- by David Clark

Recently I heard an Owen Sound councillor talking on a local radio phone-in show about the need for more opportunities for resident / citizen input. Here is my evidence-supported opinion on the issue.

A post-election report about Ontario’s 2022 election, in part, highlighted a world-wide concern of “declining voter engagement and turnout”.

So, if the issue of voter engagement is a world-wide issue I doubt it can be changed, especially locally, by having more “consultation / input” sessions: the problem is a whole lot deeper.

Elections Canada reports that the turnout for the 2021 election was 62.6%, which is 4.4% lower than in 2019. Those aged 18 to 24 years had the lowest turnout at 46.7%, 74.9% for ages 65 to 74, and 65.9% for those older than 74 years. The pattern was similar right across Canada.

The following quote, from the report, is revealing: “The participation of voters aged 18–24 decreased by 7.2 points from 53.9% in 2019 to 46.7% in 2021. Electors eligible to vote for the first time in 2021 voted at a rate (44.7%) which was 9.9 percentage points lower than those who were eligible to vote for the first time in 2019 (53.6%).”

Apathy? Disillusionment? Disengagement? Probably all three play a part.

A very insightful report by the Canadian Index of Wellbeing (2010) stated that “Ontarians are increasingly ambivalent and disengaged from the democratic process.” Although the data are older (2008), 84.2% Ontarians said it was their duty to vote but only 58.6% did so.

Further, from 1994 to 2010, the percentage of registered voters to eligible voters ranged from 83% to 86%; 17 to 14 per cent do not register. Registered voters were stable at 86% from 2000 to 2010, but turnout has continued to fluctuate.

We have more recent data for Grey and Bruce from the 2018 Canadian Index of Wellbeing study done for South Grey Community Health Centre and Grey and Bruce Counties. The report’s findings are revealing. Although the report does separate Bruce and Grey, and although there are differences, most are small and I will report the combined responses.


Locally, “no / little” and “some” interest are higher than both federal and provincial levels (but not by very much - not worth bragging about), and “greater” interest is lower by about six percentage points. Split out by county, Bruce’s “greater” interest is 44.1% and Grey’s is 51.2%. Again, not overwhelming interest at 51.2% and reflects voter turn-out.


There are no stand-out differences between Bruce and Grey, although attending a council/band meeting was about four percentage points higher for Grey residents (Bruce at 12.6% and Grey at 16.5%). For whatever reasons, citizens are not participating in democratic activities in any great numbers. These numbers do not suggest  residents being actively engaged in politics. The following table will, however, suggest some reasons for low participation.

Residents were presented a series of statements and asked to choose disagree, agree, or neutral/not sure. Full statements are available in the full report .Again, I report the mean (average) for the two counties. (Statements are abbreviated for economy of space.)


Generally, residents feel reasonably informed about politics and of issues. Maybe what should be concerning is that there is no over-whelming feeling of being listened to, being heard.

And, finally, residents were asked if “local government [has] made them [residents] better off”: 8.5% responded “worse off”, 46.8% stated “not made any difference”, and 44.6% stated “better off”.  So, a full 55.3% believe local governments have been ineffective in bettering the lives of residents.

Back to my original question about cause: Is it Apathy, Disillusionment, or Disengagement?

I think the answer is all three.


Estimation of Voter Turnout by Age Group and Gender at the 2021: General Election




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