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Voters arrive at a Toronto polling station to cast their ballot in the federal election on May 02, 2011. (Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail)
Voters arrive at a Toronto polling station to cast their ballot in the federal election on May 02, 2011. (Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail)

Electoral reform on city ‘radar’ Add to ...

Changing the way Torontonians vote has received a lukewarm response from the city’s government management committee, though the issue will move on to council next month.

The committee met Monday to discuss a staff report on four proposed electoral reforms: using ranked-choice voting, allowing permanent residents to vote, holding elections on a Saturday or Sunday, and providing internet voting for people with disabilities.

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The staff report did not make any recommendations and motions from councillors involving all four reforms ended in deadlock at the committee meeting.

But the report will go ahead to council and Dave Meslin, a civic activist with the Ranked Ballot Initiative, hailed that as a major step.

“This is a topic that three years ago no one was talking about. And now it's on the radar, people are talking about it in city hall,” he said.

Mr. Meslin said ranked-choice voting has the support of 23 of 45 members of council, and other councillors have indicated they could come on board.

Toronto elections operate under the first-past-the-post system, just as they do in every other jurisdiction in Canada. Simply put, whoever receives the most votes wins.

Under ranked-choice voting, a candidate would have to earn a majority of the vote. If none of the candidates made it over 50 per cent after the first count, a series of run-off elections would be held.

Councillor Doug Ford, the Mayor’s brother, said he is opposed to ranked-choice voting because it would prove too confusing for voters.

The staff report said there would need to be extensive public consultation before the change could be implemented. It said the exact cost is unclear.

When asked why there would be opposition to ranked-choice voting, Mr. Meslin pointed to resistance to change and “fear of the unknown.”

Councillor Paul Ainslie, the committee’s chair, moved a motion that council request the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing amend the necessary legislation to use ranked ballots in municipal elections.

But that motion, like several others at Monday’s meeting, ended in a 3-3 tie and did not carry. Mr. Ainslie consistently voted with Councillors Pam McConnell and Mary Fragedakis on motions in favour of reform. Councillors Ford, Giorgio Mammoliti and Vincent Crisanti consistently opposed.

Mr. Ainslie and Ms. McConnell – who moved motions on allowing permanent residents to vote, creating additional advance voting days, and implementing internet voting for people with disabilities – both said they would try again at council.

"Some of my motions came to fruition during the hockey game last night. There were others I just didn't have time to write. Now I have more time to think about it some more,” Councillor Ainslie said.

The staff report said allowing permanent residents to vote in municipal elections would require legislative changes, as well as public consultation and education. It said allowing permanent residents to vote in Toronto elections when they’re still barred provincially and federally could cause confusion.

The report said a number of permanent residents are finding it increasingly difficult to attain Canadian citizenship. It said some permanent residents choose not to out of fear it will affect their status in their home country.

Councillor Ainslie said there are many permanent residents in his ward who do not have a voice at the ballot box, though they have the same concerns about transit and schools as anyone else.

Councillor Ford said there is a difference between privileges and rights.

“You get a beautiful, safe country to live in, to raise your kids in, to be employed in. Because if you loved your other country so much you wouldn’t have left it. It’s very simple,” he said. “It’s a privilege to be here, it’s not a right to vote.”

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