Chilliwack Votes sets sights on voter turnout

With expectations the writ will be dropped this weekend, a non-partisan group called Chilliwack Votes, is gearing up to “inspire and engage”

Unofficial campaigning for the federal election started months ago in the Chilliwack area with some candidates door-knocking and fundraising in earnest.

With expectations that the writ will be dropped this weekend, a non-partisan group called Chilliwack Votes, is gearing up to “inspire and engage” voters, candidates, and political debate in Chilliwack-Hope, in a more intense way than has been seen in the past.

The overriding aim is increasing voter turnout and awareness of local issues and local candidates.

Chilliwack Votes revealed plans this week to launch a website and social media campaign, with profiles, all-candidates’ meetings, and campaign questions.

The group’s mission is: “To inspire and engage both constituents and candidates, in a dialogue that speaks to the issues of Chilliwack-Hope,” said spokesman Sam Waddington, who is working on it with Kevin Shroeder and David Swankey.

They are quick to point out they are not endorsing any particular candidates or parties but instead are out to “preserve the integrity of the democratic process,” on social media and on their website at chilliwackvotes.ca.

The goal is to focus on local issues and candidates, and to increase voter turnout from 50 per cent, in the last federal election, to the national average of 60 per cent.

So far most candidates have already contributed profile information and answers, and the plan is to go live with the Chilliwack Votes website in the next week.

The Progress managed to reach a couple of candidates to see what they think of the idea.

Liberal candidate Louis De Jaeger said Chilliwack Votes could be an effective tool to get the vote out.

“It’s important that everyone get involved,” he said. “With voter turnout as low as it has been in the last election, we want to talk about the issues that matter.”

Team De Jaeger has been busy door-knocking and meeting voters for months.

“We’re at about 8000 doors so far,” he said.

It’s crucial to know the candidates and what they stand for, and the voter engagement effort by Chilliwack Votes will help facilitate that, said De Jaeger, who owns Bravo Restaurant and Lounge.

“A lot of people are already engaged, but we need to see even better engagement from our sitting MP Mark Strahl,” he said.

The Liberal Party platform offers the best option for the environment, economic and social issues, De Jaeger said, on a national level, as well as at the local level.

NDP candidate Seonaigh MacPherson, a professor at UFV, said they’ve been actively campaigning since December, and have reached about 5000 doors to date, and held five events.

“I’m running first and foremost because I feel that certain aspects of democracy have been threatened,” she said, noting the use of omnibus bills has been an irritant.

“I support a shift to more representative forms of democracy.”

Macpherson underlined she likes what she has seen so far about the Chilliwack Votes initiative, and thinks the all-candidates’ meetings will be especially helpful during the campaign period with the focus on communicating directly with voters.

“These efforts offer structure and accountability,” she said, as well as building relationships and hearing what’s important to people, which she called, “an important component of democracy.”

It’s crucial to get participation from all candidates, she underlined.

“If they don’t show up, I can’t respect that,” she said.

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