Toronto riding with lowest voter turnout in Ontario last federal election feels ignored, community group says

·4 min read
Butterfly GoPaul, a member of Jane Finch Action Against Poverty, says politicians in her riding don't know how to relate to people on the ground. (Shannon Martin/CBC - image credit)
Butterfly GoPaul, a member of Jane Finch Action Against Poverty, says politicians in her riding don't know how to relate to people on the ground. (Shannon Martin/CBC - image credit)

Humber River-Black Creek was tied for the lowest voter turnout in Ontario in the last federal election with just 55 per cent of eligible voters heading to the polls in the Toronto riding in 2019.

But community advocate Butterfly GoPaul says that doesn't mean residents of the riding are politically apathetic. Instead, the member of the Jane Finch Action Against Poverty group says the problem stems from candidates not reflecting her community.

"These politicians don't know how to relate to people on the ground," GoPaul told CBC News. "You see the platforms and what do they mean? Why do I care? It's not getting better [living here], it's only getting worse."

Besides Jane and Finch, the north Toronto riding includes neighbourhoods like York University Heights, a western portion of Downsview, and parts of the former city of North York.

Community advocates and a political expert told CBC News there's a disconnect between political parties and the reality lower income residents face, which creates a vicious circle where some constituents feel like their vote doesn't matter — and politicians focus their energy elsewhere where residents are more likely to head to the polls.

CBC
CBC

GoPaul's group is trying to bridge that gap in Jane and Finch by giving the community a chance to engage with Humber River-Black Creek candidates — and hold them to account — in a virtual town hall next Wednesday.

But it's harder to do that, event moderator Anna-Kay Brown says, when the incumbent MP Judy Sgro — whose party has held the riding for nearly 60 years — isn't attending.

"It's disappointing," said Brown. "It lets you know who they think matters."

Incumbent not attending virtual town hall

Brown and GoPaul told CBC News Sgro was originally set to participate in next week's town hall, but then they were told she couldn't attend earlier this week.

Humber River-Black Creek, formerly known as York West, has been a Liberal stronghold since the party took it from the Conservatives in Canada's 25th election — way back in 1962. Sgro herself has been the MP for the riding for more than 20 years.

Sgro originally agreed to an interview with CBC News for this story but later cancelled it.

In an email, James Auer from the Humber River–Black Creek Federal Liberal Association said Sgro is on the ground in the riding's communities.

"Low voter turnout from previous elections is important to reflect on and work to improve," said Auer. "Time would be better spent by candidates during election periods to do just that: reach out to communities by knocking on doors and making calls to encourage voter participation in their riding."

Conservative candidate Rinku Shah was not available for an interview for this story. CBC News contacted NDP candidate Matias De Dovitiis's campaign but never heard back.

Ontario ridings with lowest voter turnout in 2019 election:

  • Humber River-Black Creek: 55 per cent

  • Windsor West: 55 per cent

  • York South: 57 per cent

  • Etobicoke North: 58 per cent

Dennis Pilon, a political science professor at York University, says while every vote should be equal in a democracy, in reality parties decide whether or not it's worth it to chase certain voters.

"It's not surprising that parties are not interested in talking to people who represent the poor or working class in different neighbourhoods," said Pilon. "The parties know it's unlikely those people will turn out to vote to the same degree that other groups will."

In Humber River-Black Creek, where the Liberals have dominated for decades, the professor says two factors could be at play.

"It could mean everyone loves them," Pilon told CBC News. "Or it could be that the demography in that riding is such, that there's just a suppressed level of participation among great swaths of the electorate and so the Liberals are able to essentially bank on that."

Submitted by Anna-Kay Brown
Submitted by Anna-Kay Brown

Historically, Brown says families like hers in Jane and Finch voted for the Liberals because they gave opportunities to immigrants, but Brown argues that isn't enough any more.

"We still have to challenge folks to do what's best for the community," she told CBC News. "We have to make them put effort into maintaining that seat."

The other candidates running in Humber River-Black Creek are Unblind Tibbin for the Green Party, Raatib Anderson for the People's Party of Canada and Christine Nugent for the Marxist-Leninist Party of Canada.

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