Ontario Legislature considering ranked ballot voting

Illustrations by Brittany Brooks- Brock Press

Illustrations by Brittany Brooks- Brock Press

By:Luiz Brasil- The Brock Press

Kathleen Wynne and the governing Liberal Party of Ontario are considering putting forward legislation that would allow Ontario municipalities to conduct their elections using a ranked ballot system, otherwise known as instant runoff voting. The legislation will likely go forward as a private members bill, which means MPP’s will be able to vote free of party discipline, and if passed the first elections to be affected would be in 2018.

Last June the Toronto City Council voted to ask Ontario’s Parliament to switch from their current single member plurality system to a ranked ballot system, and now Ontario’s government seems to be seriously considering allowing any municipality to freely choose between these two systems.

“I really look forward to the debate. I think that these are important ideas to discuss,” said Premier Kathleen Wynne.

“I don’t think that we can just assume that the systems that have been in place for decades are the systems that necessarily have to stay in place.”

Many MPP’s are echoing the premier, saying that more debate needs to happen before they make up their minds.

“It’s important to consult with the public before making any changes to any electoral process,”said Linda Jeffrey, the Minister of Municipal Affairs. “I think having the debate in the legislature is good – this gives us lots of time to talk about what kind of changes can be made in the coming years.”

If successful, this bill will lead to the first time since the 1950’s that Canada has not used its current single member plurality system, which is often criticized for usually resulting in outcomes that are not representational of the popular vote. Instant runoff voting is an attractive alternative that’s main focus is to combat vote splitting and wasted votes; the Ranked Ballot Initiative of Toronto offers a detailed explanation, “On election day all of the first choice votes are added up (just like we do with our current system). If someone wins 50% or more of the vote, they are declared the winner and the election is over. However, if no one receives more than 50% the candidate with the least votes is eliminated from the race … If your preferred candidate is eliminated from the race, your vote is automatically transferred to your second choice. Again, the votes are counted and if someone has a majority, they are declared the winner. If not, another candidate eliminated and it repeats until there is a majority winner” .

This type of system greatly benefits those who often support unlikely candidates, as they no longer have to worry about their votes being ‘wasted’ because they are able to list a second or third choice.

Dave Meslin, of the Ranked Ballot Initiative of Toronto, has said that he received a positive reaction to the idea from all three major parties. He pointed out that most party leadership races are conducted using the instant runoff method and that it is not such a radical idea.

“The province should let every city in the province have this flexibility… It’s such a normal concept we’re using all the time.”

Many are sceptical of such a change as all recent attempts at electoral reform in Canada have failed. Both British Columbia and Ontario have tried to get rid of their single member plurality systems through referendums, and both failed to reach the 60% approval threshold set by the province. This time however, only a simple majority in the provincial legislature will be required, making electoral reform a very real possibility.

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