jo.sullivan59/FLICKR
jo.sullivan59/FLICKR

The campaign to establish ranked ballots for Toronto municipal elections took a major step forward last week as a bill to amend the City Of Toronto Act passed the second reading at Queen’s Park. Bill 166, The Toronto Ranked Ballots Election Act, was introduced by Liberal MPP Mitzie Hunter (Scarborough-Guildwood) this Thursday, March 6. It seeks to replace the current First-Past-the-Post system with a ranked ballot. Hunter brought the bill to the floor in response to a request from Toronto City Council, who voted 26-15 to push election reform to the province, which determines the political structure of Toronto's municipal system.

The campaign has been supported by Ranked Ballot Initiative of Toronto (RaBIT), who filled Queen's Park's often empty visitor galleries to bolster support for the bill above a sparsely-attended legislature. MPPs from the Liberals and the NDP supported Hunter’s motion. Some such as Michael Prue (Beaches East-York) would rather see a mixed-member proportional system emerge in Toronto, and at the provincial level as well. A similar province-wide initiative in 2007 failed in a referendum, only receiving majority support in Toronto.

Progressive Conservatives complained about the reform, saying that voters could easily get confused by the new system, especially because it could lead to people who did not receive the most first-choice votes winning the election. Toronto's former Deputy Mayor and Ford ally Doug Holyday (Etobicoke-Lakeshore) lamented that the government was spending time on electoral reform and not prioritizing taxpayer-related issues.

RaBIT argues that First Past the Post is a system that doesn’t respect majority opposition, resulting in cases of vote splitting, where people can win with as little as 20 per cent of the vote. RaBIT refers to how in the 2010 election seven city councillors were re-elected to their six-figure salaries with less than half of their ward’s support. The same logic can also apply to the Harper Conservatives who have a majority government with 39 per cent of the popular vote.

Bill 166 would establish ranked ballots and a runoff on Election Day for Toronto’s Mayor and City Council by allowing voters to rank their candidates in order of preference. After counting everyone’s first choice (if one candidate hasn’t already secured 50 per cent of the vote) the candidate who has the least amount of votes drops out. The voters who ranked the now dropped-out candidate as #1 are now allocated to their second choice candidate, and so on until one candidate clears the halfway hurdle. The system's biggest boast is that no vote is wasted, and RaBIT even claims the change would reduce negativity in campaigns by forcing candidates to generate mass-appeal strategies rather than pitting one demographic of the city against another. In other words, ranked ballots would not benefit a polarizing figure such as Mayor Rob Ford, but would benefit a candidate who can garner support, or at least tolerance, from both right and left.

For now, Bill 166 has moved to committee and when it does likely become law, it won't play a big role until the 2018 election. So for now, there is no need for the mayor to worry about how divisive of a candidate he is and the "bloodbath" re-election strategy can carry on unphased.

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