New provincial bill removes the option for ranked ballots in upcoming municipal elections

In October 2022, cities across Ontario will hold their next municipal election. However, with this upcoming election, the Ontario government has introduced a new bill that will prevent municipalities from using ranked ballots. 

This bill was introduced along with legislation from the Ontario government in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The new legislation is meant to help provide liability protection for workers and businesses against COVID-19 exposure-related lawsuits. 

In justification for this mandate, Adam Wilson, spokesman for Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark, said that the decision would help eliminate unpredictability and inconsistencies across municipalities during the pandemic.

However, people are questioning whether the provincial government’s concern is necessary and whether the mandate is instead stripping residents of their democratic rights. 

Under a ranked balloting system, voters rank their preferences of candidates. In the first round, votes for first choices are added up and if someone has a majority then they would win the election. However, if no one has a majority, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and the votes are transferred to the next choice until someone wins by a majority. 

This system is also what is currently adopted by the McMaster Students Union for all of its elections. 

Although London is currently the only city in Ontario that has implemented a ranked ballot system, this bill would deny all cities from implementing the system in the future. 

In the cities of Kingston and Cambridge, votes from previous referendums showed that a large proportion of people are in favour of switching to a ranked ballot system. 

In an interview with CBC News, Dave Meslin, the creative director of an electoral reform advocacy group known as Unlock Democracy Canada, believes that a ranked ballot system should be implemented in the province of Ontario.

“Ranked ballots have such an impact on everything from civility to diversity to having more choice, to ensuring that you have a council with a real mandate. It’s such a step backwards for this option to be stripped away from cities,” Meslin told CBC News.

“Ranked ballots have such an impact on everything from civility to diversity to having more choice, to ensuring that you have a council with a real mandate. It’s such a step backwards for this option to be stripped away from cities,” Meslin told CBC News

Meslin also noted that this is the very system of voting that voted Doug Ford as the current leader of the Ontario Conservatives. When Ford ran for leadership, he was not in first place during the first round of ballots but was in second place. 

News regarding this bill and the provincial government’s decision to remove the possibility of ranked ballots has resulted in fury from other provincial party leaders. 

All three party leaders took to Twitter to express their discontent with the situation. NDP leader Andrea Horwarth wrote, “Mr. Ford interferes in democratic elections again and again. I’m committed to bringing back the right of municipalities to decide how to hold their own elections — including ranked ballots.”

Liberal leader Steven Del Duca said that the Liberal party will be finding a way to restore the option of ranked ballots if elected in 2022. 

“Ranked ballots were originally brought in under an Ontario Liberal government. Not only would I bring back the ability for municipalities to choose to use them, but Ontario Liberals will introduce a Private Members Bill to attempt to restore them in the meantime,” said Del Duca.

“I’m disgusted that the Premier would take a sledgehammer to local democracy yet again. This Doug knows best game has got to end. Ranked ballots improve democracy and the people should have the right [to] determine local elections, not the Premier,” wrote Mike Schreiner, Green party leader, in a tweet on Twitter. 

In Hamilton, Ontario, city councillors voted 8-7 following the 2018 election against the option of using ranked ballots for 2022. While ranked ballots were voted down, this motion demonstrated that there was high consideration amongst the city’s leaders for a ranked ballot system.

During this motion, Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger was one of the seven who had voted in favour of using ranked ballots. 

Maureen Wilson, councillor of Ward 1 in Hamilton, was another one of the votes in favour of ranked ballots. Speaking to the Silhouette, Wilson said that she would still recommend ranked ballots today and does not understand the provincial government’s decision.

“I’m perplexed by it. I would think that the provincial government should be focussed on covid and covid recovery and why they would tuck it into an omnibus bill is perplexing. This is a government that used ranked ballots for its own leadership race. I know Mr. Ford was elected leader on a ranked ballot so if they’re good enough for his party, surely they’re good enough for the residents of Ontario,” said Wilson. 

We have choices that we as different municipalities make across a great number of things, so I’m not sure I understand the inconsistencies argument and I also don’t understand the argument that this will create confusion on behalf of residents. I think that’s really underestimating the intelligence of electorates. It’s not confusing at all,” Wilson added.

Wilson also adds that the provincial government’s justification for this mandate does not make sense to her.

We have choices that we as different municipalities make across a great number of things, so I’m not sure I understand the inconsistencies argument and I also don’t understand the argument that this will create confusion on behalf of residents. I think that’s really underestimating the intelligence of electorates. It’s not confusing at all,” Wilson added.

Image courtesy of C/O Element 5 Digital

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