Would having political slates of Penticton council candidates have made it easier for voters to make decisions at the polls?
One political science teacher and doctoral candidate from University of B.C. Okanagan thinks so, in dissecting last week’s results.
Wolf Depner, who will be teaching Canadian political science at UBCO this coming semester, said reviewing the civic elections shows strong evidence that Penticton voters split their mayoral choices, with only 37 per cent putting Mayor Dan Ashton back in office after a combined 58 per cent voted for challengers Julius Bloomfield and Katie Robinson.
“If you look at the mayor’s race, you had two strong anti-Ashton candidates. They split the vote amongst themselves. If you look at the councillors, that trend was even more apparent: the anti-incumbent vote split itself across the non-incumbent candidates,” he said.
Had there been parties of candidates whose declared platform differentiated themselves from incumbents or their rival challengers, Depner said, “then the anti-incumbent mood would have gone to that party.
“It would have been very clear that that membership to a party would have signalled to the electorate that this person stands for this position and this person stands for this position, then I can make a quick but fairly informed choice about these various candidates.”
Some in the community have expressed dismay that so many sitting councillors were re-elected for another term, given the displeasure voiced in the community over a series of recent decisions.
Depner said it’s not a complete surprise to see so many returning councillors, given the field of 19 candidates posed a duel problem. Not only were voters expected to do an “arduous amount of research” to decide which candidate was worthy of support, but challengers were grappling against the force of name recognition.
“Garry Litke, of course, he is next to Ashton as the longest-serving member of council, and it’s no surprise that he was able to secure the highest absolute number of votes. People know him. Garry Litke represents a certain brand,” he explained.
“The fact that he was able to do as well as he did sort of speaks to the power of incumbency, it speaks to the fact people can play on their name recognition. That’s different for candidates who are making their first or second run for council.”
The name-recognition phenomenon, however, played against Coun. Mike Pearce.
“I think it’s fair to say Mike Pearce is a polarizing figure in the community,” Depner said. “Name recognition worked against Mike Pearce; because, as I say, Mike Pearce is a figure who tends to divide voters.”
Heading into the next term, Depner said the returning mayor will have to be mindful of the message voters offered at the polls. He explained that leaders who assume office with only a minority of votes must strike a careful balance, as they can struggle with a sense of “legitimacy” from the electorate.
“Into the next term, you have to make an effort to reach out to the public,” he said, adding that slowing down the process to offer consultation and mind other voices or opinions might be construed as “a little more tentative. But in a way, that’s not a bad thing.
“If you’re charged with making decisions, it is in your interest to consult as widely as possible, to seek as many different opinions.”
The dynamic of the council will also unfold, Depner added, as incumbent councillors must re-establish themselves and incoming councillors establish their role amongst the group.