Mayor John Tory (open John Tory's policard) has opened the door to big change in the way Torontonians choose their city representatives, throwing his support behind ranked ballots in the next civic election.
Tory said this week, for the first time, that he backs ranked ballots, assuming the Ontario government delivers on Premier Kathleen Wynne’s directive to make that option available. A new system has the potential to significantly shake up who gets elected in the city.
“I will be trying to be a leader in the entire process of governance review . . . I think change and reform are needed,” Tory told the Star on Tuesday, elaborating on brief comments he made on a CP24 show Monday.
Requested by the previous Toronto council in 2013, the change would replace the more-than-a-century-old “first past the post” system with one used by a small but growing number of governments and organizations.
Proponents say letting Torontonians mark first, second and third choices and so forth for mayor and council, with an instant “runoff” if necessary so all winners are supported by more than half the voters, could have radical results.
Backers of ranked balloting point to Minneapolis, which adopted the system in 2009 and in 2013 elected a 14-member council that is fully half female — including the mayor — and also features the city’s first councillors of Somali, Hispanic and Hmong descent.
“It’s the most diverse council with respect to ethnicity and gender that Minneapolis has ever seen,” says Jeanne Massey, executive director of democracy education and advocacy group FairVote Minnesota.
“It was immeasurably successful . . . We know voters understood the system extremely well and that they not only used it, they liked it and want to continue using it.”
Last fall’s Toronto election saw only one sitting councillor defeated, with split votes helping to pave the way for the return of many veterans. Sixteen councillors, including Tory, were chosen by fewer than half the voters.
Rookie Christin Carmichael Greb (open Christin Carmichael Greb's policard) won the contest to replace Karen Stintz in Ward 16 Eglinton-Lawrence with only 17 per cent of the vote. Eight of her rivals each got more than 5 per cent support.
The overwhelmingly white and male 45-member council — with 14 women and seven members of visible minority communities — looks little like Toronto.
Tory told the Star research including conversations with Dave Meslin, founder of the Ranked Ballot Initiative of Toronto, convinced him the system will promote more discussion of “real issues.” He will encourage council to adopt it for 2018 after the legislature votes on letting municipalities use it.
Ranked ballots, he said, should make candidates less likely to use attack ads for fear of alienating rivals’ supporters, encourage more people to run, and increase diversity on council, because they won’t feel their vote is “wasted,” and ensure a majority mandate for the winner.
“While this is not crucial, as I believe most people accord winners legitimacy under the current rules, it will be of some benefit,” Tory said, adding he will try to forge council consensus on broader governance reform.
Meslin, now working with Unlock Democracy to build support for ranked ballot campaigns across Ontario, said Toronto should be ready to launch preparations including extensive public consultations.
“If we wait to long and leave this to 2017, it will be (the) 2022 (election) until we have ranked ballots in Toronto,” Meslin said. “The question is ‘Are we prepared to lead on this issue or will we trail behind other cities in Ontario?’ ”
How ranked ballots work
Anybody who has watched a Canadian political convention where party members choose their leader has probably seen a form of http://www.123toronto.ca/questions_answers.htmranked ballotsEND, also called “instant runoff voting,” in action.
In our current “first past the post” system, the candidate with the most votes wins, even if the vote is split in so many ways that the candidate was the first choice of only a small percentage of voters.
In the ranked ballot system, however, voters rank the candidates in order of preference. Often, they will mark their first, second and third choices with a 1, 2 and 3.
Any candidate who gets a majority of first-place votes — 50 per cent plus one — becomes the winner, just as in the current system.
But if nobody receives a majority of first-place votes, there is a runoff. Unlike party leadership races, this is done by tallying the existing ballots — there is no additional vote held.
The candidate that got the fewest first-place votes is knocked out of the race and the second choices of that person’s supporters are added to the totals of the remaining hopefuls.
The runoff continues until one candidate has a majority of votes and is declared the winner.