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

Crofton was lost in the shuffle on the BC Hydro website. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Chemainus, Crofton lost in the shuffle

No mention at first on BC Hydro website during recent power outage

Cartoonist Rob Kernachan digs into the archives.
Kernachan’s cartoon flashback 2000

This one’s from the former Cowichan News Leader

BC Liberal candidate Duck Paterson on the campaign trail. (Submitted photo)
BC Liberal candidate Duck Paterson clarifies position on climate change

Paterson calls human activity a ‘contributing’ factor and says climate change must be addressed

Property on the Trans Canada Highway beside the Country Maples Campground has been sold and will become a modular home park. (Photo submitted)
Development, business transactions significant for Chemainus

Two highway properties and Owl’s Nest Bakery and Bistro sold

Chemainus businessman Chris Istace has apologized for a remark about First Nations gaming grants. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Green Party’s Istace apologizes for remark about First Nations gaming grants being ‘handouts’

Candidate determined to do better in thinking and communicating matters of reconciliation

Larry Whetstone is concerned about the condition of Jeffries Road, where he has lived for 30 years. (Robert Barron/Citizen)
Poor condition of rural road in Cowichan has resident fed up

Transportation Ministry says repair plan under development

Vancouver police reactivated the search for Jordan Naterer Thursday Oct. 22. Photo courtesy of VPD.
Mom of missing Manning Park hiker believes her son is waiting to come home

‘He’s going to come out of a helicopter and say ‘what took you so long?”

Environment Minister George Heyman, Premier John Horgan and Energy Minister Michelle Mungall announce that B.C. Hydro is proceeding with construction of the Site C dam, Dec. 11, 2017. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)
Site C actions, costs won’t be known until after B.C. election, Horgan says

Peace River diverted for construction of reinforced dam base

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

One of the squirrels who ended up having their tails amputated after getting them stuck together with tree sap. (Facebook/Wild ARC)
Squirrels recovering from tail amputation after sap situation near Victoria

BC SPCA Wild ARC says squirrels will be released back into wild, fifth sibling was euthanized

Jordan Jay Ward is wanted on a Canada-wide warrant for two counts of manslaughter. Photo supplied
Wanted man from Calgary may be on Vancouver Island

Jordan Jay Ward is wanted on a Canada-wide warrant for two counts of manslaughter

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

Most Read