Voting is underway in the Greater Toronto Area as voters cast ballots in local races across Ontario, with an eye on whether the trend of low voter turnout will continue.
Voter turnout across the province in 2018 was 38.3 percent, the lowest turnout in municipal elections since 1982.
However, online and telephone voting are more prevalent in the province this time around, with 217 municipalities using those options in some form, up from 175 in 2018.
Debbie Naipaul of 42 Voices Malvern, a non-partisan residents’ group focused on engaging residents in Malvern and Scarborough-Rouge Park, told CBC News that she and other members of her team will be near the polls today trying to get people to vote.
“Through our work, even yesterday, we still found that there are many residents in this community who still haven’t voted,” she said. “So…feet on the ground today trying to encourage people, answer questions, give them information they might need to help them feel comfortable.”
According to data from the Union of Municipalities, 6,306 candidates are running for a total of 2,860 councilor seats across the province. Thirty-one percent of candidates are women, compared to 27 percent of candidates in 2018.
Polls in Toronto and other major cities open at 10 a.m. and close at 8 p.m., with variations in some regions. Twelve polling stations will briefly extend voting hours due to “earlier disruptions,” the City of Toronto says.
Also, in Vaughan, some polling locations were extended to 9 or 10 p.m. due to what the city described as “technical administrative challenges” that affected standard voting hours.
There were other signs of electoral disengagement in the province.
Acclamations in Ontario are up 15 per cent from four years ago, with 548 people automatically elected to council, mayor and chief positions because they ran unopposed.
And in Brampton it was a mad scramble to find enough workers for the election.
In an email obtained by CBC Toronto, Brampton City Clerk Peter Fay sent out a massive request for staff to work the election. The request came out at 10:25 a.m. Sunday, less than 24 hours before the polls opened. The city was short of at least 150 workers, although city staff said it was taking steps to address the shortage.
Expectations of low turnout are “all the more reason to vote,” Toronto mayoral candidate Gil Peñalos said after casting his ballot.
John Tory, the current president, expressed his belief that people love the city, that they will vote and give a solid mandate to the winners.
Michael Butac, 32, stood in line to vote at a polling station in downtown Toronto on Monday morning. He said the next city council will have a number of important issues to deal with, including two parallel crises.
“I think there’s a lot going on in the city that needs to be addressed, especially the housing crisis,” he said. “There is also the opioid crisis.
Julien Todd, an architecture student at the University of Toronto, said he is excited about his first election cycle. He said his big issues are transit, education and housing.
“Do your research. Be involved. I think those are some of the most important things,” he said.
The province recently granted “strong mayoral” powers to Toronto and Ottawa to speed up housing construction.
In some local elections, public figures could also embark on the next chapter of their political lives.
Andrea Horvath, who has led the provincial New Democrats in four elections, is running for mayor of Hamilton, where she was first elected to the city council in 1997. She resigned as provincial party leader this year.
Another provincial party leader who resigned after June’s Ontario election is also running for mayor in the Greater Toronto Area.
Stephen Del Duca is on the ballot in Vaughan after resigning as Liberal leader when he failed to win party status or his legislative seat.