Organizers hope an online debate next Wednesday will draw attention back to the Ward 7 byelection in Windsor.
The race to replace former city councillor Irek Kusmierczyk, who gave up the seat last fall to become Liberal MP for Windsor-Tecumseh, has been delayed and was largely pushed out of the headlines due to the pandemic, says debate media co-ordinator Brenda Weeks-Clarke.
First scheduled for April 27, the byelection was pushed back to Oct. 5, out of a concern for voter and candidate safety. Advance voting will be Sept. 29 to Oct. 3 at the WFCU Centre.
Municipal elections, and byelections even more so, typically struggle with voter turnout.
And despite the proliferation of lawn signs, the Ward 7 byelection seems to have fallen off many voters' radar, says Weeks-Clarke.
"We're getting the impression that the byelection is not a very well-known date on people's calendars. A lot of people in Ward 7 are unaware," said Weeks-Clarke.
Getting word out about streamed debate
The debate will take place on Zoom at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 9, and it may be the very first time the city has attempted to hold an entirely-online debate, she says.
Organizers are trying to make it as accessible as possible, working with local cable channels to carry the debate "knowing that doing the Zoom-route exclusively could mean some people are left out," said Weeks-Clarke.
"I have senior friends who have personally told me that this is not an option for them, and they will be opting out of the virtual debate," she said. "So we need to go a step further ... so that people have the old-fashioned way of finding out what's going on."
The debate will cover five topics:
- Waterfront development.
- Widening Banwell Road.
- The opioid crisis
- Affordable housing.
Will voters tune in?
All 12 candidates running for the council seat have been invited, she said. About half have responded and said they'll participate.
But candidate Ernie Lamont won't be one of them.
"I'm not into that, I mean, you've got to be face-to-face. People react totally differently in person," he told CBC News.
"There's no reason why with all the money the news people make that they can't have it at a neutral place and have all the news media confront all the people in person," he said.
Jeween Gill, who is also running in Ward 7, says the success of the event will hinge on if word gets out.
"I don't know how many people are getting that information that debates are going on," he said. "The seniors, are they compatible with social media and all this, are they able to handle that?"
In the meantime, he says he'll keep reaching out to the members of his community, at a safe distance.
The 12 candidates running in the Ward 7 byelection are:
- Igor Dzaic.
- Farah El-Hajj.
- Michelle Gajewski.
- Jeween Gill.
- Barbara Holland.
- Ernie Lamont.
- Greg Lemay.
- Mike Malott.
- Angelo Marignani.
- Thérèse Papineau.
- Albert Saba.
- Howard Weeks.