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The importance of voting in municipal elections

Did you know that voting in all elections is a responsibility of Canadian citizens? Over the next month, municipalities across several provinces and territories will hold municipal elections. Municipal policies can have a large impact on wellbeing and yet, with few exceptions, Canadians tend to be less interested in municipal politics than they are in federal or provincial politics (Figure 1).  

Figure 1: Percentage of people who are very interested in politics

ercentage of people who are very interested in politics

Data is from CIW’s Community Wellbeing Surveys. Level of interest in politics is based on 10 point scale. People who are very interested in politics are those who selected 8, 9, or 10 on the scale.  

Overall, of the five communities the CIW has surveyed, only Wood Buffalo (Fort McMurray) residents reported a stronger interest in municipal politics compared to federal or provincial categories.

What municipal governments do

Sometimes it’s difficult to know what level of government is responsible for which services. This animated TVO video provides a catchy explanation of the different responsibilities of each level of government. As an example of the importance of local government to wellbeing, Figure 2 lists things municipal governments have some control over for each wellbeing domain.

Figure 2: Examples of local government policies and programmes that affect wellbeing

xamples of local government policies and programmes that affect wellbeing

Municipal voter turnout

Sadly, voter turnout in municipal elections is rarely above 50% of eligible voters, much lower than turnout in provincial and federal elections. Figure 3 details the voter turnout in four Canadian cities that will hold municipal elections in the coming month: Vancouver, Winnipeg, Toronto, and Charlottetown.

Figure 3: Voter turnout in four Canadian cities

voter turnout in federal, provincial and municipal elections

As the graph shows, voter turnout has climbed in recent years in Vancouver, Winnipeg, and Toronto but still remains low. In Charlottetown, where voter turnout in municipal elections has historically been higher than in other places, there is a trend of decreasing turnout in the past two elections. Overall, less than half of Canadians residing in these cities participate in municipal elections.

In order to increase voter turnout some municipalities are adopting new technologies and approaches or considering expanding voting rights:

  • Internet or telephone voting has been used in several Canadian municipalities’ and has led to a 10% average increase in voter turnout. This could make voting easier and more accessible and possibly increase youth voter turnout which tends to be low.
  • Several municipalities have pushed for changes to election legislation in order to allow permanent residents, who are not Canadian citizens, to vote in municipal elections. Currently all municipalities in New Zealand allows non-citizens to vote , as do Dublin, Ireland and Oslo, Norway. Allowing permanent residents to vote in municipal elections could foster a stronger sense of community belonging and inclusion.
  • The Community Foundation of Kingston & Area is hoping that linking democratic engagement to overall wellbeing will help increase municipal election turnout. Using CIW’s research they note in their 2014 Vital Signs report that “highly civically engaged residents have a higher quality of life than people who are less civically engaged.”

Do you vote in local elections? Why or why not? Tweet us your thoughts @ciwnetwork #wellbeing

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