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People arriving at a polling station in Vaughan, Ont., on June 2. Political observers say a key reason for the low turnout is that none of the parties made a compelling case in the minds of many voters.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Ontario’s voter turnout set a new record low in this week’s provincial election, a showing political scientists are chalking up to the lack of a wedge issue coupled with pandemic fatigue.

Just 43 per cent of eligible voters cast ballots in Thursday’s provincial election, down significantly from 56.7 per cent in 2018. This week’s turnout fell well short of the previous record low of 48.2 per cent set in 2011.

“It’s not a good sign for our democracy. I don’t think anybody should be saying that our democracy is healthy,” said John Beebe, founder of the Democratic Engagement Exchange at Toronto Metropolitan University.

The historic low turnout is in stark contrast to Ontarians’ typical voting habits. Over the past 100 years, more than half of eligible electors – and as many as three-quarters – cast ballots in provincial elections, with the exception of 2011.

By staying home at unprecedented levels, Ontarians dealt significant blows to the vote totals of the Progressive Conservatives and the NDP.

Premier Doug Ford’s PC Party was re-elected with 83 seats by just under 1.9 million Ontarians, roughly 430,000 fewer votes than the party received in the 2018 election.

The New Democrats won 31 seats with almost 1.1 million votes, down about 830,000 votes from 2018.

The Liberals secured just eight seats, with 1.1 million votes, roughly the same total as in the previous election.

Political observers say a key reason for the low turnout is that none of the parties made a compelling case in the minds of many voters.

Mike Moffatt, an assistant professor at Ivey Business School, said the campaign was dominated by small announcements unlikely to stir up strong feelings, other than the PC Party’s controversial plan to build Highway 413 in the western Greater Toronto Area.

“I look at particularly what the Liberals were offering, you know, the message there was basically: Ford’s ruining Ontario, so vote for us and we’ll give you 25 cents off your rotisserie chicken,” he said.

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Mr. Beebe said factors contributing to the lower turnout include the lack of a dominant divisive issue, opposition party leaders who failed to inspire numbers of voters and pandemic fatigue.

“There was certainly no wedge issue and no galvanizing leader,” he said.

University of Toronto political science professor Nelson Wiseman was sanguine about the low turnout, saying it could indicate a level of contentment.

Prof. Wiseman said Ontario’s voters have often been less likely to vote provincially than federally, and also less likely to vote than residents of many other provinces. He attributed that to a tendency among Ontarians to see themselves through a Canadian rather than provincial lens.

“Here you’re at the heart of national power,” he said.

Across Canada, voter turnout has also fallen in some other provinces that have held elections since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020. Fewer electors cast ballots in Newfoundland, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick. Nova Scotia had modestly higher turnout last summer.

Ontario’s record low voter turnout is not the lowest recorded by a province in recent years, however. In Alberta, just 40.6 per cent of eligible voters cast a ballot in 2008.

Some other jurisdictions have adopted electoral strategies to encourage citizens’ engagement, such as incentives, punishment or both.

Voting in Australia’s state and federal elections was gradually made compulsory over the course of the 20th century, with modest fines for non-compliance. But the country also seeks to make voting an event, with barbecue stands offering so-called “democracy sausages.”

While first-past-the-post electoral systems tend to produce stable governments – often rewarding minority support with majorities in the legislature – critics say they make it hard for supporters of small parties to have a voice.

During the Ontario election campaign, the NDP and the Greens promised proportional representation. The Liberals pledged to switch to a preferential ballot system that takes into account second and third choices if no candidate wins a majority outright.

However, any such electoral reform seems unlikely in Ontario. Mr. Ford, whose party got 41 per cent of the vote and will hold two-thirds of the seats in the legislature, shut down any suggestions of changes on Friday, saying this system is “going to continue to work.”

With a report from Dustin Cook

ONTARIO GENERAL ELECTION, 2018 VS. 2022

RESULTS

2018

Party

Seats

PC

76

NDP

40

Liberal

7

1

Green

Ind.

0

Number of votes

candidate won by

LIB

PC

NDP

GRN

IND

Up to 5K

5K to 10K

Over 10K

RESULTS

2022

Party

Seats

PC

83

NDP

31

Liberal

8

1

Green

Ind.

1

Number of votes

candidate won by

LIB

PC

NDP

GRN

IND

Up to 5K

5K to 10K

Over 10K

VOTER

TURNOUT

2018

Below 35%

35 - 40

40 - 45

45 - 50

Over 50%

VOTER

TURNOUT

2018

Below 35%

35 - 40

40 - 45

45 - 50

Over 50%

Note: 2022 data are as of June 3, 8:22 a.m. (ET).

MURAT YÜKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL,

SOURCE: ELECTIONS ONTARIO; CANADIAN PRESS

ONTARIO GENERAL ELECTION, 2018 VS. 2022

RESULTS

2018

Party

Seats

PC

76

NDP

40

Liberal

7

1

Green

Ind.

0

Number of votes

candidate won by

LIB

PC

NDP

GRN

IND

Up to 5K

5K to 10K

Over 10K

RESULTS

2022

Party

Seats

PC

83

NDP

31

Liberal

8

1

Green

Ind.

1

Number of votes

candidate won by

LIB

PC

NDP

GRN

IND

Up to 5K

5K to 10K

Over 10K

VOTER

TURNOUT

2018

Below 35%

35 - 40

40 - 45

45 - 50

Over 50%

VOTER

TURNOUT

2018

Below 35%

35 - 40

40 - 45

45 - 50

Over 50%

Note: 2022 data are as of June 3, 8:22 a.m. (ET).

MURAT YÜKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL,

SOURCE: ELECTIONS ONTARIO; CANADIAN PRESS

ONTARIO GENERAL ELECTION, 2018 VS. 2022

RESULTS

2018

2022

Seats

Party

Seats

PC

76

83

NDP

40

31

Liberal

7

8

1

1

Green

Ind.

0

1

Number of votes

candidate won by

LIB

PC

NDP

GRN

IND

Up to 5K

5K to 10K

Over 10K

VOTER

TURNOUT

2018

2022

Per cent

Below 35%

35 - 40

40 - 45

45 - 50

Over 50%

Note: 2022 data are as of June 3, 8:22 a.m. (ET).

MURAT YÜKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: ELECTIONS ONTARIO; CANADIAN PRESS

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