Whether or not you are engaged in the federal election campaign or not, our West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country riding is an interesting one, says Doug Munroe of consulting firm Politikos Research.
Munroe will be moderating the Squamish Chamber of Commerce all-candidates Zoom debate on Sept. 16.
The candidates confirmed for the debate include Patrick Weiler, of the Liberal Party of Canada; John Weston, from the Conservative Party of Canada; Avi Lewis of the New Democratic Party (NDP); Mike Simpson representing the Green Party of Canada and Doug Bebb of the People’s Party of Canada (PPC).
“We’ve got an incumbent Liberal looking to make it three elections in a row, but it is not historically a Liberal riding. We have a Conservative candidate, John Weston, who was the incumbent [in 2015] who definitely has a lot of experience,” Munroe said. “The NDP, all of a sudden, have a fairly high-profile candidate in Avi Lewis who has a lot of experience outside of politics and then the Greens, after last fall's provincial election, must be feeling like this might be a potential breakthrough riding for them,” he said.
“That right there sets up an interesting contest. Doug Bebb is at it again for the PPC... that also is going to be interesting. This is going to be his second campaign, and I think you will see that experience showing up on the stage in the all-candidates debate.”
He said the Sea to Sky riding is being seriously contested by at least three or four of the campaigns.
Munroe noted that there is often a lot of focus on the national leaders in elections, but the local candidate is quite important.
“We do know that for a reasonable number of voters, the local candidate is what decides it for them,” he said, adding that about 5% of voters say the local candidate is the critical factor in their decision at the ballot box.
“There’s such a range of things that people say is the most important factor—that is one of the more significant ones,” he said.
“Those sorts of impressions about the local candidates and what they are like and what kinds of decisions they are likely to make, that does inform things for people and a lot of people don’t make up their minds until quite late in the game.”
What is the ballot question?
Munroe said that in each campaign, candidates try to frame the “ballot question.”
“They want to establish in the minds of voters the question that the voter thinks about when they say, ‘Who should I vote for? Who is going to be the best at X?’
“None of the leaders on the federal stage has been able to do that yet,” he said.
Locally, each candidate is also trying to frame a ballot question with reference to what their federal party is doing.
“You can’t contradict the main party; that doesn’t play very well, but they do try to selectively emphasize different aspects of what the central party is doing and I think that will be interesting to see—what the candidates do emphasize.”
In terms of how big a role voters’ feelings about the handling of the pandemic will play in the election, Munroe said it is difficult to estimate.
“There’s a very vocal group of opponents to pretty much any measure of public health, but you really can’t tell how many there are,” he said.
Some of the polling suggests that 80% of Canadians favour strong action—vaccine mandates or vaccine passports, for example, he said.
“That is an amazing level of consensus. Eighty per cent of Canadians agreeing on anything is unheard of,” he said, adding if there is that level of consensus, pandemic protocols are not going to be much of an election issue.
The curveball with the pandemic could be if there is an intense fourth wave that impacts how people can vote.
“Particularly if things get bad, people will be deciding throughout the writ period, ‘Am I going to go vote in person? Am I going to vote by mail? How safe do I feel right now?’”
There could be some folks who, in that case, decide not to vote at all if it is too late to mail in a ballot and they don’t feel comfortable voting in person, he noted.
Flip, flop and fly
While people may think that folks are loyal to a particular party, Munroe said that Canadians flip and flop to various parties often.
“Whether or not people vote at all is pretty volatile. Folks change their mind about that—a lot,” he said.
Comparing the 2019 and 2015 federal elections, half of the people voted for a different party, he said.
Could a party’s position on climate change alter who the electorate vote for?
Munroe said it is plausible.
“Our riding probably has a lot of environmental sensitivity and as the centre of gravity in the riding gets pulled upward and outward [from West Vancouver] by population change and changing of the boundaries and so forth, that probably starts to play a little bit more because people have chosen to live where they live [for the environment] or have an occupation that relies on ecosystem services in some way,” he said.
[The national GreenPAC 100 Debates on the Environment is organizing a separate West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country Zoom debate about environmental issues for Sept. 7 at 7 p.m.}
Why vote at all?
Munroe said it is easy and tempting to cast aspersions on those who don’t bother to vote, but that doesn’t change things.
He takes a different tact and encourages candidates to do the same when they talk to people.
“Your vote is your voice,” Munroe said. “It is the one thing that every single political actor in this country is paying incredible amounts of attention to. There are lots of other ways you can engage in politics, and that is wonderful, but the whole system is set up that every party, every candidate are going to pay a lot of attention to how you voted,” he said.
“Voting is not about deciding who wins or who the prime minister is going to be; those are secondary consequences. At its heart, it is your opportunity to have a voice in how your country and your future is going to be. There’s a lot of people on this planet who don’t get that. Take a minute to articulate what you want to say. Vote for the party you believe in, the party that is going to do what you want it to do, because even if they don’t get elected, all the other parties are going to notice that their thing gets votes, and they will respond to it.”
Munroe added that he doesn’t buy that not voting is a political statement.
“The idea of principled non-voting, while intellectually interesting for some people, is kind of bogus. If you stay silent, then you will be ignored.”
The Squamish Chamber of Commerce virtual 2021 Election - All Candidates Meeting is set for Sept. 16 from 6 to 8 p.m. The Squamish Chief is a partner in the event.