London city councillors sent a clear message to Queen's Park on Tuesday, passing a motion that opposes the province's move to eliminate ranked ballot voting as an option for Ontario municipalities in the 2022 municipal elections.
Council passed by a 14-1 vote a motion which does the following:
Expresses London's opposition to the province's move.
Argues that each municipality should choose which voting system they use.
Asks that the province consult with municipalities before introducing legislative changes "of this magnitude."
Calls on Mayor Ed Holder to ask that London be exempt from the legislation if it passes.
Calls on city staff to report back on the costs of London switching back to first-past-the-post for the 2022 election.
Only Coun. Phil Squire voted against the motion, saying he was never a proponent of ranked ballots and wanted to remain consistent.
Some of the councillors who spoke and voted in favour of the motion said they were taken aback by the Ford government's move, which many described as a sudden intrusion into local government decision-making.
The wording to eliminate ranked ballots was tacked on as a single line in legislation that largely deals with COVID-19 relief.
"Regardless of whether you support ranked ballots or not, local decision-making matters," said Coun. Shawn Lewis.
Lewis said ranked ballots have been "a very good thing for the democratic system in London" while Coun. Anna Hopkins said the province's decision "is a concern for all municipalities in Ontario."
Coun. Josh Morgan, who seconded the motion, said the provincial government has been a "great partner" supporting London and other Ontario municipalities through the upheaval of COVID-19, but said this decision on ranked ballots runs in the face of "the principle of local decision-making."
Morgan said Premier Doug Ford often speaks about taking steps to empower municipalities but that "this decision doesn't fit with those statements."
Province's move 'very wasteful'
Deputy Mayor Jesse Helmer said the City of London has incurred one-time costs in its move to ranked ballot voting after the previous provincial government passed legislation that made it possible for municipalities to try it.
"It seems to me to be very wasteful to throw away that investment after making the change after just one election," said Helmer, who said he's hoping the province will reconsider the move.
Beyond the jurisdictional issue, a few councillors clearly feel the province's decision stands to take away a considerable achievement for London after the city was able to successfully stage Canada's first road-test of an entirely new system of voting.
"London has proven quite well that the option of ranked ballots can be effective," said Coun. Stephen Turner.
Unlike the first-past-the post system, ranked ballots allow voters to rank candidates based on their preference. The votes are redistributed based on these rankings in subsequent vote counts until one candidate achieves a majority.
London's move to ranked ballots has been credited with inspiring a more diverse pool of candidates to run, including Arielle Kayabaga, who became the city's first black female candidate in 2018.
After London's success with ranked ballots in 2018, voters in other Ontario municipalities, including Kingston and Cambridge, voted to use them in the next election.
Mayor Ed Holder did not speak in favour of the motion although he did vote for it.