Ontario moves to axe ranked ballots from municipal elections

·2 min read

The Ontario government is looking to scrap the option allowing municipalities to use ranked ballots during civic elections.

A new bill released by the Conservative government on Tuesday focuses on liability protection for workers and businesses against COVID-19 exposure-related lawsuits. It includes changes to the Municipal Elections Act, 1996, which would remove the ranked ballot options for municipal council elections, if passed.

"Our government is maintaining predictability, and consistency to municipal elections, while better respecting taxpayers' dollars," a spokesperson for the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing wrote in an email to CBC News. "Now is not the time for municipalities to experiment with costly changes to how municipal elections are conducted."

"Our new proposed changes would bring predictability to municipal elections, at a time when Ontarians are focused on their health and safety."

The government added that the measure would keep the voting process consistent across municipal, provincial and federal elections.

London, Ont. was the first municipality in the country to adopt the ranked ballot system.

Hala Ghonaim/CBC
Hala Ghonaim/CBC

The proposed change is disappointing for electoral reform advocates.

"There was a lot of pride in London to be the first to ditch the first-past-the post and for the city to be innovative and try something new. For the provincial government to take that away from a democratic elected council is really inappropriate." said Dave Meslin, creative director of Unlock Democracy Canada, an electoral reform advocacy group.

"This overturns London city council's democratic choice to use ranked ballots, it overturns the democratic result of referendums in Kingston and Cambridge, and it robs all 444 municipalities of Ontario of being able to experiment locally and try a new system."

London adopted the ranked ballot system during the 2018 civic election, but other municipalities including Cambridge and Kingston had signaled they would join London in holding a ranked ballot vote in 2022

Unlike the first-past-the-post system, ranked ballots allow voters to rank each candidate as their first, second or third choice.

A candidate needs 50 per cent plus one vote in order to win. If no candidate reaches that number during the first ballot, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and the second-choice ballots are counted. The process is repeated until one candidate reaches 50 percent plus one.