A political web clearinghouse

(Edmonton) Millions of Canadians currently find themselves preparing for a provincial election call or in the throes of a campaign. But, with these provincial elections looming, nine leading researchers with the Comparative Provincial Election Project have launched a website project that will study what could be behind low voter turnout in provincial elections, a problem that they say could be viewed as a “democratic deficit.”

The project’s researchers, who are from the University of Alberta, Wilfrid Laurier University, Memorial University and the universities of Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Winnipeg, will be launching the largest study of provincial elections ever conducted. The project’s website, hosted at the University of Alberta, will be a clearinghouse for the data drawn from surveys and interviews to be conducted post-election in Prince Edward Island, Manitoba, Ontario, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Saskatchewan and will offer Canadians an unprecedented view of how democracy functions in each province. The opportunity to conduct a study of this scope comes largely as a result of what Wesley says is a political “perfect storm” within these provinces.

“Nobody’s ever done a survey of this scope before, largely because we’ve never had the ability to predict when these elections were going to happen,” said Jared Wesley, an adjunct professor at the University of Alberta and the project’s principal investigator. “Fixed elections dates in these five provinces have allowed us to plan ahead of time. “

The analysis will contain results drawn from citizen surveys, media monitoring and interviews with candidates and campaign strategists. The goal of this research is to look at the decline of civic engagement and to determine whether peoples’ expectations of democracy are being met.

Aside from hosting data and survey results, the website will also serve as a platform for the team to reach out to the public with information regarding elections in a non-partisan manner. They are hoping that the site will be useful for the public in general and for academics, media and, specifically, students. Wesley hopes that the site will bolster interest in provincial politics.

“Six in 10 non-voters cite not being able to understand or not having enough information to meaningfully engage in the election as the reason they don’t participate,” he said. “[Correcting that] is what we’re aiming to do with this website.”

Lest anyone think that the website will be a magic bullet that will solve all provincial election voting woes, Wesley points out that politicians and media still need to engage the public to build interest in the issues. He says the website’s function is to help them gain the knowledge necessary to meaningfully engage on the issues, if they so choose.

“We draw a line at not engaging in the debate, but giving the people the tools to engage if they want to,” he said. “We’re hoping that we can provide a non-partisan, scientifically based foundation of information for people to go to for information on politics in each of these provinces.”

The website went live Sept. 7 will continue to evolve and hopes to expand to the remaining provinces in the future as each holds provincial elections.