Federal races overshadowing municipal ones, Edmonton election watchers say

·3 min read
Federal election signs on a street in northeast Edmonton. (Craig Ryan/CBC - image credit)
Federal election signs on a street in northeast Edmonton. (Craig Ryan/CBC - image credit)

There are two elections coming up this fall, but only one seems to be capturing voters' attention.

In recent focus group discussions run by pollster Janet Brown for CBC News, Edmonton-area voters said the municipal election was taking a backseat to the federal election.

"I am definitely hearing more about the federal election," said focus group member Cindy Bill, who lives in northeast Edmonton's Bannerman neighbourhood.

Bill is one of 20 local voters participating in election-related discussions and surveys leading up to the municipal election on October 18.

Bill said she has received a glossy pamphlet from her federal Conservative candidate, incumbent Ziad Aboultaif, but signs for city councillor candidates are scarce in her neighbourhood and, to her knowledge, no municipal candidates have knocked on the door of her condo.

Craig Ryan/CBC
Craig Ryan/CBC

Several city councillor candidates told CBC News the timing of the federal election, which takes place on September 20, is affecting their campaigns.

"I'm hearing that people just don't have a lot of information in terms of the municipal election," said Jon Morgan, who is running for a council seat in Ward Ipiihkoohkanipiaohtsi.

Municipal candidates out door-knocking are getting an earful about the federal leaders.

Since the federal election was called, more voters have been asking Morgan whom he supports federally.

"There's a lot of concern around partisan politics," said Morgan, who tells voters he is an independent candidate not tied to one political party.

Madeleine Cummings/CBC
Madeleine Cummings/CBC

Liz John-West, who also promotes herself as an independent candidate, is running for council in Ward Métis. Its boundaries overlap with Conservative and NDP federal ridings.

She said at the doors, voters are bringing up federal issues most, including frustration over a federal election being called during the pandemic.

The upside, she said, is more dynamic discussions with voters about issues like the pandemic, which all three levels of government have had to grapple with.

Between the provincial government's pandemic response and the two ongoing election campaigns, "it's a very fascinating time," she said.

Madeleine Cummings/CBC
Madeleine Cummings/CBC

John-West said her volunteer team has expanded in recent weeks but she suspects other municipal candidates could see their teams shrink this month as volunteers with ties to federal political parties focus on those campaigns.

Turnout trends

Political analyst John Brennan, who has worked on both municipal and federal campaigns, said Albertans have always paid more attention to the latter.

Statistics from past elections show only about a third of voters show up to municipal elections in Edmonton, but far more vote federally.

Edmonton voter turnout

Despite the federal election's timing, Brennan said he expects municipal turnout will be higher this year than it was in 2017. He is predicting a turnout rate of about 40 per cent.

"History shows when you have a competitive mayoral election, and we do have one, with four strong candidates, that drives up turnout," he said.

Referendum questions on equalization and daylight saving time could also contribute to higher turnout, he said.

Brennan said municipal campaigns usually heat up after Labour Day, but he expects Albertans' attention will not turn to the city election until the federal one is over.

In the meantime, Marco Adria, a professor emeritus of media communications at the University of Alberta, said municipal candidates can take advantage of the next three weeks by focusing on "small but important" local issues.

"For example, there are candidates who are out looking at their local strip mall, which might need some overhaul, which is really important for the community," he said.

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