Election overload a likely factor in Ontario’s low voter turnout

Ontarians have, sort of, just participated in a provincial election that is leaving a unique footprint in the legislature at Queen’s Park.

The “sort of” qualifier refers to the fact that three percent fewer citizens took part in this election compared to the one four years ago. In real terms, that represents a drop from 52 percent to 49 percent, an all-time low.

Slightly fewer than five out of 10 potential voters gave the Liberals, by one seat, a minority government with 53 of their number elected. The Progressive Conservatives come into the legislature, as before, as the Official Opposition, but with 37 seats: a gain of 12 while the New Democrats gained seven seats to bring 17 of their number to the opposition benches.

Both the PCs’and the NDP’s gains were at the Liberals’ expense. The Green Party actually took a slightly lower percentage of the popular vote and, again, did not elect a member or, a change from the last election, did not place second in any individual contests.

The most disturbing factor is the five out of 10 phenomenon.

It is likely that Ontarians are simply election weary as the same voters have been called to municipal, federal and provincial polls in less than a 12-month period.

For many people, one election of any kind in a year is probably sufficient while being called upon to exercise their “democratic right” twice in the same year becomes annoying and the third go-around (last week’s election) is just not taken very seriously.

We are suggesting that this is precisely why the drop in voter turnout took place in Ontario: it wasn’t so much the result of apathy as it was of overkill and annoyance.

Liberal leader and Premiere Dalton McGuinty may not appreciate this observation just now, but the minority result of this election may well have done the process a favour.

Governments at the municipal, provincial and federal levels have all mandated themselves to hold elections every four years.

Municipal elections will hew to this edict. They have no choice. The federal government, where the Conservatives were given a majority by Canadians earlier this year, will certainly not be seeking re-election for four years.

But with the Liberals in a minority position—just barely, and constantly at the risk of mid-term by-elections because of members’ resignations, illnesses or even deaths that could easily put them further out of favour with the electorate—that means there is very little chance of the government surviving a full four-year-term and it will likely fall when and if the PCs or NDP feel one or both of these parties would gain ground in a General Election.

And that means that the cycle of three full-blown elections every four years will be interrupted, at least at the provincial level.

The next time the federal government comes back as a minority, it too will be subject to the fate of virtually all minority parliaments and will also not finish a four-year term.

We can only hope, at any rate.

Three elections in a twelvemonth has clearly been too much of a good thing for Ontarians and as a consequence, a great many of them stayed home on election day.

Minority governments, by their very natures, at least give the electoral system the opportunity of re-balancing so voters only have to contend with an election at a particular level of jurisdiction every couple of years.

In a way, that may well have been a large part of the message Ontario voters (at least those who didn’t vote this time) were sending to Queen’s Park and it may have been Mr. McGuinty’s and his Liberals’ bad luck that they were defending their turf in the third electoral go-round within a year, after voters’ patience had grown thin with constant demands for their attention to, basically, the same topic.