By Annie Bergeron-Oliver | Published in iPolitics.ca on June 24, 2014
TORONTO – It’s just before dinner time at the advanced polling station in the Scarborough-Agincourt riding, and nobody is around. There are more election workers than voters, and it seems that’s the way it’s been since advanced polling began here three days ago.
“It’s been on and off,” an election worker said when asked if the polling station had been busy.
An elderly couple hand over their voter information cards, passports and a joint electricity bill in exchange for a ballot. There’s no line up.
Byelections are notorious for having lower voter turnout than general elections, and this upcoming vote will almost certainly follow the trend.
Scarborough-Agincourt is one of four federal byelections taking place June 30th. The riding became vacant after long-time Liberal MP Jim Karygiannis resigned, leaving the district without an incumbent for the first time in more than two decades. There are five candidates, but only three appear to be competitive.
With a provincial, mayoral and now federal byelection all within a few months, voters are fatigued. In addition to those factors, the vote itself is happening on the Monday of a long-weekend.
“With three elections in the same year, I think people get confused and distracted,” said Mike Grella, the owner of a Veal shop in Agincourt.
“We don’t know what is what.”
It’s so bad that provincial and federal lawn signs are being mixed up. Signs from both elections are still standing, with posters advertising candidates in the last provincial election alongside those promoting candidates in this campaign.
But it get’s worse.
“Some people actually took down our signs and said when are you coming to pick them up?,” said Ian Perkins, the campaign manager for the federal Liberal candidate, Arnold Chan.
“There’s a lot of confusion out there,” said Perkins.
A group of older adults at a local community centre playing bingo had no idea an election campaign was happening. At a Tim Hortons, two men having coffee said they had received automated calls, but they couldn’t name any of the candidates.
And that uncertainty means the parties have to think of new ways to communicate with voters. People are screening their calls, Perkins said, which puts a greater emphasis on the need for door-to-door campaigns and informal meeting with voters at bus stops in the riding.
Although the Liberals are confident they have this election in the bag, the party has a new and largely unfamiliar candidate. The opposition parties have their best chance in years to break through in this important Toronto riding.
A loss for Liberals in a riding they have held since 1988 would be a blow for the credibility of Trudeau, who is depending on Ontario in the next federal election.
“People are ready for a change. You can’t take the vote for granted. It is anyone’s game,” said NDP candidate Elizabeth Long’s campaign manager Andrea Moffat.
“We are definitely hearing some uncertainty about it and some voter fatigue, but for the most part we are getting a really positive response.”
Despite some challenges, Moffat said Long has been able to draw up significant support. A meet and greet last Friday with Long and NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair attracted about one hundred people, she said.
“There are a lot of people who know her from representing their immigration issues in the past. As an immigration lawyer, she has represented people who live in the community,” Moffat said.
The NDP hopes to maintain their momentum in Scarborough. Last election they doubled their vote in Scarborough-Agincourt, and picked up a seat in Scarborough—Rouge River and Scarborough Southwest.
Scarborough-Agincourt, numbered 80 in the map above, is one of the few Liberal islands remaining in what was once called Fortress Toronto.
“I don’t call anything a Liberal riding because we made history just next door in what everybody said was a Liberal riding,” Moffat said, adding that the NDP is the official Opposition this time around.
“I think people maybe vote for what they used to, but I don’t think people say they are voting Liberal because they are particularly excited about it.”
Conservative candidate Trevor Ellis has been relatively silent in the race, skipping an all candidate’s debate Tuesday night. Volunteers at his head office said traffic has been relatively inconsistent.
Between door-to-door visits, Ellis told iPolitics the campaign has been going well. He said he’s been receiving mixed responses from voters about the byelection. Recently, Ellis said he ran into a woman who was taking down his lawn sign thinking the election was over.
“I said oh, excuse me. If you don’t want that lawn sign I’ll take it because I’m the candidate, Trevor Ellis,” he said.
“She said oh, I thought this election was over. And I said no it’s coming up in about a week.”
Ellis said he isn’t worried about low voter turnout or confusion among voters because all the candidates are facing the same challenges. Voters who are best informed and who know what is going on will go vote, he said.
The Conservatives have resorted to sending another campaign attack on Trudeau which might be a rehearsal for the next election. The handout portrays a large photograph of Trudeau next to a quote of him saying “The budget will balance itself.”