The Ontario government has undertaken an attack on local democracy once again, and this time the target is changing the rules for municipal elections.
Hidden in Bill 218, Supporting Ontario’s Recovery Act, 2020, a bill focused largely on COVID-19 recovery, the Ford government is attempting to revoke powers from municipalities across Ontario. If passed, municipalities will no longer have the option to use ranked ballot voting.
Ranked ballots allow voters to rank as many as three candidates in order of preference. Unlike the “first-past-the-post” system, ranked ballots require the successful candidate to have more than 50 per cent of the votes. Many proponents, such as RaBIT (Ranked Ballot Initiative of Toronto), insist that this voting system results in fairer elections and a more diverse, representative city council. It also encourages more new candidates to run for office.
Under the current legislation, municipalities can decide for themselves whether they want to adopt a ranked ballot system. The legislation sets out a process to introduce ranked voting, including public consultations that must be conducted before passing the required bylaw.
London, Ontario successfully introduced ranked ballots in its last municipal election. Toronto's City Council, while supportive of ranked ballots, recently moved not to pursue it for the 2022 elections and instead explore it for 2026, citing complications due to COVID-19.
Bill 218 removes the opportunity for municipalities and the people who live in them to determine the best way to democratically elect their municipal leaders. Like the changes to the size of Toronto's City Council in 2018, which Social Planning Toronto opposed, it tells community members that "the Province knows best" how they should be governed.
Repealing ranked ballots goes against what we heard from equity-seeking, Indigenous and vulnerable populations in the recovery consultations we recently supported. Among the recommendations to increase civic engagement among underrepresented communities was the need to increase the number and diversity of City Councillors. Ranked ballots, while not the only means to achieving this, is an important tool that should remain at the disposal of Council.