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

A concept rendering of the proposed Costco at the corner of Baron, Leckie and Springfield roads. (WSP Global)
Contentious Kelowna Costco relocation moved to public hearing

Costco looking to move less than a kilometre away to build a larger store with more parking, gas bar

A man wearing a face mask to help curb the spread of COVID-19 walks in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020. The use of masks is mandatory in indoor public and retail spaces in the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
104 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health

IH is reporting the new numbers since Friday, Nov. 20

A woman being arrested at a Kelowna Value Village after refusing to wear a mask on Nov. 22.(@Jules50278750/Twitter)
VIDEO: Woman arrested at Kelowna Value Village after refusing to wear mask, leave

RCMP claims the woman was uncooperative with officers, striking them a number of times and screaming

Lumby Mayor Kevin Acton (left) and Regional District North Okanagan Electoral Area D Rural Lumby director Rick Fairbairn (right) congratulate members of the Lumby and District Fire Department for receiving gold pin awards in response to a rollover accident in July 2020. (RDNO Photo)
Lumby firefighters golden in duty

Company presents firefighters with gold pin for heroic efforts following rollover crash

People wearing face masks to help curb the spread of COVID-19 cross a street in downtown Vancouver, on Sunday, November 22, 2020. The use of masks is mandatory in indoor public and retail spaces in the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. reports 17 COVID deaths, 1,933 new cases as hospitalizations surge over the weekend

There are 277 people in hospital, of whom 59 are in ICU or critical care

7-year-old Mackenzie Hodge from Penticton sent a hand-written letter to premiere John Horgan asking if she’d be able to see her elf, Ralph under the new coronavirus restrictions. (John Horgan / Twitter)
Elf on the shelf an acceptable house guest B.C. premier tells Okanagan girl

A 7-year-old from Penticton penned a letter asking if she’d be allowed to see her elf this year

Workers arrive at the Lynn Valley Care Centre seniors home, in North Vancouver, B.C., on Saturday, March 14, 2020. It was the site of Canada’s first COVID-19 outbreak in a long-term care facility. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Rapid tests ‘not a panacea’ for care homes, Dr. Bonnie Henry says

B.C. lacks capacity for daily tests of thousands of workers

(Delta Police Department photo)
Cannabis edibles found in Halloween bag lead B.C. police to illegal lab

Delta police arrested a man and a woman while executing a warrant at a residential property Nov. 20

RCMP pictured at a motor vehicle incident during snowy conditions. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
B&E, stolen car in Vernon lands Whitehorse man in cuffs

Suspect takes off on foot in attempts to evade arrest

Penticton Search and Rescue along with the Penticton Fire Department located and airlifted an injured 21-year-old female hiker Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020. (Mike Biden photo)
Penticton search and rescue airlift injured hiker off mountain

There has been an unprecedented amount of calls for search and rescue this year

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
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

Salmon Arm RCMP nabbed two Calgary suspects in an allegedly stolen vehicle on Highway 1 on Nov. 22, 2020. (File photo)
Salmon Arm RCMP use spike belts on Highway 1 to nab Calgary suspects

Arrests occur after Revelstoke RCMP clock allegedly stolen vehicle going faster than 160 km/h

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Most Read