Kamloops municipal election in retrospect – turnout, youth and change

The municipal election has now come and gone. Many towns across B.C. now have a new mayor. Some have entirely new councils, even. Kamloops, however, went for six of eight incumbent councillors and Mayor Peter Milobar retook his seat with 78 per cent of the vote.

In the end, voter turnout ended up at 33.1 per cent, besting the 29 per cent turnout the city managed in 2011, but not by much.

There’s an idea out there that lack of change and low voter turnout simply means that people are content with the way things are going, but I don’t think it matters whether or not people were content before the election. Engagement, whether it’s for change or the status quo, should remain high either way. I suspect that plain old apathy is the more likely explanation.

It’s not without effort. Vote 50, led by campaign coordinator Will George, was a fantastic effort that aimed to get the city excited about voting. George was smart about the campaign. He organized events, herded the candidates around the city (all 47 of them) and took creative approaches towards getting the city out and voting.

Unfortunately, the city barely budged. I would certainly attribute the 4 per cent increase to Vote 50’s efforts. They at least deserve that much credit (they deserve more, in fact).

While hard facts on the demographics of those who did vote will be hard to come by, the line of 50-odd people that I was in on McArthur Island was not particularly young. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the median age was around 55. Furthermore, voter turnout on the TRU campus with its special polling station, was not particularly encouraging, with just 280 voters casting their ballots. Granted, I was not among them, and who knows how many, like me, decided to vote on the day of the General Election instead.

Civic engagement is something to be nurtured, and I think we’re on the right track with programs like Student Vote, which has candidates pitching to school-aged kids and then holding a vote. Not only does it help candidates hone their pitching skills and get an idea of how they’re doing, it instills in kids that they have real voter power. Schools in Kamloops accounted for 6,334 mock votes across six schools. Considering the results of their election, if they had been real votes the results of this election might be much different.

Another consideration might be the number of younger candidates running. A healthy council is a diverse one. I think we’re okay on that front, with councillors ranging from Donovan Cavers to Patricia Wallace, we’ve pretty much got things covered, but more youth wouldn’t hurt, and I think it would bring a different set of issues to the table.

One unsuccessful candidate comes to mind – former TRUSU president Dustin McIntyre. I was excited to see that he had thrown his hat into the ring for this election. Even though he only received 2,867 votes and found himself near the bottom of the results list, he has vowed to run again in the next election, and I can’t wait to see how he’ll try to improve his results.

In the meantime, council will bring its new members (Dieter Dudy and Denis Walsh) up to speed and they’ll get back to business. I hope that all of you will be watching closely as this new council finds its footing and debates the issues of the day. Meetings are streamed online through the City of Kamloops website and there are plenty of ways to keep in touch with what council is up to (following Andrea Klassen (@AndreaThisWeek) on Twitter is a good start). The next meeting is on Nov. 25, so don’t miss it.