line or by phone, or even in person.

It was just too inconvenient to power up your computer or pick up the phone, I guess.

That’s not something you do every day, so how could it be expected to do it for something as trivial as voting.

And there was also only, like, a 10-day window to vote. How could that work?

But yes, this is still a free country. People don’t have to vote and they are still entitled to the same services as those who bothered.

The city is not about to only plow the streets of people who bothered to vote (because they still have to pay property taxes. There’s no opting out of that one).

And in this case, those who bothered numbered 31,604 of 103,000 eligible voters, or 30.45 per cent.

No, Barrie wasn’t the only Ontario municipality where voter turnout was light.

It was 29 per cent in Toronto, 20 per cent in Kitchener, 25 per cent in London and 27 per cent in Brantford.

Voter apathy was rampant right across the province.

Maybe there was election burnout, with the Ontario vote just in June. People had had enough democracy.

But there was real optimism in Barrie this time.

Voting on-line and by phone is so convenient. There would be, at the very least, four new ward councillors elected. There was a real race for mayor for the first time since 2010 (Jeff Lehman took more than 90 per cent of the vote in 2014 and 2018, but didn’t run this time).

And former Barrie councillor and MP Alex Nuttall squared off against Deputy-Mayor Barry Ward, a 22-year council veteran, in what turned into a two-man race for mayor. 

So what happened?

For whatever reasons, the mayor’s race didn’t exactly capture the imagination of voters.

Nuttall won with 13,401 votes, or 42.72 per cent of votes cast. Ward was a close second with 12,624 votes, or 40.24 per cent.

So a difference of 2.48 per cent.

Gerry Marshall was third with 2,745 votes, or 8.75 per cent, Mike McCann fourth with 1,700 votes or 5.42 per cent. Andrew Gordon, Weldon Hachey and Rob Haverson combined for 898 votes or 2.86 per cent of the votes cast.

But when voter turnout is this low, we get some strange numbers.

Nuttall, for example, might have received 42.72 per cent of the votes cast, but he received only about 13 per cent of the eligible vote.

Hardly a mandate to lead, but there you have it.

And it’s not Nuttall’s fault that only 30.45 per cent of those who could vote actually did - or at least it’s no more his fault than any of the other candidates for mayor.

But voter turnout this time was virtually identical to 2018, 30 per cent, when there was really no race for mayor.

Why are eligible voters so apathetic?

Perhaps they’ve had it with politics, with politicians, with unkept promises and with a system that only pays attention to the masses once every four years.

Maybe they’re just too lazy to stay involved. Or perhaps there are other ways (protest?) to get involved in the decisions-making process.

“Decisions are made by those who show up,” said actor Martin Sheen, playing President Josiah Bartlet, on West Wing.

Only a TV series, you might say, but it has the ring of truth.

Those who didn’t bother to vote in Barrie’s 2022 municipal election now need to find another way to show up.

Whining about the status quo isn’t one of them, in my opinion.

Bob Bruton covers city council for BarrieToday. He plans to show up, in person or on-line, when the new council begins meeting on Nov. 16, 2022.