Ontario government considering ranked-ballots for municipal elections: report

Andy Radia
Politics Reporter
Canada Politics

It's good enough for the Oscars and the NHL year-end awards — maybe it makes sense for Ontario cities.

According to the Globe and Mail, the Kathleen Wynne government is considering legislation which would allow the province's municipalities to use a ranked-ballot system in future civic elections.

The voting system — also known as Instant Run-off Voting (IRV) — allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference on their electoral ballots. If no candidate earns at least 50 per cent of the vote after the 'first ballot', then voters’ second and third choices are tabulated until a candidate reaches a majority.

Last year, Toronto city council voted in favour of such a system and have asked Queen's Park for their legislative blessing.

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Ranked Ballot Initiative of Toronto (RaBIT), a group — as their name suggests — advocates for IRV, says that in addition to various award shows, ranked ballots are used in at least a dozen American municipal elections.

"Instant runoff voting ensures that no one can win with less than 50 per cent of the vote. It eliminates the risk of 'vote splitting', where two or more candidates ‘split’ the votes of a certain group," they write on their website.

"It also means that no one has to vote strategically – you can vote with your heart each time. Runoff voting strongly discourages negative campaigning tactics, as candidates are trying to achieve ‘second choice’ status from all their opponents’ supporters. With ranked ballots, candidates aren’t forced to drop out of a race to prevent vote splitting."

The group adds that, in 2006, "seven incumbent Councillors were returned to office" in Toronto "even though most of their constituents didn't want them back."

Incidentally, Mayor Rob Ford received 47.1 per cent of the popular vote in the 2010 election.

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Not everyone, however, sees the need for reform.

Maddie Di Muccio, a Councillor in Newmarket, says she prefers our current first past the post system, in part, because it requires political candidates to present bold ideas.

"In a ranked balloting system, the system actually favours someone who isn't so bold and doesn't alienate anyone else. This candidate demonstrates qualities that qualifies him to be everyone's second-choice. It favours the 'safe' candidate," Di Muccio, who is also a columnist with the Toronto Sun, told Yahoo Canada News.

"I don't like a system that gives an advantage to whomever is the popular second choice. This waters down the qualities of the candidate and we end up with leaders who are congenial but typically lack strong principles and conviction - qualities that the public are demanding in the current political era.

"I think the present FPTP system breeds a better leader. The purpose to a long election campaign like we have in municipal politics is to have the endurance race. Side deals among candidates don't happen. Everyone runs to win."

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Wayne Smith, an electoral change advocate in Toronto, says the system needs to be reformed but a ranked-ballot isn't the answer. He prefers proportional representation — a system whereby the number of seats won by a party is proportionate to the number of votes received.

"Nothing wrong with giving voters more choice and municipalities more flexibility, but ranked ballots on their own won't do much to improve our democracy. Pretty much the same people get elected," Smith who was formerly the Executive Director of Fair Vote Canada told Yahoo.

"If we are going to go to the trouble of changing the voting system in Ontario municipalities, there should be a consideration of all options. The process should include extensive public education and consultation and be designed to succeed."

The Globe article notes that if the Liberals introduce the legislation and it passes, it won't be initiated in time for this year's elections.

Emails to both the provincial NDP and Progressive Conservatives, asking whether or not the opposition parties would support a ranked ballot system, went unanswered.

What do you think?

Would you like to see a ranked ballot for municipal elections?

Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.

(Photo courtesy of the Canadian Press)

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