The PEI was put through a strainer. Now we need to discuss the key municipal elections | Catch My Job


When voters head to the polls on Nov. 7, they may notice fewer people on the ballot — a sign that the Island has had its fair share of events of late that could push voters to their limits.

Adding to the ever-growing list of things Prince Edward Island has going on right now: a municipal election with huge ramifications.

COVID-19 and its punishing seasonal waves; gas, rent and inflation run wild; Fiona and the dramatically urgent climate change talks; health system on the verge of collapse; relevant social issues such as housing and homelessness that attract the attention of people and all levels of government.

In between all these big events are the daily news and issues that demand the attention of Islanders. Perhaps that’s why these crucial municipal elections feel like another easy-to-miss wave in the tsunami of events that started the decade.

“I think there’s a general fatigue among the population, myself included. I think we all feel that,” said Don Deserud, professor of political science at UPEI.

“It reduces their enthusiasm to get involved, and it’s a shame because we really need people to be involved, but I appreciate that it’s getting harder and harder to get involved at a local level.”

The aftermath of Post-Tropical Storm Fiona in North Rustico, PEI as people wait in line to get gas. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

Sveta Daboo, executive director of the PEI Coalition for Women in Government, said she’s heard from many people who simply don’t have time for this election. It’s not that voters don’t care, it’s that they don’t have the energy and excitement to engage with the candidates and debate the issues.

“People are tired,” she said. “We’re seeing an increased risk of burnout, we’re seeing people pulling in different directions and just having trouble keeping up with their day-to-day responsibilities, and that’s culminating in a lack of interest when it comes to this election.”

Governments are getting very good at telling us what they can’t do and not so good at telling us what they can do.— Don Desserud

Desserud said people may have a perception that they can’t make enough of a difference at the municipal level. In reality, they can, but there are big provincial, federal and global issues hanging over their heads.

The challenge, Desserud said, is when municipal officials too often tell their constituents things they are not responsible for and cannot do, as opposed to emphasizing the tangible changes they can make in their communities.

“Governments are getting very good at telling us what they can’t do and not so good at telling us what they can do,” Deserud said. “If you listen to the press conferences held by our leaders at any level, a lot of it is filled with explaining why they are unable to do something about whatever problem they are facing. That’s not help.”

Basically, political leaders saying things like “it’s a provincial issue, not a city issue” end up turning more people away from running in the future — a far cry from the tone of municipal elections four years ago.

Harassment, violence are reasons why some do not run for office

For those who were here, remember the fall of 2018 and the number of new faces and contested wards we saw in Charlottetown, Summerside, Stratford and Cornwall — the four municipalities for which Elections PEI administered elections at that time.

People have been coming up with environmentally friendly ways to reuse their campaign signs. One candidate even painted pumpkins for the campaign.

There were women who ran for mayor in the largest municipalities in the province.

BIPOC candidates ran (some, not many) and openly discussed the inclusion of diverse voters and candidates in the election process.

In 2018, there were only three wards that remained uncontested in those four municipalities. It was not uncommon to see up to five people running for one seat.

Leap forward to 2022, when many have abandoned the campaign signs (mostly in terms of post-Fiona clean-up efforts); no women running for mayor in Charlottetown and Summerside; no BIPOC candidates; and there are seven wards and mayoral races that are uncontested.

We see an increased risk of burnout, we see people pulling in different directions.— Saint Daboo

There is no greater example of the level of engagement at Summerside, where five out of eight wards were commended in this election. In the previous 20 years of the election, Summerside had acclamation only six times.

That’s no disservice to the city’s recognized aldermen, but for voters, this time around there are fewer opportunities to debate issues, evaluate solutions and challenge platforms.

While the mayoral races are similar to those of 2018, there is a noticeable drop in the number of people running for council. (CBC)

What may also contribute to fewer people running for municipal office, Dabu said, is a lack of trust in local government and higher levels of harassment and violence faced by candidates — especially women and people of color.

“Looking at very derogatory comments towards women in person or online, it creates a little bit of concern on behalf of potential municipal candidates,” she said.

“Do you choose to be insulted?”

Ontario’s municipal elections are also underway and candidates are seeing anti-black racist messages, violent threats, stolen lawn signs, anti-vaccine and anti-Semitic messages

This year alone, we’ve seen federal leaders and their spouses face increased harassment, public confrontations, threats and online abuse.

What are the key issues in 2022?

So what does that leave us with? An election with fewer candidates, an already depleted voter base and the return of simmering issues from the last election cycle that are now in full swing.

The need for solutions to the housing and climate crisis is more urgent now than in 2018. Add to those big items – the rising cost of living; recruitment and retention of doctors; mental health services; rapid urbanization and valued green areas; emergency preparedness; police and protection.

Homelessness is a key issue in the 2022 municipal election, especially in the city of Charlottetown. (Kirk Pennell/CBC)

Of course, some of the above falls within the jurisdiction of the province or Ottawa – but voters and candidates have expressed the need to have municipalities at the decision-making table so that all levels of government are present to find fixes.

But there is another special issue for the 2022 election.

“The most important issue is integrity, and a lot of people are concerned … whether the municipal governments that we have are really working for their constituents,” Desserud said.

“People are becoming increasingly frustrated that their councilors are not listening to the concerns of their neighbourhood.” Again, that may not be fair, but I think that’s what a lot of people feel right now, and it’s hurt the process significantly.”

Daboo agrees. She cited recent controversies in the city of Charlottetown as points where there is a greater public need for transparency at the municipal administrative level. She also said that when voters see instability, they are reluctant to get involved.

“Municipalities have been in the news a lot in the last few years for the right and wrong reasons, and the more controversy there is, the more dysfunction is exposed in municipalities, the less people see the value in direct engagement,” she said.

These kinds of comments haven’t been as dominant, if at all, in the 2018 election, and it’s a sign of the times that they’re a high priority for voters come November 7th.

Although there are fewer people running this time, the stakes are higher than ever.


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