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Ranked ballots getting the boot from local elections

'There are certain local matters that really should be local, and this is one of them,' says local activist Brandon Rheal Amyot
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Count out ranked ballots for future Ontario municipal elections.

On Tuesday, the province introduced proposed legislation to change the Municipal Elections Act of 1996 to remove the option to use ranked ballots for municipal council elections, making the electoral process consistent across municipal, provincial and federal elections.

Ranked ballots allow the voter to rank candidates in order of preference, instead of just voting for one candidate in the traditional first-past-the-post voting system.

Barrie city council decided in June to submit a referendum question on the 2022 municipal election ballot concerning the implementation of ranked ballots for the 2026 election.

Deputy Mayor Barry Ward says he doesn’t like the province’s decision, despite how he feels about ranked ballots.

“I have never been completely sold on the merits of ranked ballots at the municipal level — I think a much stronger argument can be made for their value at the federal and provincial level where there are political parties — but I support the existing legislation that leaves the decision to the individual municipalities on what kind of system best suits their particular circumstances,” he said.

“That is exactly what we in Barrie were proposing with a referendum to let local residents decide," Ward added. 

Brandon Rheal Amyot of Engage Barrie, which advocates for local democracy, says the province’s move is concerning. 

“We just don’t want to see the choice removed from local municipalities,” Amyot said. “I understand that the province has the right to make these changes under the Municipal Act. That doesn’t mean they should. There are certain local matters that really should be local, and this is one of them.” 

Conrad Spezowka, spokesman with the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, said the government is maintaining predictability and consistency with municipal elections, while better respecting taxpayers’ dollars.

“Now is not the time for municipalities to experiment with costly changes to how municipal elections are conducted,” he said, noting the province has already made changes to create a single voters’ list for both municipal and provincial elections, starting in 2024, to reduce the need to make corrections on Election Day, shorten wait times and save municipalities money.

“Our new proposed changes would bring predictability to municipal elections, at a time when Ontarians are focused on their health and safety,” Spezowka said. “Our proposal will keep the electoral process consistent across municipal, provincial and federal elections.

“This consistent process would also ensure municipalities avoid unnecessary higher costs associated with ranked ballots," he added.

Ward says he doesn’t buy that explanation.

“I don’t think there is any reason elections have to be exactly the same in federal, provincial and municipal elections,” he said. “Diversity is good.”

Amyot wasn’t sold, either.

“Frankly, that reason doesn’t stand up to tests. I think it’s been determined that municipalities can have that choice,” Amyot said. “It is a local election.” 

The announcement on ranked ballots was included at the bottom of a provincial release Tuesday on the Supporting Ontario's Recovery Act, 2020. If passed, it will provide liability protection for workers, volunteers and organizations that make an honest effort to follow public health guidelines and laws relating to exposure to COVID-19. It will also maintain the right of Ontarians to take legal action against those who willfully, or with gross negligence, endanger others.

Why was the ranked ballot announcement there?

“It is a bit odd, but what really feels odd about it is a lot of us are confused about the thought process behind it,” Amyot said. “Maybe there’s some grand reason why it’s been included that we’re not aware of, but it really does seem out of place for a bill that’s not related directly to municipal affairs. It feels like it might have been done without consultation.”

“I also think it is wrong to bury such a major policy change in a bill that is directed at another area, in this case COVID-19 legal liability,” Ward said.

Bob Bruton

About the Author: Bob Bruton

Bob Bruton is a freelance writer who covers city council for BarrieToday
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