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

Map of positive COVID-19 cases for Jan. 3 to 9 by local health area. (BCCDC)
Agassiz-Harrison area sees 19 COVID-19 cases in seven days

The local health area has seen around one in every 500 people test positive from Jan. 3 to 9

One of the two barn owls currently taking up residence on Miel Bernstein’s Agassiz property. (Contributed)
Agassiz farm asks residents to help protect barn owls

Rat poison is one of the main killers of barn owls; avoiding it one of the easiest ways to save them

(Black Press file photo)
Highway 3 cleared, open after vehicle incident

The road was closed for about three hours earlier on Jan. 18

/ Kevin Mills Photo
Thousands participate in solidarity parade for transgender student who was bullied

Cars, horses and even planes passed by the Mission waterfront to show support

A scene from “Canada and the Gulf War: In their own words,” a video by The Memory Project, a program of Historica Canada, is shown in this undated illustration. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Historica Canada
New video marks Canada’s contributions to first Gulf War on 30th anniversary

Veterans Affairs Canada says around 4,500 Canadian military personnel served during the war

Singletree Winery in Abbotsford has opened two domes where customers can enjoy wine tastings and local goodies. (Photo by Megan Ashley Creative)
Abbotsford winery first in Fraser Valley to open wine-tasting domes

Singletree Winery offers two themed transparent enclosures

Gin, one of the Kantymirs’ two sheep. (Martha Wickett-Salmon Arm Observer)
Sheep start up ATV, sit in cars and go for walks in Salmon Arm

Until they bought two sheep, Ken and Karleen Kantymir didin’t realize just how social the animals are

Heather Lucier, a pastor at Kelowna Harvest Fellowship, speaks to an RCMP officer outside of Harvest Ministries on Sunday, Jan. 10. (Michael Rodriguez - Capital News)
Kelowna church fined 2nd time for violating public health order

Harvest Ministries in Kelowna has previously said they will fight the tickets in court

Powell River-Sunshine Coast MLA Nicholas Simons was appointed to the NDP cabinet as minister of social development and poverty reduction after the October 2020 B.C. election. (Hansard TV)
B.C. job training fund increased for developmentally disabled

COVID-19 has affected 1,100 ‘precariously employed’ people

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

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

B.C. driver’s licence and identity cards incorporate medical services, but the passport option for land crossings is being phased out. (B.C. government)
B.C. abandons border ID cards built into driver’s licence

$35 option costing ICBC millions as demand dwindles

BC Emergency Health Services has deployed the Major Incident Response Team (MIRRT) as COVID-19 positive cases rise in the Williams Lake region. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
B.C.’s rapid response paramedics deployed to Williams Lake as COVID-19 cases climb

BC Emergency Health Services has sent a Major Incident Rapid Response Team to the lakecity

Most Read