The Ontario Election unofficially kicked off on March 10, when the Progressive Conservative party—marred but undeterred by scandal—filled the absent seat for the leadership of their party. Doug Ford was propelled to the top, and the other parties were propelled into action.
What developed into an exciting election unfolded in the pages and on the airwaves of Ontario’s multilingual and multicultural media. Voters across the province were engaged and curious about the results. This election saw 58 percent of Ontarians actually get out and vote, the highest turnout in the province since 1999.
An Ipsos poll on election-day said that 42 percent of voters were doing so “strategically.” Giving Canadians another instance of an “anybody but” election, similar to the last federal vote. Ontarians were making calculated decisions up until the moment they cast their ballot, making the information they were consuming critical up until the final second.
Over the course of the election, MIREMS wrote about the NDP’s rise in the polls, and the impact of editorial and opinion pieces on the campaign—all too crucial in an election that was “too close to call” even a few days out from voting day.
In LISPOP’s election post-mortem, they said “of the 23 grey seats listed as too close to call, 15 were won by the Conservatives, 4 by the Liberals, 3 by the NDP 1 by the Greens.
Some of those 23 heated ridings were in Mississauga, Scarborough, Ottawa, Hamilton, Thunder Bay and London. While considering all the factors that contributed to losses and victories across the aisle, MIREMS is focused on one: Language.
Province-wide, 27.5 percent of Ontarians speak a language other than English and French as their Mother Tongue. A jump up from the national average of 21 percent.
In Mississauga, 52.7 percent of the population has a mother tongue other than English or French. In London, 19.1 percent and Ottawa 19.6 percent speak an unofficial, immigrant language as their Mother Tongue. In Hamilton it's 23.2 percent. At least one in five voters in these crucial areas could have turned to their local ethnic media for information on how to vote, and more importantly who to vote for.
In Brampton, where 48.41 percent of the population speaks a language other than English or French as their mother tongue, the NDP won three seats. With such a large multilingual population, the ethnic media is incredibly active in Brampton.
To further understand the role of language and language representation in the Ontario Election, MIREMS looked at Ontario Election-specific stories in the province's ethnic media from May 1 to June 7. The language breakdown of these stories sees the most coverage from Chinese sources, followed by Tamil and Mandarin.
Compared to the distribution of Ontario’s sources we can see that Chinese, Tamil and Mandarin sources were more active in discussing the election than their foothold on Ontario's ethnic media landscape.
In an article in Chinese Canadian Times the author reflected on the final leaders' debate saying “the debate probably was not able to change the mind of most Chinese voters, but rather provided supporting evidence for one to make fun of the parties that one doesn't support.” At the end, the author concludes that Ford is not going to be the saviour, neither is Horwath or Wynne. “It doesn't matter who will win the elections, there won't be upside down changes in the future of Ontario.”
Stories like these can have a large impact because they connect directly with readers in their mother tongue. When driving home campaign messages or rallying for support, connecting with voters is paramount. In MIREMS’ analysis of editorial and opinion stories, we saw an audience for opinions and ideas that weren’t necessarily getting coverage in the mainstream media.
A further comparison of Ontario’s multilingual sources and coverage of the election against Ontario’s breakdown of mother tongues is also worthwhile. Absent the top reporting languages is German, which still makes up a considerable chunk of Ontarians’ mother tongues.
Looking and listening for demographics and different languages is a unique and effective way to connect with and understand audiences. Whether or not the ethnic vote swung the election deserves further analysis, but the impact of multilingual media on Ford’s success, the Liberal’s destruction and Horwath’s climb is worth considering.