Voter turnout for the Brampton municipal election was at an all-time low this year, with only 34.5 percent of eligible voters casting a ballot, according to the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO).
The AMO also revealed that, for the past three elections, Brampton scored well below the provincial average in terms of local civic participation.
Brampton is a city with a rapidly growing population. Currently sitting at about 594,000 people, it is the ninth largest municipality in Canada population wise. The population is projected to be at 900,000 in 20 years.
Much of Brampton’s coverage comes from places like the Toronto Star and CBC, neither of which have a solely dedicated Brampton reporter. This September, journalist San Grewal started an independent online publication called The Pointer.
“In a place like Brampton, if you don’t understand the demographics, all the diverse and complex cultural dynamics in Brampton, it’s really problematic to go and think you can try and cover these one-off things,” Grewal says.
In June, a Committee of Council report revealed that the City of Brampton has spent $2.2 million on local media to advertise its public notices, promotions, and advertisements. Over 50 percent of the money (about $1.1 million) went to the Brampton Guardian, Brampton’s main news outlet, which is owned by Metroland Media.
“The more we see [local news outlets] closing down across North America, the more [there is] this question of a lack of accountability and the municipal election is the perfect place to look at it.” Grewal says. “In the absence of local news, there’s a tendency to become apathetic.”
In October, less than one year after sexual assault allegations were made against him, Patrick Brown was elected as mayor of Brampton. Grewal says that The Pointer tried to remain as objective as possible in reporting his campaign.
“Who’s providing that oversight, accountability? These things affect people’s lives,” Grewal says. “This is the most impactful level of government the city has, from how your garbage is collected, to policing dollars, to transit being funded, our roads and streets being funded.”
Grewal says the problems arising in Brampton related to population growth are not getting funding from the various levels of government, including municipal. The Pointer has been covering many of these municipal issues, especially around election time, and Grewal says they are trying to provide more in-depth, consistent coverage on these issues.
“The taxpayers, the residents, the citizens, they deserve coverage. The democratic process works for them when they’re informed. They’re not different than the taxpayer in Toronto and they really deserve broad, deep coverage constantly.” Grewal says. “It’s part of our democratic tradition and that’s what we’re trying to do and what others are doing. All I can say is that I just don’t understand how you can accomplish and fill that responsibility if you’re not going to commit to it properly and that’s what The Pointer is trying to do.”
Some municipal issues The Pointer has been consistently covering include the long wait times in municipal courthouses to get cases through or filings done. Another issue The Pointer has been following since its inception is health care, as Brampton also has one of the longest emergency room wait times in the province. Policing is also a sector The Pointer has been following, reporting that Brampton has about 30 percent fewer police officers per average across the province. The shortage could be related to the escalation of violent crime rates in the city.
“That whole growth issue is just something that really we need to keep pressing,” Grewal says. “Like our name suggests, we’re on the hunt for truth.”
The Brampton Focus is a non-profit community media group which originally sprouted up after the last municipal election. The site focuses primarily on elections and local coverage. They are volunteer run and funded by local sponsors, individuals, and small businesses.
Fazal Khan, co-founder of Brampton Focus, says they started their platform because there is very little media coverage in Brampton besides the Brampton Guardian. They use social media and live streaming as tools to engage the community in what is going on in local politics. The platform’s LIVE Town Hall series—in which they live stream town hall meetings—allows community members to tune in at home.
“After the election, readers dropped off,” Khan says. “The voter turnout was lower and I think people already thought they knew the outcome. People were not informed enough.”
Grewal, on the other hand, says that after the elections their readership went up. “Now our job is to keep pushing and doing even better,” Grewal says. “Brampton deserves hard-hitting journalism, civic journalism, investigative, serious journalism that’s going to be an institution that allows a community to function positively.”