NDP Leader John Horgan is silhouetted while speaking during a campaign stop in Vancouver on Wednesday, October 7, 2020. At the end of a recent virtual town hall meeting where about a dozen people asked questions about British Columbia’s Oct. 24 election, Horgan said he was enjoying campaigning online.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

NDP Leader John Horgan is silhouetted while speaking during a campaign stop in Vancouver on Wednesday, October 7, 2020. At the end of a recent virtual town hall meeting where about a dozen people asked questions about British Columbia’s Oct. 24 election, Horgan said he was enjoying campaigning online.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

B.C.’s virtual COVID-19 election campaign lacks human touch: expert

Pandemic has seen governments, businesses and families make changes they would never have considered a year ago,

At the end of a recent virtual town hall meeting where about a dozen people asked questions about British Columbia’s Oct. 24 election, New Democrat Leader John Horgan said he was enjoying campaigning online.

“I like this campaign where we can talk to everybody from every corner of the province without increasing our carbon footprint,” Horgan said.

An election campaign during a pandemic is unprecedented, but it will be safe, he said.

But replacing all-candidates debates, community walkabouts and the travelling road shows with virtual town halls and livestream news conferences could squeeze the humanity out of the campaign and possibly dampen voter enthusiasm, says a political expert.

“Any election is a kind of a celebration of the fact that, ‘Thank goodness, we have the ability to make a choice about who forms our government,’ ” said Prof. David Black, a political communications expert at Victoria’s Royal Roads University.

“Can people get excited about politics when politics takes the form of a virtual town hall or an email to your inbox?” he asked. “We haven’t answered that question yet here in B.C.”

The pandemic has seen governments, businesses and families make changes they would never have considered a year ago, and the same is happening on the campaign trail, said Shannon Daub, the B.C. director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

Families are facing huge challenges in their home and work lives and many people are looking to political leaders for support, even though the election campaign has become an online event, said Daub.

“It certainly is the case the ground game of an election is fundamentally altered,” she said. “You can’t go door knocking and you can’t have gatherings and you can’t have rallies, but people are shifting their engagement to other places.”

Black said he’s concerned voter turnout could suffer when the human element is reduced and replaced with technology.

Voter turnout in the New Brunswick election, the first major Canadian campaign during the pandemic, saw little change from the previous election two years ago, he said.

Turnout in last month’s election in New Brunswick was 66 per cent. It was 67 per cent two years ago.

Turnout was 61 per cent in B.C.’s 2017 vote.

Elections BC has added more advance polling days for the 2020 campaign and has highlighted the option for mail-in ballots. More than 600,000 mail-in ballots have already been sent to voters.

But elections are people-based events that involve emotions, ideas and often unscripted events where voters see the weaknesses and strengths of their leaders, said Black.

A pivotal moment of B.C.’s 2017 campaign occurred when former Liberal leader Christy Clark randomly approached a woman at a campaign stop in North Vancouver. The woman said she would never vote for her.

The awkward encounter was captured by several media outlets and was widely distributed online.

Black said those potentially shifting moments on the campaign trail likely won’t occur during a virtual event.

“It reduces the ability for us to see these revealing moments and to see a leader challenged or a little shaken, or some part of him or her show up in a way that might be off-message or off-brand,” he said. “We want to know these leaders as human beings.”

The televised leaders debate set for Tuesday could become one of the few raw events of the campaign, Black said.

Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

BC NDPBC politicsBC Votes 2020

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Port Alberni artist Shayne Lloyd has designed a line of artisan clothing under his own label, Ursalia Creative. Lloyd teamed up with Stanfield for his first project. (FACEBOOK PHOTO)
Celebrate Alberni Valley businesses both large and small

Consider supporting local when shopping for the holidays this year

This photo of Wood Elementary School was taken in 2016. (NEWS FILE PHOTO)
COVID-19 case reported at Wood Elementary School in Port Alberni

Date of potential exposure was Monday, Oct. 19

Mark Zenko from the Gyro Club of the Albernis presents a donation of $2,720 to Chris Mellin, left, house manager at Ty Watson House Hospice and Teresa Ludvigson, executive director of Alberni Valley Hospice Society. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
Gyro Club donation comes at good time for Ty Watson House Hospice

COVID-19 has cancelled hospice society’s major fundraisers.

(BLACK PRESS FILE PHOTO)
Nanaimo man killed in Highway 4 crash

RCMP say dirt bike turned ‘suddenly’ into traffic

Port Alberni’s deepsea port was a busy place on July 14, 2020, with recreational boaters vying for attention with a logging ship, fishing vessels large and small, tugboats and more. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
QUINN’S QUIPS: ‘Port’ Alberni lives up to its deepsea name

Port Alberni’s harbour is an engaging place to stop and watch the action on the water…

Port Alberni resident Holly Braker-McLaughlin captured footage of five bears playing in her yard. (SCREENSHOT)
VIDEO: Quintet of bears frolic in Alberni Valley yard

Port Alberni family was treated to a visit from some playful black bears

Environment Canada has issued a snowfall advisory for parts of Vancouver Island for Thursday and Friday.(File photo)
Snowfall expected in parts of Vancouver Island this week

Environment Canada has issued a snowfall advisory for north, east and inland Vancouver Island

More and more electric cars are on the road, but one Chevy Bolt owner was shocked to see how much his BC Hydro bill skyrocketed once he started charging the vehicle. (Black Press file photo)
Lower Mainland man sees significant spike in BC Hydro bill after buying electrical vehicle

An increase should be expected, but Brian Chwiendacz experienced a 200-plus per cent hike

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

The Anonymous YVR is an Instagram page that reviews restaurants and other establishments around B.C. based on how well they adhere to COVID-19 rules. (Instagram)
Anonymous Instagram page reviews COVID-19 safety measures at B.C. businesses

There are a number of public health orders various types of establishments must follow to slow virus’s spread

Jordan Naterer, an electrical engineer from Vancouver, was last seen Saturday Oct. 10. (Facebook photo)
Search efforts to resume for missing Manning Park hiker; Trudeau speaks on case

PM says he’ll do what he can to ‘nudge’ efforts to find Jordan Naterer, yet has little leverage locally

Most Read