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

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

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

A Pictograph panel found near Tlowitsis traditional territory near Kalogwis is attached in the archaeological report produced by the First Nation’s guardian watchmen.
Tlowitsis First Nation records 370 archaeological sites on traditional territories across B.C.

The Nation’s guardian watchmen mapped sites for research and to protect them from human disturbances

RCMP are looking for information on the identity of these two individuals, pictured at the Fisherman’s Wharf Dock on Oct. 16, 2020 at approximately 1:30 a.m. Photos supplied by Campbell River RCMP.
RCMP looking for alleged ‘dock pirates’

Thefts, lines cut from Fisherman’s Wharf on Oct. 6.

The Strathcona Regional District has applied again for funding for RE-CREATE project. File photo
Second round of grant funding ‘last chance hotel’ for Strathcona Gardens reno — Commissioner

Commission thinks streamlined application, lower funding ask gives better shot at success

Brighter Day, a youth-led initiative based out of Volunteer Campbell River, is looking to connect seniors and youth with a new pen pal program to help make everyone more connected during this socially-distanced time. Photo by Mike Davies/Campbell River Mirror
New pen-pal program looks to connect seniors and youth in Campbell River

Hope is to ‘make both parties feel less isolated through these challenging times’

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry presents modelling of COVID-19 spread in B.C., March 25, 2020. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. sets another COVID-19 record with 203 new cases

up to 1,766 active cases in B.C., two more deaths

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

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

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

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

Smartphone showing various applications to social media services and Google. (Pixabay photo)
National media calling for level playing field with Google, Facebook

In Canada, Google and Facebook control 80 per cent of all online advertising revenues

Most Read