A major overhaul of local election rules is one step closer to reality with a proposed law that would allow Ontario municipalities to quit first-past-the-post and adopt ranked ballot voting instead.
Liberal MPP Mitzie Hunter, who represents a suburban Toronto riding, is expected to table a private member’s bill on the subject next week.
As The Globe and Mail first reported, Premier Kathleen Wynne is keen to see the matter move forward.
“I really look forward to the debate. I think that these are important ideas to discuss,” the Premier said Monday at Queen’s Park. “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.”
Ms. Hunter did not respond to a request for comment.
Whether the bill will have enough support to pass the legislature is an open question. MPPs are generally allowed a free vote on private members’ bills and it is not clear whether even the Liberal caucus supports the legislation.
Municipal Affairs Minister Linda Jeffrey, for instance, said she has not made up her mind.
“At this point, I’m interested to hear the conversation,” she said in an interview. “I don’t have an opinion one way or the other.”
She said she did not bring the proposal forward as a government bill because she has too many other things on the go. Ms. Jeffrey also suggested the matter needs more debate and consultation.
“It’s important to consult with the public before making any changes to any electoral process,” she said. “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.”
Sources with knowledge of the Liberals’ discussions on voting reform have told The Globe some Liberals are wary of broaching the issue in a municipal election year.
Toronto city council voted last year to ask the province to give it the power to switch to a ranked ballot. But a government source said the legislation will likely go beyond that to allow all Ontario municipalities this choice. The change would take effect at the 2018 municipal elections.
Under a ranked-ballot system, voters number their choice of candidate. If no candidate wins a majority of No. 1 picks, then voters’ second and third choices are tabulated until a candidate achieves more than 50 per cent of the vote. If Ms. Hunter’s bill is enacted, it would allow Canadian jurisdictions to use this system for the first time since the 1950s.
Ranked ballots are popular in other countries, including Australia and New Zealand, and are also used in some U.S. cities.
Proponents contend they are more democratic than first-past-the-post because they ensure no one can win without majority support. Advocates also argue they negate fears of vote-splitting, which encourages more candidates to run and allows people to vote their conscience.
Dave Meslin of the Ranked Ballot Initiative for Toronto said the system would lead to more positive, respectful campaigns because candidates would have to be courteous to one another in hopes of becoming the second choice for their opponents’ supporters.
“Ranked ballots give more friendly elections,” he said. “It would be transformational in so many ways. People want choice.”