Why Ranked Ballots for Municipal Elections Matter and Why Doug Ford Should Care

As a young, black and single mother in politics, having seen the way women are vilified and treated in politics, I wasn’t sure I wanted to run until I learned about the benefits of ranked ballots. The system allows for more equitable outcomes of representation, on the 7th round of balloting I am the first black woman elected to London city council.

The following op-ed by Mitzie Hunter and with contributions from Kristyn Wong-Tam and I, was originally published in The Star.

We are at a time when old systems are changing rapidly as they have outlived their useful life. New approaches are emerging out of necessity and the immense desire for change. The COVID-19 pandemic has added fuel to our rapidly changing lives.

Perhaps Canada will finally have universal pharma care, basic income and universal childcare. Over the past years, we’ve seen transformational changes in our society, and we’re at a pivotal moment.

One of the most difficult shifts to make is electoral reform. It’s long, often slow work that happens over years. Our institutions are resistant to change. Yet, under the Kathleen Wynne government, an important first step was achieved by granting the power to municipalities to choose ranked ballot elections to strengthen local democracy. 

Our municipal councils often change very little over time as incumbents have the advantage. They are often far from diverse, despite representing diverse communities.

Ranked ballots give more choice to voters, and produces outcomes that are more reflective of voters’ preferences. They open our elections up to more voices, more perspectives, and wider representation. 

Ranked ballots don’t benefit groups who rely on the status quo to win elections. Introducing ranked ballots into provincial elections isn’t on the table – so what is Doug Ford afraid of?

Municipalities deserve to decide how they conduct their own affairs, including how they elect their leaders. In fact, in referendums in Kingston and Cambridge, ranked ballots were chosen by voters as the way to elect their representatives.In defense of his decision, the Premier offered that ranked ballots would confuse voters. He also claimed that the first past the post system is good enough for Ontarians in 2020 as it was in 1867 – a mere 33 years after the abolition of slavery in British North America, a time in which the working class, women, and Black, Indigenous, and persons of colour were blocked from the vote. 

This isn’t the first time Premier Doug Ford has indicated he has no respect for local democratic representation. In 2018, Premier Doug Ford passed Bill 5 and slashed Toronto City Council from 47 to 25 councillors in the middle of a municipal election. This move, undertaken with no consultation increased the already monumental barriers for young, racialized, LGBTQ2S+ and gender non-conforming women, who have the hardest time gaining electoral success. 

When the votes were counted, Toronto City Council looked very different from the city it represents. Where 51.5 percent of the population belong to a visible minority group yet 90 percent of councillors are white, and 70 percent of city council are men when they are just 48 percent of the general population.

The status quo is not good enough. We can, and we must, do better. Ranked Ballots is one way we can do that. 

An analysis of local elections between 1995-2004 by FairVote in the United States demonstrated that the adoption of a ranked ballot choice increased the percentage of candidates of colour from 17.2 percent to 25.6 percent. Over the same time, the percentage of candidates of colour in the “control” cities and without ranked ballots actually decreased slightly, from 12 percent to 11.4 percent.

“As a young, black and single mother in politics, having seen the way women are vilified and treated in politics, I wasn’t sure I wanted to run until I learned about the benefits of ranked ballots. The system allows for more equitable outcomes of representation, on the 7th round of balloting I am the first black woman elected to London city council” added Councilor Kayabaga

The Province is still having to defend their earlier election meddling at Court. In March, the Supreme Court of Canada granted the City of Toronto’s appeal of Doug Ford’s Bill 5. In a written statement, Superior Court Justice James MacPherson wrote that “by reducing the size of City Council from 47 to 25 wards and changing the boundaries of all city wards mid-election, the Act interfered in an unwarranted fashion with the freedom of expression of candidates in a municipal election.” Despite Toronto being the fourth largest city in North American and the largest contributor to the Canadian economy at 20% of the national GDP, this Premier doesn’t think Ontario’s capital city is capable of delivering good government or choosing its own voting system.

By sneaking legislation to cancel ranked ballots into a COVID-19 business recovery bill, Doug Ford is once again overriding the will of the people – without consultation, explanation, or defense. This is another insult to Ontarians and a gross abuse of power.

If you agree that ranked ballots should stay and that they are an important part of democracy, voice your support.