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Election 2021 takeaway: most Northern Manitobans can’t be bothered with democracy

Churchill-Keewatinook Aski (previously Churchill) riding hasn’t seen fewer people cast ballots in a general election since 1957.
sept 20 2021 election sign thompson manitoba luthern united church caribou road
An Elections Canada sign outside the Lutheran-United Church in Thompson’s Deerwood neighbourhood directs people toward a polling location. Unofficial election night results show that about two-thirds of people in the Churchill-Keewatinook Aski riding who could have cast a ballot chose not to.

Niki Ashton may have claimed the seat in the House of Commons for the NDP, but the real winner in Churchill-Keewatinook Aski in the Sept. 20 election was apathy.

As of results up to about noon Manitoba time on Sept. 22, 17,128 people had cast ballots in the election, with Ashton’s name marked on 7,323 of them, compared to 4,265 for Liberal candidate Shirley Robinson. That pushed voter turnout up to about 34.5 per cent. With five polls still to be counted, less than six per cent of the total, it seems quite likely that the odds someone voted in this electoral district will end up being nearly two to one against. Even for a riding in which recent elections have seen fewer than half of eligible people vote most of the time, the 2021 edition marks a significant low water mark.

Based on the current numbers, this week’s election will go down as the only one in the last nine with turnout of less than 40 per cent. It will also be one of only three* since 1997 in which fewer than 20,000 residents marked ballots. The last time that happened was in 2008*. Prior to that, there hadn’t been a general election in what was until 2015 known as the Churchill riding with under 20,000 votes since 1958. The last time fewer people in the riding cast ballots than on Monday was in 1957, before there was such a place as Thompson in the district.

The number of people voting wasn’t the only thing that went south this election. Incumbent Niki Ashton received the lowest percentage of total votes – 42.8 – that she has in her five electoral wins but captured the seat, pretty handily, by earning the votes of only about 15 per cent of all eligible voters. 

On the other side, Conservative candidate Charlotte Larocque captured the highest percentage for a candidate from her party since 2011.

* The original version of this article said there had only been one other election since 1997 in which fewer than 20,000 residents in the riding cast ballots and that the last time was in 2004. It has, in fact, happened twice previously since 1997, in 2004 and 2008. The Thompson Citizen apologizes for the errors. Other numbers and percentages have been changed from the original version to reflect updates vote counts.